Padres Wallow in Divorces

By Murray Chass

November 30, 2008

This was the worst year of John Moores’ 14-year ownership of the San Diego Padres. It began with Moores’ wife of 44 years, Becky, filing for divorce and went downhill the rest of the year until the Padres finished in last place with 99 losses, their worst season under Moores.

The divorce, which a baseball official described as “a messy divorce,” will eventually be settled, most likely in court, but there’s no guarantee what will happen to the Padres. They are headed for more perilous times. The divorce, for which Becky Moores filed claiming irreconcilable differences, is a major part of the reason.

“It’s having some impact,” said Sandy Alderson, the chief executive officer. “Four or five months ago I wouldn’t have expected it to have any impact.” Could the divorce affect the ownership of the team? “I think it could affect ownership. It could lead to a partial sale. We’ll have to wait and see. As a result of what’s happening, it could.”

John and Becky Moores, who were married in 1963 after having met in history class in high school in Texas, have already engaged in a dispute over use of the ownership box at Petco Park. California is a community property state, meaning each spouse is entitled to half of a couple’s assets acquired and income earned during a marriage.

John Moores bought 80 percent of the Padres in late 1994. In recent years Forbes magazine has estimated his net worth at about $750 million and the value of the team at more than $360 million.

The divorce is also having an impact on the Padres’ payroll. General manager Kevin Towers said he is on a course to reduce a $73 million payroll to the low 40s. “We’re already at 50,” he said. “We talked about moving Peavy and Greene. That definitely gets us under. If we’re out of it at the deadline, we could move Giles.”

Jake Peavy is the ace of the Padres’ pitching staff, the unanimous winner of the 2007 National League Cy Young award. Khalil Greene is the dynamic young shortstop. Brian Giles is the productive outfielder.

Trading Peavy alone would reduce the Padres’ chances of resuscitating the team, but Towers is determined to reduce the payroll, shedding Peavy’s $11 million salary for 2009 and an additional $70 million for four years beyond that.

Peavy has a no-trade clause in his contract but has said he would accept three teams – the Braves, the Cubs and the Dodgers. The Braves have ended talks with the Padres, the Dodgers haven’t really started talks and the Cubs’ position is ambiguous.

“I would say the Cubs are still in it,” Towers said. “Lou (Piniella) said they’re not in it, but their general manager says they’re in it. The Dodgers have bigger fish to fry. That’s not to say they might not circle back later in the winter. Our primary goal is to trade Peavy.”

The Padres know the danger inherent in trading Peavy. “We’d scratch one at the top and move everyone else up,” Alderson said. Not that the Padres have an abundance of established starters to advance in the rotation. They have Chris Young, who missed nearly 40 percent of last season after an Albert Pujols line drive broke his nose, and Cha Seung Baek, who joined the Padres’ rotation two months into the season.

After them comes Josh Geer, who started five times last season, and two other young pitchers to be determined.

The Padres don’t plan to give up Peavy just to get rid of his contract. They have asked for enough in return to discourage the Braves and the Cubs from making a trade. “If we can’t make a good baseball deal, we won’t move him,” Alderson said.

If they trade Peavy, Towers added, “we’re going to have to do well on that trade. When we treaded (Adam) Eaton and (Akinori) Otsuka, we got Young and (Adrian) Gonzalez, two guys who helped us the next year. We hope to get some established players back for Peavy.”

The Padres don’t blame everything that happened this past season on the owner’s divorce. They cite injuries and under achieving players.

Greene, for example, broke his hand punching an equipment locker and missed the last two months. Outfielder Jody Gerut, who batted .317 in June, July and August, missed September with a sprained finger. Josh Bard missed two months with a sprained ankle he suffered in a home plate collision with Pujols, who was on base because his line drive had broken Young’s nose.

The Padres released center fielder Jim Edmonds before mid-May because he was hitting .178. Then he joined the Cubs and hit 19 home runs and drove in 49 runs in 250 at-bats.

“There was a variety of reasons for what happened last year,” Alderson said. “If we can avoid injuries, that will give us some increased level of success.”

But there is the bad economy and the owner’s divorce to deal with.

“We had expected a cash infusion of about $15 million from the owner this year, which has been the case with Padres recently,” Alderson said. “We had it in 07, and we didn’t need it this year. It’s a kind of cyclical thing. It had been anticipated for 2009, but it will not be made.”

One victim of the new Padres’ economy is Trevor Hoffman, the team’s closer for 14 years and the all-time major league leader in saves. Hoffman, who earned $7.5 million this year, was offered $4 million for next year, but then the Padres withdrew the offer, angering Hoffman.

Now he is a free agent, ready to pitch for someone else for the first time since he was a rookie in 1993. His departure from the Padres is the team’s second messy divorce.

Baylor Bounces Back

Don Baylor, out of baseball the past three years, is returning for next season as the hitting coach of the Colorado Rockies. He was the Rockies’ first manager, holding the position the first five years of their existence, 1993 through 1998.

“My office is just going to be a little smaller,” Baylor said. “I know my place. I know what I have to do. I’m there to help Clint the best I can.”

Clint Hurdle was Baylor’s hitting coach for two seasons and went from hitting coach to manager in 2002.

“Clint reached out at the All-Star game and made me a part of it,” said Baylor, whom Hurdle made an honorary coach on the National League team last July.

Not all managers are comfortable with a former manager on their coaching staff, but Baylor said, “Certain guys do it and aren’t afraid of it. I don’t think Clint is.”

Before getting the Rockies’ job, Baylor nearly became the bench coach for Jerry Manuel in New York. The Mets were looking for a first base coach and interviewed Baylor. Learning that the Mets might be interested in hiring Baylor, Sandy Alomar Sr., the Mets’ bench coach, talked to Baylor and offered to switch jobs if Baylor were hired. But the Mets hired Luis Alicea instead, and Baylor returned to Colorado.

Name That Ball Park, or the Curse of Bill Shea

When ball parks were called Forbes Field and Crosley Field and the Polo Grounds, they were easily identifiable and never in danger of having their names changed. Look at the names now: PNC Park, Citizens Bank Park, Great American Ball Park.

Many fans have trouble matching a park’s name with its city, especially when the name has changed. Enron Field in Houston became Minute Maid Park. The Giants’ new in San Francisco has changed from Pacific Bell Park to SBC Park to AT&T Park.

Now there’s an additional problem with bestowing corporate names on ball parks. The Mets’ new park, Citi Field, was the subject of newspaper articles for a week as people speculated about whether the name could survive until opening day next season given the plight of the economy and the effect its decline is having on banks.

The Mets send daily newspaper clips to writers, and until recently all of the clips were baseball articles. In the past week the preponderance of clips dealt with the economy. One day 33 of the first 34 clips were about the economy and resulting problems.

On another Citi Field note, maybe the Mets have stumbled into one of those ubiquitous curse things, like the curse of the Bambino in Boston and the Billy goat curse in Chicago.

Perhaps the Mets have died the last two Septembers because of the curse of Bill Shea. A nice man and a powerful New York lawyer, Shea was responsible for returning National League baseball to New York after the Giants and the Dodgers left in 1957. In honor of that achievement, the Mets in 1964 named their new park Shea Stadium.

With the advent of a new park, though, the Mets, like other teams, decided to make money from its naming. Citigroup is paying $20 million a year for 20 years to have the Mets’ new home called Citi Field. Bill Shea’s name disappeared. But maybe the curse of Bill Shea appeared.

The curse of the Bambino lasted until 2004. The Billy goat curse goes on.

When Nothing Else Works, Try Something New

Much of the outsourcing that United States companies do these days is located in India. The companies that outsource elements of their operations do so because the cost is cheaper. Now the practice has come to baseball.

The Pirates are outsourcing their future.

They signed two Indians last week to professional contracts. Those are natives of India, who have never played an inning of baseball. While at first glance it seems bizarre, look at it from the Pirates’ point of view.

With a major league record-tying 16 successive losing seasons, the Pirates haven’t been able to get it right so how bad can it be trying to develop inexperienced Indians?

The unfortunate aspect of the foray into India is that it is the Pirates who are doing it. Even if there’s a glimmer of hope that decent players could be developed in India, you have to remember it’s the Pirates who are trying it. The Pirates haven’t been able to develop outstanding college and high school players into major leaguers. What makes anyone think they can turn baseball neophytes into baseball prospects?

All right, maybe it’s only a gimmick; that’s always possible. But it’s the Pirates who are doing it, and no one has ever accused the Pirates of being capable of doing anything clever.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.