There have been reports that Cleveland will shop Grady Sizemore. He has two years left on his contract and an option for 2012, which becomes a player option if he is traded, but nonetheless, the rumor gets thrown out there. It's not true, but it's damaging to a franchise dealing with the realities of not winning a World Series title since 1948. They have never entertained talks of a Sizemore trade, but the perception that he could be traded becomes part of the public reality.
Boston tried to trade for Gonzalez last July, and it did not work. Even though San Diego won 26 of its last 42 games and revamped the organization in the offseason, whether -- or when -- the Padres trade their hometown hero and one legitimate star has become the franchise overture.
2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
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"I try to be polite about it," said Gonzalez , who turns 28 on May 8. "But I get tired of being asked the same questions. I realize everyone has his job to do and wants to get in his own question, but sometimes when I've answered the same thing three, four and five times, I wonder why they can't all ask it together. I give the same answer."
Gonzalez does not publicly complain about the contract he signed in 2007, a contract that paid him $3 million last season when he hit 40 homers, a contract that will pay him $4.75 million in 2010 and $5.5 million in '11. He doesn't bring up the fact that this season he will be the second-highest paid Padres player, behind Chris Young.
Does he hope that, between Everth Cabrera, Scott and Jerry Hairston, Will Venable, Kyle Blanks and Chase Headley, there will be more runners on in front of him and more clout behind him, so if he hits 40 homers again and runs up one of the best OPS numbers in the game -- PETCO or no PETCO -- the walks will go down from his Major League-leading 119 in 2009, and the RBIs will creep up from 99?
"I'm trying to focus on having a good season and having what we did at the end of last year carry over to 2010," said Gonzalez. "It's that simple. I work hard at hitting, and that's what I focus on."
The reality is that the new Padres ownership, led by Jeff Moorad, has to try to grow revenues in a limited market, something the previous ownership wasn't able to do in recent years. They have to try to get attendance back over 2 million, and that would be difficult if the fans were faced with the cold reality of trading their one attraction -- their hometown star -- to boot.
At the same time, general manager Jed Hoyer has to evaluate what's in an organization whose best first-round pick since 1994 was Khalil Greene. He has to see where Gonzalez fits, determine whether they need to try to make a Grady Sizemore deal and evaluate if they can afford an $18-20M player and be more than a one-player team.
That is all in the hypothetical world. Gonzalez's world is playing. He gets asked about PETCO Park, which is hardly a hitter's paradise; Gonzalez hit 62 percentage points higher on the road, and his OPS was nearly 150 percentage points higher.
"I don't hit according to the ballpark, I hit against the pitcher," Gonzalez said. "That's all I concentrate on. I come to the park preparing for that night's pitcher, what he tries to do to me, what I need to try to do to him."
Since taking the Padres job, Hoyer has learned that Gonzalez is one of the hardest-working and most prepared players he has ever encountered.
"I try to do as much video preparation as I can," said Gonzalez. "I study the pitchers, what they like to do, their pitches and movement and, if I've faced them, how they've tried to get me out in the past. Of course, I take my swings and get my mechanics down, but that is something I can do. I know my swing. It's not that complicated."
"What I prepare for is certain pitches in certain counts in certain locations," Gonzalez added, sounding very much like Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols. "I'll look for a certain pitch and sit on it. I know what I want to do before get in the box."
Gonzalez's swing is art, the way he flips the bat head down and out to the pitch. Down and away: Line drive to the left-field gap. Breaking ball: Lofted to right field.
Then watch him play first base, like a Don Mattingly.
"His actions are so good, so fluid, that he could be used as an instructional video," said Hoyer. "He is really, really good."
As his manager, Bud Black, says, Gonzalez is even better when one sees him every day.
Gonzalez hasn't yet turned 28 and, with his swing and defensive grace, he should be able to play first base deftly well into his mid-30s. But he's still two seasons away from free agency. Injuries happen. Franchise enthusiasm can rise, or it can further recede.
In March 2010, no one knows. What we do know is that Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in the game, and one of the most celebrated. That is what the fans of San Diego should be allowed to enjoy, instead of dwelling on the fire sale of the mid-'90s or the sell-off after the 1998 pennant. Fans should be allowed to see if the Friars' pitching indeed continues to improve, if Headley's move back to third base allows him to take off, whether Blanks provides power and whether Hoyer can build the type of athleticism that plays well in PETCO.
One factor that helps the Padres is that the National League West is a moderate-budget division. The Rockies, D-backs, and Giants are also limited in what they can spend and already have very talented young players whose salaries are going to jump. The same is true for the Dodgers, who, because ownership has other interests outside of the team, are paying Manny Ramirez, Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson part of their 2009 salaries in '10, which means that the team they will field is actually approximately $83 million in present-day value.
As musician Warren Zevon liked to remind us, we should enjoy every sandwich. The Padres right now are a developing team with one of the best hitters on the planet, and no one has any idea what they'll be in November 2011, when Gonzalez's contract expires.