Walter Mencken 9:21 p.m., Oct. 20
Peoria, Arizona, is not at all a bad place to be in early March. West of Phoenix proper, Peoria offers your basic desert atmosphere; there is a nightlife, sunny and mild days (the nights can get a little chilly in March), and baseball all over the place. The Padres share a complex with the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, seems like just yesterday that the Padres left Yuma, but it has been a while. In fact, an upgrade is coming soon - maybe as early as 2013 or 2014 - to this relatively new complex. Spring training brings a renewed hope and optimism.
No more optimism exists in spring training than exists among players who are non-roster invitees.
Spring training camps usually involve between fifty-five and seventy players, including the 25-man roster, the extra fifteen that make up the 40-man roster, and the balance who are invited to major league spring training for various reasons. Basically, it can be whittled down to two groups among the invitees. One group is promising prospects that are close enough to major league level to deserve a look with the big club, players that might even be added to the 40-man roster at some point in the season depending on how things go (injuries and trades and so on often dictate those call-ups throughout the season). The other group consists of veteran players, perhaps in the twilight of their careers or perhaps fringe major league players looking for an opportunity.
Pitcher Jeff Suppan is one such pitcher going to Peoria in hopes of catching on with the San Diego Padres. Suppan began his major league career in 1995 with the Boston Red Sox, and subsequently played for the Diamondbakcs, the Royals, the Pirates, the Cardinals, and the Brewers, and spent all of last year at AAA Omaha, in the Royals organization. Suppan is 37. Should Suppan make the opening day roster, he will stand to make almost $1 million for the season. Should he not, then he will be optioned and could serve as organizational depth in AA or AAA for the Padres and called up if needed in case of injury or a trade.
Organizational depth is often as important as what a team has on the 25-man roster on opening day.
Suppan has a career record of 138 wins and 143 losses, mostly as a starter, an earned run average of 4.69, and has been somewhat prone to giving up the long ball over his career. But at Petco? At Dodger Stadium? AT&T Park? Signing Suppan to a minor league deal is some thrifty insurance when considering that balls don't carry well at any of those ballparks, where the Padres will play a majority of their games. And to get one last shot at the age of 37 at pitching in the big leagues may be worth waiting in the minors for a while for Suppan.
Another veteran invitee is Alex Hinshaw, a left-handed pitcher released from the Giants organization (Hinshaw attended SDSU). Hinshaw's major league experience is limited to a little over 45 innings in 2008 and 2009, and has had control issues throughout his major and minor league career, but left-handed pitchers are left-handed pitchers, coveted if they can make a difference at any level. And his lack of major league service time means that he is controllable for a long time. But he's 29, so again, it's likely a question of stocking up on that organizational depth.
Dale Thayer fits the organizational depth mode perfectly. While sporting nothing notable in terms of time and numbers at the major league level, his body of work in the minors is impressive.Thayer is a control pitcher, great for a long relief role, and even though he's over 30 years old, he doesn't seem to have lost anything thus far. He was originally signed by the Padres as a non-drafted free-agent in 2002 and then traded to Tampa Bay in 2006 in a deal that brought Russell Branyon to San Diego. Welcome back, Dale.
Toss in pitcher Matt Palmer and outfielder Jeremy Hermida, and there's the veteran side of the non-roster invitees. Will any of them make the big club? It isn't likely. But anything can happen, and it's important to know at the big-league level that if a pitcher throws out his arm or if a position player pulls a hamstring, there are possibly going to be some veterans that can be called up and plugged in at a moment's notice. Organizational depth is money well-spent.
If you don't believe that, just ask the Padres front office about Jesus Guzman.
As has been widely reported, Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre, underwent surgery on Tuesday to remove a cancerous tumor from his cheek. Thoughts and prayers for Mr. Gwynn and his family. There is no greater San Diego baseball icon, and finding a more wonderful human being on this planet would be a difficult task. Keep on fighting, Tony, we've watched you get a hold of a lot of screwballs and knock them silly. You will beat this screwball, too.
On the Padres television media contract front, Jay Posner of the Union-Tribune (or the U-T as they now prefer) reported Tuesday that unnamed sources have confirmed that the soon-to-be-assembled-and-announced Fox Sports local network (San Diego, perhaps?) and the Padres have reached a deal that would pay the Padres $30 million for the first year, increasing each year by approximately 4%. Posner also went on to say that there could be a "signing bonus" where the Padres could receive an extra $10 million dollars the first year, and that the deal also includes a 20% ownership in the media group. This is in line from what was reported here previously, from a consensus of sources. No word on when MLB will consider approving the deal, but the numbers are in line with other MLB clubs' media deals in terms of market size proportionate to value of the contract. As stated previously, expect a decision sometime next week.