Why won't the Padres re-sign Gonzalez?

BY Ken Rosenthal • March 2, 2010

If the Twins can sign catcher Joe Mauer to a monstrous contract extension, then why can’t the Padres do the same with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez?

The Padres have their reasons; teams always do. But if I were a fan, I wouldn’t be satisfied with the team’s party line.

Yes, the Twins are in a stronger financial position than the Padres as they prepare to open their new ballpark and negotiate a new local TV contract.

But my goodness, San Diego’s Petco Park is only six years old. And while the Minneapolis-St. Paul television market ranks 15th and San Diego 28th according to Nielsen Media Research, we’re hardly talking about New York vs. Kansas City.

Heck, Milwaukee is the No. 35 media market, smallest in the majors. Yet, the Brewers offered left-hander CC Sabathia a $100 million free-agent contract after the 2008 season. Their owner, Mark Attanasio, recently said he wants to keep first baseman Prince Fielder, who — like Gonzalez — will be a free agent after the 2011 season.

Gonzalez is a better athlete and defender than Fielder. As a native of San Diego, he means more to the Padres than Fielder — a player with no prior ties to Milwaukee — does to the Brewers. In fact, Gonzalez might mean as much to the Padres as Mauer does to the Twins.

Mauer, a native of St. Paul, is a hometown legend in the Twin Cities. Gonzalez, who spent part of his youth in Mexico, is a hero in two countries. The two are close in age -- Gonzalez, who turns 28 on May 8, is about a year older.

Yet the Twins are ready to commit monster dollars to Mauer, a potential free agent, while the Padres are all but certain to trade Gonzalez, who is under club control for two more seasons at bargain salaries of $4.75 million and $5.5 million.

OK, both the Twins and Brewers are contenders, while the Padres are rebuilding. For that reason, trading Gonzalez for multiple prospects might make more sense than keeping him. But really, how often do such deals produce a sufficient benefit?

I’m thinking of the Pirates’ return for Jason Bay, the Twins’ return for Johan Santana, even the Marlins’ return for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, though the jury is still out on that one. Different circumstances in each case, and other such deals — the Rangers' trade of Mark Teixeira and the Orioles' trade of Erik Bedard — have worked out far better.

Still, the Padres already might have blown their chance to make the best possible deal for Gonzalez, who — while not exactly a diminishing asset — almost certainly will bring back less with 1 1/2 years of control remaining this July than he would have with two or 2 1/2 years left.

If the Padres land a few potential building blocks, then plow their savings on Gonzalez into player development, more power to them. But the idea of building around such a player — an almost-perfect player for San Diego, really — should not be so easily dismissed.

I know I’m being romantic rather than pragmatic, but some players just belong in certain cities. The Padres, regardless of whether they were in contention, kept re-signing Tony Gwynn. The Orioles did the same with Cal Ripken Jr.

Gwynn and Ripken, of course, accepted hometown discounts; Gonzalez’s agent, John Boggs, has said that in free agency, he would aim for Teixeira’s eight-year, $180 million contract.

A big number, maybe an unrealistic number, but revenues are higher now. The game, Commissioner Bud Selig keeps telling us, has never been healthier. And Teixeira certainly is comparable to Gonzalez.

So what gives?

The Twins will approach $100 million in payroll this season. The Rays will surpass $70 million, though perhaps just this once. The Padres will be around $40 million — a number that almost certainly is far below the total they will collect in revenue sharing and central-fund payouts.

To this point, the Pads have avoided the public spanking that the Marlins recently received from the players’ union and commissioner’s office by investing in Latin America and bulking up their baseball operations. The Padres also spent $6.25 million on their most recent No. 1 draft pick, outfielder Donavan Tate — a record for a high school player.

No doubt, the Padres face legitimate financial challenges; home attendance has declined from more than 3 million in Petco’s inaugural season in 2004 to below 2 million last season. The team, one source says, also generates less revenue from local TV than all but one club.

Still, questions persist about the viability of the franchise’s new ownership, led by Jeff Moorad.

Just over a year ago, Moorad’s group reached agreement to gain controlling interest of the club from John Moores over a five-year period. That’s right, the other owners allowed one of their franchises to be purchased on a layaway plan — an unusual arrangement, to say the least.

Moores, who was going through a divorce, needed to sell. He was satisfied that Moorad’s group had the highest bid, and in a down economy, baseball evidently determined that the Padres could not do better.

Moorad continues to deny that his group is underfinanced, but the only way for him to dispel such talk will be to spend at a higher level. That does not necessarily mean spending on Gonzalez, who would command a sizable percentage of the team’s payroll. Slugging first basemen always are in ample supply. A catcher such as Mauer, on the other hand, is a once-in-a-generation player.

If Gonzalez would accept say, a four-year, $56 million extension, the Padres might jump. But Gonzalez’s last deal was well below market value — he will earn a mere $13.25 million in his three arbitration years. He cannot be faulted for wanting his due.

So, the countdown to a trade continues.

I understand all of the Padres’ rationales for resisting a mammoth commitment to Gonzalez, but if I were a fan, I wouldn’t want to hear them.

I would want to know just one thing: Why can’t my team sign Adrian Gonzalez if the Twins can sign Joe Mauer?



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