The San Diego Padres closed out their season Wednesday with one of their most satisfying wins of the season — a 9-2 whipping of the Chicago Cubs powered by Will Venable’s grand slam and Nick Hundley’s three-run homer that left everyone on the home team smiling.
Even by taking two out of three from the Cubs, even with winning eight of their final 12 games, the Padres still ended up with 91 losses, only 91 home runs and a National League-low .237 batting average.
While CEO Jeff Moorad has said the team’s budget will be above $50 million next season, it’s obvious the Padres are not going to be players for any of the big-name free agent sluggers (hey Albert Pujols, want to take the San Diego discount?).
So the Petco Park faithful have to be patient while General Manager Jed Hoyer and the front office continue to look for bargain basement deals and await continued development from the team’s young core and minor league prospects.
Coming off this season, the only players who could be considered locks for 2012 are center fielder Cameron Maybin (nine homers, 40 steals) and catcher Hundley (.288, nine homers; .367 average since he came off disabled list Aug. 12). Shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Orlando Hudson are signed through 2012. Then the questions begin.
Hoyer struck out with his free-agent signings Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu, but struck gold by plucking Jesus Guzman from the Giants. Guzman, who became a regular when Ryan Ludwick was traded at the end of July, hit a team-high .312 with 44 RBI in less than 250 at-bats. The problem is, Guzman is a hitter without a position, probably best suited to be a designated hitter in the American League.
Third baseman Chase Headley batted .288 after he stopped trying to hit homers in spacious Petco Park. The Padres must decide if they can carry an everyday corner infielder who only hit four home runs, despite his high on-base percentage (.367). Then there are decisions to be made on Venable and Kyle Blanks. Venable, who turns 28 in October, batted .246 and was shipped back to the minors to relocated his swing. Blanks batted .229 but has big-time power.
Though a fine athlete who played basketball at Princeton, Venable has had back problems the past two seasons and may have moved from prospect to suspect. “This was not the season I thought I was going to have,” Venable told reporters Wednesday.
Hoyer’s free-agent steal on the pitching side was Aaron Harang, who led the staff with a 14-7 record and would like to stay if the Padres decide they can afford him. The Padres and Harang have a mutual option for 2012.
One of the big decisions facing Hoyer is whether to re-sign All-Star closer Heath Bell (132 saves in three seasons), a free agent who continues to let everyone know he would prefer to stay and would take the San Diego Discount for a multiyear deal. The Padres have to decide whether to offer Bell arbitration — which he might accept — or let him walk, in which case they get no draft picks as compensation.
Even if he takes the discount, Bell figures to get $9 million to $10 million a year, which the frugal Padres find hard to swallow.
There are more questions than answers as the Padres look to an uncertain 2012 and try to turn around their 71-91 finish.