“The Beginning of a new era” is a phrase that Padres fans have heard an awful lot in recent years. Starting with the firing of Bruce Bochy and hiring of Bud Black, then continuing with the ouster of long-time GM Kevin Towers. This new Padres brain-trust, assembled by Jeff Moorad, was supposed to build their careers in San Diego. Instead, outgoing GM Jed Hoyer and Assistant GM Jason McLeod, spent a total of two years with the Padres, effectively using this franchise as a stepping-stone, much like a college football coach might use San Diego State to build his resume before the Big Ten comes calling, to what they perceive as a better job in Chicago.
With Hoyer out, Moorad turned to Josh Byrnes to assume the GM duties; the same position he held under Moorad in Arizona. Former D-backs manager, A.J. Hinch, was named as the replacement to McLeod.
The hallmark of a great franchise is stability within the organization. Anytime there is an ownership change as recently as the one we’ve had here, there will be a period of adjustment, but to burn through two GMs in just 27 months is just a tough pill to swallow. Byrnes seemed to have an idea that the Padre faithful may be growing weary of the upheaval. At his introductory press conference on Monday, Byrnes assured everyone that he viewed this position as “the best job for me, without a doubt.” He added, “I won’t be looking elsewhere.”
Byrnes was once hailed as the brightest young GM in the game, when his Diamondbacks club won the NL West in 2007. One bad Eric Byrnes contract and two last-place finishes later, Josh Byrnes was unceremoniously dumped by the D-backs after a rough start in 2010. Unable to land a GM job last fall, Byrnes opted to join Moorad in San Diego.
And so the latest New Era of Padres baseball begins in earnest. Hours after being introduced, Byrnes made official the rumors that the club would be declining contract options on pitchers Aaron Harang and Chad Qualls, and also on 1B Brad Hawpe. More notably, Byrnes also made clear the club’s intention of offering salary arbitration to closer Heath Bell, who qualified as a Type-A free agent. Bell has been public in his desires to remain with the Padres and Byrnes indicate that the club would be comfortable if Bell chooses to accept the offer. If he declines and lands a contract elsewhere, the Padres would be entitled to a pair of compensatory draft picks next June.
I’m not one that will often advocate paying for saves, especially on a club that doesn’t figure to be in serious contention next year, but given the loss of Mike Adams at the deadline last season and the Pads’ still young starting staff, having a veteran presence like Bell at the back-end of games has its’ benefits. This fan base has had to sit back and watch as the payroll has been pared down, scaled back, and pared down again and the front-office certainly doesn’t want to watch the latest fan favorite walk out the door. But the facts of the matter are that San Diego’s payroll figures to come in at or near $54 million in 2012 and Bell alone would eat up near $10 million of that through arbitration. The club has just roughly $15 million committed to the 2012 payroll now that the options for the three above players have been declined, but with no fewer than 12 arbitration-eligible players about to get raises, plus the need to fill holes on the roster from outside the organization, that $54 million could be spent before we even know what hit us. Baseball-reference is estimating that the 12 arbitration-eligibles should costly roughly $36 million for 2012, that assuming none of those players are traded or non-tendered, of course.
When you look at a mere $15 million sitting between your budget line and where you are before adding pre-arb players (plus any free-agents you might like to sign), I have a hard time justifying the cost of keeping Bell around, especially when he could fetch a pair of pick in return.
Now, saying that the Padres would be in better financial shape without Bell is pretty obvious, but it was also pretty obvious that Byrnes did the thing he had to do in offering the closer a chance to stay. The only way Byrnes can look even okay should Bell leave is if he at least makes this offer. We will see how important staying in San Diego is to Bell, but if he does choose to leave, the Padres will likely be better off for it. Not because Bell can’t pitch, but because the resources could be better put to use elsewhere.