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Branding of a product - any product - is usually dependent on offering the potential consumer with an easily identifiable image of what is being offered in terms of consumption. Professional baseball is no different than any other industry - as movies are often watched based on the cast or the director, so are baseball games attended for the opportunity to see players that are easily recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. For fans of the San Diego Padres, many of those recognizable names are no longer with the organization. Players like Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Anthony Rizzo, and Mat Latos have moved on to other organizations for various reasons, mostly because the Padres were stuck financially looking at having to pay a single player up to a full third of the entire team payroll, and with Adams, Rizzo, and Latos the issues were based more on obtaining great value in trades.

For the past couple of years, hardcore Padres fans - while remaining true to the team - have taken to joking about which player jersey would be safe to purchase, in that ideally it should be a player that would have a chance at remaining with the team for a while. The tongue-in-cheek consensus is often to get a personalized jersey, "PTBNL", which stands for player to be named later, often times a player offered up in a trade that is selected from a group of potential prospects but not selected at the time for various reasons including the team that is on the receiving end of the PTBNL not having the capability at the time to add him to a roster somewhere. In 2012, it's difficult to imagine that any player on the Padres roster is 100% assured of not being moved before the end of the season. Some are probably safer than others.

"Going back to my early days in Cleveland, we signed players to multi year deals. That concept makes sense if you have core players. It helps you plan for future years. It helps you identify with the fans. Now that we have a lot of good players, we definitely want to build off of that group," first year General Manager Josh Byrnes wrote Wednesday on ESPN.com.

The immediate problem that the Padres face is that the Padres fan base doesn't seem to know who the good players are. Most have yet to see time at the major league level. Byrnes is obviously aware of the issue.

"What we've done here with the Padres, sometimes it's hard trading short term for the long term projections. When you make moves like that sometimes they're unpopular, so you have to believe in what you're doing," Byrnes wrote Wednesday.

ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked the Padres farm system as the number one system in baseball. That is very high praise, and especially notable after so many years of struggling with a farm system ranked toward the bottom of the list. Byrnes' predecessor, Jed Hoyer (now with the Chicago Cubs), drafted very well in 2011, and decently in 2010. Those drafts, combined with some shrewd trades, have helped to stock the minor league system with excellent prospects, some of which will likely see time with the big club in 2012. Josh Byrnes has also contributed, leaving the impression that the work started by Hoyer will continue.

"As an organization, we're honored to get this ranking. A lot of people deserve the credit. From Jeff Moorad and my predecessor Jed Hoyer and everyone else who's worked so hard. I know a lot of people are very proud today," Byrnes wrote of the article from Law, reiterated at a luncheon on Thursday morning.

But what about this season, what about 2012?

"I think we definitely didn't want to do anything to cut into our long term interests with all of the work we've done there. But we also didn't want to concede 2012. We got some guys in their 20s that we feel can help us win now. The NL West is always unpredictable. We can contend and compete, because this division rarely plays out like on paper," wrote Byrnes. "In this division, generally all five [teams] are close going in, it's a matter of who stays hot and who pitches well as to who wins the division."

Perhaps. Obviously, the glass is half full in the Padres front office. For the average fan, it's likely still a bit confusing. Eventually, guys like Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin and Jedd Gyorko and Casey Kelly will be matched to jersey numbers and become household names in the San Diego market (rated 26th according to market size, another hurdle to overcome). Maybe the player to be named later is, after all, a fan base that's waiting for a bunch of baseball players they have yet to know to become identifiable in some way.

Pitchers and catchers report in ten days. Next stop, Peoria, Arizona.

Notes:

  • This Saturday, Padres Fan Fest is open to the public from 10AM until 5PM, attendance is free. The Padres will offer, among other attractions, tours of the clubhouse. Select players will also be available for autographs.

  • The Padres television contract, which ended in 2011, has yet to be renewed elsewhere, but smart money is with Fox Sports. And USA Today's Bob Nightengale wrote today that, "even the San Diego Padres are, pending MLB approval, poised to sign a new deal with Fox Sports that will guarantee them $75 million a year for the next 20 years. The deal was confirmed by two industry executives familiar with the contract but not authorized to speak publicly about its details." That number seems incredibly high, based on their last contract with Cox being worth in the neighborhood of between $12 to $15 million dollars per year depending on which source one finds more believable. Stay tuned on this one.

  • Watch for daily doses here concerning Padres players that fans should expect to either see or hear about. There's nothing better than sitting next to an enlightened Padres fan at Petco, with the possible exception of the smell of the garlic fries wafting seductively near the second deck behind home plate.

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