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By waiting, Padres would get better value
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But not right now.
Barring an injury or unforeseen production decline, Gonzalez's value will be very high at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He will be as far from free agency then as Mark Teixeira was at the time of the Rangers-Braves blockbuster in 2007. And you may recall the Rangers' return in that deal included Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz.
In order to trade Gonzalez now, Jed Hoyer would need to negotiate with general managers who can counter his (understandably) high demands by saying, "Why should I give you my three best prospects when I can keep them and sign Adam LaRoche, Hank Blalock or Russell Branyan to play first base?"
Of course, Gonzalez is better than LaRoche, Blalock or Branyan on both sides of the ball. But as long as other teams have free-agent alternatives, it will be hard for Hoyer, a first-year general manager, to have much leverage.
By the middle of this season, it should be different.
In July, other GMs can't talk about free-agent options.
In July, other GMs are under pressure to go for it by getting one more left-handed slugger.
In July, other GMs will look at the money remaining on Gonzalez's contract — at that stage, barely more than $7 million through 2011 — and say to ownership: "For this guy, for that amount of money, we should make it happen."
For each of those reasons, Hoyer might actually get a better return in July than if he were to trade Gonzalez now. Gonzalez has averaged 35 home runs and 106 RBIs over the past three seasons. He led the National League this year with 119 walks. He's one of the most sought-after players in the game today, and that's probably not going to change anytime soon.
And let's not forget the obvious: Hoyer has been on the job for less than two months. He didn't hire a new scouting director until Friday. Generally speaking, it's difficult to interview candidates for a position of such importance and work on trading your franchise player at the same time.
Besides, it's probably a good idea to make some friends in town before completing a trade that could start an uproar among otherwise-happy San Diegans. Gonzalez is a San Diego native and favorite son.
By the middle of this summer, Hoyer will have a better sense of where his organization is strong and weak, of precisely the type of package he would want, of the effect that Gonzalez's departure would have on the fan base. If done skillfully, a Gonzalez trade could bring back enough talent to catapult the Padres back into contention in two or three years. The Teixeira trade, at the '07 trade deadline, did that for Jon Daniels and the Rangers.
And remember: Gonzalez, a Mexican-American star in a border town, is the team's biggest gate attraction. The longer he is a Padre, the longer fans will buy tickets to watch him play.
Much has been made of the possibility of Gonzalez's going to Boston, where he would be an offensive force at Fenway Park. Hoyer has intimate knowledge of the Red Sox farm system because of his tenure as that club's assistant GM.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, a close friend of Hoyer's, has a bountiful farm system from which to trade. But Epstein has the same leverage that every other GM does right now: He could sign a corner infielder such as Adrian Beltre or Mark DeRosa and hang onto his prospects.
And consider this: One rival executive, who requested anonymity, doubts Hoyer would accept an offer of right-handers Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard if the package didn't also include right-hander Casey Kelly or outfielder Ryan Westmoreland.
If that's accurate, then it's hard to imagine a deal occurring anytime soon. Buchholz and Bard, after all, were major contributors on a postseason team in 2009. They are young, inexpensive and talented. Apparently, though, they would not be enough.
The only rationale for trading Gonzalez now would be if ownership ordered Hoyer to reduce the payroll, and it doesn't appear such a request has been made. CEO Jeff Moorad has said publicly the payroll will be between $40 million and $50 million. At that number, Gonzalez's $4.75 million salary for 2010 is more than palatable.
Still, bear in mind the Padres remain a franchise in transition — quite literally — from John Moores to Moorad.
At present, the names of both men can be found on the organizational masthead. Moores is the chairman and majority owner (for now). Moorad is the vice chairman and CEO.
Moores has owned the club since 1994 but put it up for sale after his wife, Rebecca, filed for divorce in 2008. Moores and Moorad reached agreement earlier this year on an ownership transfer by February 2014; at some point between now and then, Moorad's group will have 100 percent control of the team.
When such high-level movements are afoot, pennies tend to assume a greater importance than they would, say, at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.
And if the Padres maintain their current spending levels, they won't be able to afford Gonzalez when he enters free agency after the 2011 season. He could be headed for a payday on the order of Teixeira's deal with the Yankees last offseason (eight years, $180 million).
Gonzalez gave the team one hometown discount, when he signed his current contract. It's hard to believe he will grant them another. One has to believe he will wear a different uniform in the not-too-distant future. But there's no need for that to happen on the first day of spring training in 2010.
In order for Hoyer to trade a local hero, he will need to get a perfect deal. And there's a better chance of that happening in July than January.