It’s all-in as Padres move on without Gonzalez

How do the San Diego Padres replace three-time All-Star Adrian

Gonzalez?

”You don’t,” quipped outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

While Brad Hawpe takes over at first base, the Padres will look

to a number of players to help replace the offense lost when

Gonzalez, the slugger who had been the face of the franchise, was

traded to the Boston Red Sox in December.

The company line this spring is that the Padres, who were

offensively challenged last year even with Gonzalez, are more

complete throughout the lineup. An offseason shuffle brought in

Hawpe, second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop Jason Bartlett and

center fielder Cameron Maybin to go along with holdovers Ludwick,

third baseman Chase Headley, outfielder Will Venable and catcher

Nick Hundley.

”Obviously you lose the big guy in the middle of the lineup,

it’s hard to replace that, and you don’t replace him with one

guy,” Headley said. ”From one through nine in the lineup and one

through 25 in our entire roster, I think we’re a better team. I

think that’s valuable to have, rather than having to rely on one

guy. I think that we’re better overall.”

Gonzalez hit .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs last season, all

team-highs. Over the last four seasons, he averaged 34 homers and

104 RBIs.

The overachieving Padres won 90 games in 2010 before being

eliminated from postseason contention on the final day.

”I think we’re a little deeper as a team as a whole, so we have

more guys who can contribute,” Ludwick said. ”As far as the

numbers coming from one person, I mean, the guy last year had an

MVP-caliber season. It’s just going to be a team effort.”

The Padres know a lot of players have to hit better if they’re

going to contend again.

Venable batted .245 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs last year while

Headley hit .264 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs. Hundley had eight

homers and 43 RBIs while batting .249.

Ludwick struggled after coming over in a trade with St. Louis,

hitting just .211 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 209 at-bats. He’s

now three seasons removed from his All-Star season of 2008, when he

had career-highs with a .299 average, 37 homers and 113 RBIs.

”I don’t think it’s so much about home runs,” Ludwick said.

”I just think we need to put good at-bats together. If each guy

goes up there and puts a good at-bat together, we’ll get it

done.”

Ludwick hopes to put the last two months of 2010 behind him.

”Obviously last year I got loopy,” Ludwick said. ”You want to

be flat through the zone and hit line drives.”

The Padres traded Gonzalez with a year left on his contract

because they knew they wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him once

he became a free agent. They received three of Boston’s top

prospects plus outfielder Eric Patterson.

”I don’t think you ever replace a guy like that, an elite,

middle-of-the-order bat,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. ”It’s

the hardest thing to find besides a No. 1 starter in this sport.

There’s a reason why that kind of player gets $150-plus million,

because they’re hard to replace. You don’t replace them with one

guy, you replace them with a group.”

Long-term, the challenge is to find another Gonzalez-type

player. They signed Hawpe because Kyle Blanks is rehabbing from

reconstructive elbow surgery and Anthony Rizzo, one of the

prospects acquired from Boston, could be two years away from

reaching the majors.

Short-term, Hoyer strengthened the club up the middle and by

adding depth.

And there’s the expectation that several players are due to

rebound.

”There are a number of players, both players who were here last

year and players we brought in here, who need to bounce back from

seasons that even they would deem disappointing,” Hoyer said.

”Chase, Will, Nick, they’re at the stage of their careers where

they can take a big step forward. Hawpe, (Jorge) Cantu, Bartlett,

had a lesser year than they had the year before. Hudson, Maybin. We

have some guys who have something to prove. I think that’s a good

thing.”

Hawpe, one of the cornerstones of Colorado’s 2007 NL

championship team and a first-time All-Star in 2009, had four

straight 20-homer seasons with the Rockies, including 29 in ’07. He

had nine last year between Colorado and Tampa Bay. Hawpe’s natural

position is first base. With Todd Helton playing first for

Colorado, Hawpe became an outfielder when he came up to the big

leagues.

”I don’t know if any one guy is going to replicate what Adrian

can do,” Venable said. ”Obviously he’s irreplaceable in that

sense. But I think collectively that we’re going to improve

offensively from last year. That’s no doubt from top to bottom our

lineup is capable of scoring some runs.

”We didn’t get the real Ludwick last year,” Venable added. ”I

think he’ll be the first person to tell you that. I think between

myself and Chase and Nick, there’s room for improvement there.

We’re all expecting to have bigger years. Overall, we’re very

capable of picking up the slack that Adrian left us.”