National / Sports / November 13, 2008

Rox unload, A’s reload, and Padres implode

It has been quite an unusual week in Major League Baseball. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane uncharacteristically traded young talent for a veteran and the San Diego Padres withdrew a contract offer from all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

The Oakland Athletics acquired Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies for closer Huston Street, starting pitcher Greg Smith, and 23-year-old outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez. The 2005 American League Rookie of the Year, Street is only 25 years old and is arbitration eligible for the next two years. He has 94 career saves in his four year career to go with an ERA of 2.88. Smith, a rookie, was the Athletics most consistent pitcher in 2008, compiling seven wins and an ERA of 4.16 in 190 innings.

2007 National League batting champ Matt Holliday is 28 years old and in the last year of his contract. Holliday’s major drawback is that he has not hit consistently away from Coors Field. In fact, when not playing at Coors, his average is 77 points lower, he has 40 fewer home runs, and his slugging percentage is 205 points lower.

Andres Galarraga had similar home-away splits in his five years with the Rockies, batting nearly 65 points higher and slugging 124 points higher at home than on the road. During that stint, he also hit 28 more home runs at home. With the Rockies, he reached the 40 home run plateau three times and the 30 home-run plateau twice, but never had a season above 29 home-runs with his other teams. He also batted well over his career average with the Rockies in four of his five years with the team.

On the other hand, Larry Walker also had his best years with the Rockies, but he often played better on the road than at home. In 1997, when he hit a career-high 49 home runs, 29 of them were on the road.

No matter what, the Oakland Athletics are receiving a polished, professional hitter who will doubtless make an immediate impact on their offensive production. And, who knows? Maybe Beane’s plan is to turn right around and trade him for prospects.

It certainly would not be the strangest thing he has ever done.

Trevor Hoffman has been with the Padres for 16 years. The only other active player to be with the same team for a longer period is Atlanta Braves’ pitcher John Smoltz (21). Smoltz may be done playing after yet another arm injury. Even if he makes a comeback, the Braves seem indifferent to the idea of bringing him back. That would leave Chipper Jones, also of the Braves, as the longest tenured player with a single team, at just under 16 years.

Hoffman, meanwhile, has racked up the career saves record (554) as well as most pitching appearances with a single team (901). His 89.2 percent save rate is also a major league record. 2008 was his worst year in the majors since 1995, but he still only had an ERA of 3.77 and racked up 30 saves for a record 13th time in his career. Although the Padres are evidently dumping payroll—they are also trying to move their ace, Jake Peavy –it still seems an odd time to cut ties with the fan-favorite and 16-year veteran. The Padres claim the payroll decrease stems from owner John Moores’ nasty divorce, but they just picked up a $9 million option on right fielder Brian Giles, which totally contradicts their alleged payroll dump.

Padres’ fans have had little to celebrate since losing in the World Series in 1998, and Hoffman has been the lone player to bring excitement to Padres’ fans in many of their most difficult seasons. Some of their favorite memories have been “Hells Bells” playing upon Hoffman’s entrance into a game and watching their beloved closer break most of the records a closer can possibly break.

When the Padres lose 100-plus games next year, the fans will miss Hoffman. The fans will remember that the Padres’ management abandoned him and abandoned them; they will remember that their beloved closer was not given the chance to retire a Padre. Hoffman will go into the Hall of Fame as a Padre, but next year, for the first since 1993, he will be wearing a different jersey in a different city with different fans.

James Clark

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