By waiting, Padres would get better value

Yes, the Padres should trade Adrian Gonzalez.

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.