Richard deal pays off for Padres

Left-hander nice replacement for expensive Peavy

March 20, 2011|By Phil Rogers

The White Sox cross their fingers that this is the year Jake Peavy will pay dividends. But Clayton Richard and the Padres play on house money.

Peavy prompted the Padres to trade him because he didn't think he could get back to the playoffs with them. Low payrolls in the wake of owner John Moores' divorce and the sale of the team to a group led by agent Jeff Moorad left the 2007 Cy Young Award winner thinking it was time for a change.

Yet the Padres rode a surprisingly strong pitching staff to 90 victories in 2010, their most since going to the 1998 World Series.

Richard, who had moved into Ozzie Guillen's rotation a little more than two months before he was traded, ranked sixth in the National League in starts (33), 11th in victories (14) and 18th in innings (2012/3 innings). He made it through the fifth inning 31 times, establishing his reliability.

Richard enters 2011 as the No. 2 starter in Bud Black's rotation behind second-year big leaguer Mat Latos. He has a lot to feel good about, but he spent the offseason full of regret because the Padres let a lead of 61/2 games in the NL West on Aug. 25 slip through their hands.

"I'm not going to say last year was satisfying,'' Richard said. "The last thing on my mind at the end of the season was satisfaction. It was good to be part of it, playing with a team that was at the top all year, but the end was no fun.''

A 10-game losing streak in early September created a crisis, and the Padres allowed the Giants to take control when they lost three of four to the Cubs to start the final week of the season. But who thought they even would be competitive?

There were few fans in San Diego — or analysts anywhere — with enough imagination to see the Padres competing after they traded Peavy.

Richard allowed that to happen as he seamlessly took the innings that had fallen to Peavy, who was on the disabled list with a torn tendon in his ankle when the trade was made. The Padres, who had sliced their payroll from $74million to $44 million before 2009, invested some of the Peavy savings in Jon Garland, who joined Richard and Latos in winning 14 games.

Richard has made 45 starts for the Padres, going 19-11 with a 3.83 earned-run average.

Contraction discussed: Major League Baseball's ownership issues reportedly have prompted some within Commissioner Bud Selig's inner circle to discuss contraction privately — specifically the elimination of stadium-challenged franchises in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The New York Post's Joel Sherman blogged about this recently, albeit with the caveat that it's only a theory because MLB isn't willing to risk labor peace by eliminating 18 spots for big league regulars and 10 for starting pitchers. But Sherman points out that eliminating the A's and Rays could allow Lew Wolff to buy the Dodgers from the McCourts and Stuart Sternberg to buy the Mets from the Wilpons.

That could be a win-win for other franchises, as the A's and Rays heavily draw on the revenue-sharing system. There's precedent for this type of shuffle. When the Expos moved to Washington, Selig allowed Marlins owner John Henry to take control of the Red Sox while Jeffrey Loria swapped the Expos for the Marlins.

Imagine the feeding frenzy if baseball held an dispersal draft to assign the pitching staffs of the Rays and A's to 28 other teams. Those arms would blow away the quality of free agent pitchers expected to be available the next two years.

Internal improvement: The Giants were incredibly static after winning the World Series, adding only one new player (Miguel Tejada) while losing just two (Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria). But they could have a significantly stronger lineup, thanks to having Buster Posey for a full season and adding Brandon Belt.

The tall, thin Belt looks a little like the second coming of Will Clark. If he wins a job at first base, Aubrey Huff would move to left field, sharing time with Pat Burrell, Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand (all of whom would be offered around in trades).

Belt, a fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, raced through the farm system last season. He has had mixed results this spring but put himself into the picture with a recent charge that took him to .283 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games.

Manager Bruce Bochy insists the Giants will go with Belt as their first baseman and No. 7 hitter if he makes them a better team, no matter what it means to veterans. General manager Brian Sabean had said Belt needed a full season at Triple A but says now that "with each day that he holds his own or excels, it turns your head.''

Feeling his pain: Luis Salazar lost his left eye after taking a Brian McCann foul ball off his face two weeks ago. The Braves believe he otherwise will recover fully and be able to remain in his position as manager at Class A Lynchburg (Va.).

Rafael Belliard, an infield coach with the Tigers who lives near Salazar in Boca Raton, Fla., says Salazar isn't feeling sorry for himself.

"He told me, 'Raffy, it could be worse. I'm still alive,'" Belliard told the Detroit Free Press.

McCann is having a hard time shaking the memory of that ugly incident. He entered the weekend hitting .222.

The last word: "I have a tendon where a ligament was. Look out, I'll be throwing 112 (mph).'' —Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, returning to camp after having his elbow reconstructed.

progers@tribune.com

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