Padres turn season into a positive
Development of Blanks, Cabrera, Venable a step forward
SAN DIEGO -- They used 15 different starting pitchers, traded away a Cy Young Award winner and made a notable second-half push with an active roster of players who made a combined $26 million, many of whom started the season in the Minor Leagues.And, somehow, it all worked. No, the 2009 campaign certainly wasn't your run-of-the-mill season for the Padres, who improved by 12 victories from their miserable 99-loss season of 2008, doing so with a roster full of young players who, manager Bud Black hopes, will continue to get better moving ahead. "We've done a lot of good things each night that go into winning a game," Black said in the final week of the season. "I think that the last two months have been good for everyone." The Padres were 37-25 from July 28 on, essentially about the time they traded pitcher Jake Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner, to the Chicago White Sox and when No. 2 pitcher Chris Young was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. The Padres had tried in earnest to move Peavy since the Winter Meetings and had a deal with the White Sox in May -- for the same compensation package of four pitchers -- that Peavy turned down. He relented on July 31 and the Padres were able to move him and, more importantly, the remaining $56 million on his current deal. Ultimately, the Padres couldn't overcome their early struggles, especially in July when they went 8-20. Hitting coach Jim Lefebvre was dismissed and replaced with Randy Ready about the time the team started playing better. The Padres got essentially nothing from veteran outfielder Brian Giles, who hit .191 in his first 61 games before being felled by a knee injury. He never returned, which gave San Diego a chance to look out young outfielder Will Venable and Kyle Blanks, the first baseman who held his own in the outfield. Now the Padres are charged with entering the offseason looking for a general manager after Kevin Towers was told the day before the season ended that he wouldn't be retained. Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said he would like to hire a new general manager in a few weeks, though many believe it could come sooner than that. Record: 75-87, fourth place in the National League West. Defining moment: The Padres turned the season over to youth in the second half and many of those players delivered, such as 22-year-old rookie shortstop Everth Cabrera, who helped fuel a late-season push with a walk-off grand slam off Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez on Aug. 7. The Padres were 37-25 from July 28 on, all while doing so with a payroll of about $26 million for players on the active roster. What went right: The Padres got to see what young players like Cabrera, pitcher Mat Latos and outfielders Venable and Blanks could do when given extended playing time or, in Latos' case, a handful of starts. The back end of Padres bullpen, led by first-year closer Heath Bell, might have been among the best in the NL. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez reached 40 home runs for the first time and made his second All-Star team. How about Bell? Forty-two saves in his first go as a full-time closer in the Major Leagues. What went wrong: The Padres, with such notable players as David Eckstein, Peavy and Young on the disabled list, went 8-20 in July and were no-hit by Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants. Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley got off to slow starts, which didn't help an offense that struggled and cost Lefebvre his job. Also, Giles' production fell off dramatically before he was injured. Biggest surprise: Cabrera went from Rule 5 Draft pick in December to being what well could be the Padres' starting shortstop for the next decade. Yes, that's a steal. Cabrera offered plus defense at a position where the Padres had no upper-level players capable of holding down that position. He showed a live bat as a switch-hitter and he swiped 25 bases. Towers spent much of 2009 answering calls from other GMs who wanted to know how on earth the Padres found Cabrera.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.