There has been a lot of talk -- speculation more than anything internal -- about potentially moving Gonzalez in a trade, even though he might be the best bargain in baseball and is now the face of the franchise. I get the feeling Gonzalez starts the 2010 season in San Diego. If the team struggles, maybe the Padres move him and possibly before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
We have heard a lot about third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. Is he part of the Padres' long-term plans?
Tough call. Kouzmanoff has been remarkably consistent in his three seasons here. He's hit for power, doesn't walk and is very durable. His defense has improved each season, and the Padres like that. But with Chase Headley, a third baseman by trade, playing the outfield, and two Minor League prospects moving fast through the system (James Darnell and Logan Forsythe), the Padres will listen to offers on Kouzmanoff. Like Gonzalez, I think he'll begin the season in San Diego. Beyond that, who knows?
What kind of player does new Padres general manager Jed Hoyer want/value as he moves into his first season?
There's not one type of player Hoyer likes or covets, though he has talked about finding players who fit this ballpark, PETCO Park. After all, the Padres do play 81 games here. That player is an athletic one, has doubles-power, someone who can run ... if it's an outfielder, someone who can go get a ball, someone who won't clog the bases. Granted, you need thumpers in the lineup, but ones who are undeterred by the spacious dimensions of the ballpark.
The Padres won 12 more games in 2009 than they did the previous season and did so with a roster full of young players. Can we count on another "bump" like that in '10 in terms of victories?
You can't count on it. I think that while the Friars played better in the second half and did so with young players such as Will Venable, Kyle Blanks and Mat Latos, there is surely no guarantee this will translate to more victories in 2010. The natural assumption is that these guys will only get better. That may well occur, but it can't be counted on. These guys still need to go out and do the job. There's always room to grow (and fall) in the National League West, so it will be interesting to see if what we saw in 2009 was a sign of things to come or simply a tease.
In your mind, what one player will be the key to the Padres' success in 2010?
Wow, tough question, though since I came up with it myself, I have no one to admonish but myself. OK, I'll say pitcher Chris Young. There's some depth in the number of guys who will fight for jobs in the rotation in Spring Training, but there's not a lot of proven guys there. The Padres might add an arm, but in case they don't, they'll need a big season from Young. Young has been sidelined by injuries (18 starts in 2008, 14 last season) but has shown (the first half of 2007) that he can be as good as anyone in the game. Keep an eye on his spring and his velocity. This guy can be very good when healthy.
Is Bud Black a better manager now than he was in 2007?
Absolutely. Remember that before 2007, Black had never been a manager at any level. This is a guy who spent a majority of his playing career -- and his time with the Angels at pitching coach -- in the American League. I think it took him a while to get used to managing the game in the NL, the double-switches, using the bench more, the bullpen, learning a new set of ballparks, players. That takes time. I think Black did some of his best managing in '09, and he showed he continues to command a clubhouse. He's the right type of manager for this team.
The Padres made a decision late in the 2009 season to extend second baseman David Eckstein into '10. Smart move?
I think so. There's no way to be sure if Hoyer would have done the same, but I believe Eckstein was good for this team last season. He provided some stability to a position where the Padres sure needed it, and he was very good in a place where fans don't see it -- in the clubhouse. The work he did with rookie Everth Cabrera from Spring Training was impressive. Eckstein mentors, he leads and does all of this in an unassuming, quiet way. He did very well defensively moving back to second base, and I expect he'll do that again. The Padres just seemed to play better when he was in the lineup.
Which of the young players are you looking forward to watching most in 2010?
It has to be Blanks. What a treat it was to watch this guy after his promotion from Triple-A Portland. The inside-the-park home run, the bee incident, crashing into the wall in left field and that raw power. I think the Padres have a pretty good idea what kind of player Blanks will be, though they would have loved if he hadn't missed the final five weeks of the season. I like the Bill James' projection on Fangraphs -- .277, 25 home runs, 79 RBIs and a .362 on-base percentage.
Should the Padres trade closer Heath Bell? They have some candidates in the bullpen now to replace him.
Bell is due for a hefty raise in 2010 after leading the NL in saves (42) and making his first All-Star team in '09. I'm fairly certain the Padres will reach an agreement with him, but I could see them moving him if they're faced with the right kind of deal. I think a lot of this will depend on what the Padres do in the next few weeks, if they are able to sign a free-agent outfielder, having already been spurned by Coco Crisp. Also, I don't think you can just assume Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson, who both had nice seasons in 2009, can simply "slide" into the closer role. It's a different beast than pitching the seventh or eighth innings. That saying about the last three outs being the hardest? It's true. The bullpen was a strength of the Padres in 2009; moving Bell only weakens it.
Finally, because your answers are so long, how about a prediction for 2010?
I'll go ahead and offer up a prediction knowing this team could look different come the start of Spring Training. The offseason doesn't end on Jan. 1, so I expect the Padres to make some changes soon to change the complexion of the roster. With that in mind, I'll say the team finishes with a 79-83 record.