The Padres continue to tune up in spring training with a roster stocked with top-shelf, and well-paid, players.
My, what a difference an owner makes.
“It’s amazing what the Padres are doing,” Cardiff’s Barry Axelrod said.
Axelrod is more than a casual observer.
Before the free-spending Peter Seidler took over, Axelrod negotiated deals back when the Padres pinched pennies instead of printing playoff tickets.
When Axelrod was among baseball’s top agents, he crafted impressive contracts with the Padres for infielder Phil Nevin (four years, $34 million) and right-hander Jake Peavy (three years, $52 million).
Both, at the time, were the richest pacts in franchise history.
Both look puny when considering the Padres have two players, infielder Manny Machado and outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr., with multiyear agreements exceeding $340 million. Plus, no squad has more players (five) making in excess of $20 million this season.
“I might have been a couple decades too early,” Axelrod said with a laugh.
Those former eye-popping contracts, thanks to Axelrod’s handiwork, pale in comparison to the riches awarded to those in uniform today.
That’s not the only difference, as far as the Padres are concerned.
Almost before the ink was dry on the Nevin and Peavey transactions, the Padres were exploring avenues to shed their liability.
Axelrod mentioned a phone call from then-Padres general manager Kevin Towers, breathlessly telling Axelrod a deal was in place with the Cincinnati Reds involving Ken Griffey Jr. for Nevin. Towers, a former Leucadia resident, wondered if Nevin would go.
“That’s great,” Axelrod said. “But we have a limited-trade clause, and Phil, who had built a big house in Poway and wanted to be close to his parents, had no interest in Cincinnati.”
Someone leaked the deal to the media, with Nevin being cast as the villain in the Padres’ quest to acquire a future Hall of Farmer in Griffey.
“We thought it was a long-term deal with the Padres and that was specifically why we signed it,” Axelrod said. “That was one of the only times I got in a disagreement with Kevin.”
Nevin, who now manages the Los Angeles Angels, read the tea leaves that he wasn’t wanted in San Diego. He ultimately accepted a trade to the Texas Rangers.
Nevin was hardly the lone Padres star among Axelrod’s clients to be pointed toward the door. Peavy, who won the 2007 Cy Young Award, signed his hefty deal and the Padres sighed with regret.
Then-owner Jeff Moorad contacted Axelrod at the 2009 trading deadline at 8 a.m., asking if Peavy would agree to relocate to the Chicago White Sox. Axelrod and Peavy turned down a similar request earlier that season.
“The answer will be no, but it’s my obligation to run it by Jake, but he was sleeping,” Axelrod said. “Finally, I have his wife wake him up at 11 a.m. and he says yes. We met the 1 p.m. deadline by two minutes.”
Peavy’s 15 minutes of fame had expired with San Diego.
Conversely, the long-term deals engineered by Seidler don’t have a sell-by date. Seidler has stated the superstars he’s signing are expected to finish their careers here.
Is that a positive or a negative?
“I think we know the last four or five years of these deals won’t look good,” Axelrod said. “And I like Peter and love what he is doing, but is it sustainable?
“Just look at the Angels, where they pay their top players (Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon) well and it doesn’t work out. You look at the Padres and they are paying their top four or five players, but you have to have a supporting cast.
“Is their center fielder (Trent Grisham) going to bat .184 again? They have catchers that don’t hit. And how good is Tatis going to be with a surgically repaired shoulder and wrist?
“(Yu) Darvish was great last year, but not so much the five years before. You have a second baseman playing first (Jake Cronenworth) and two corner outfielders (Tatis and Juan Soto) that can be suspect defensively. Things happen, players get older and don’t perform as well.”
True, but it’s false to think the Padres aren’t built for a deep October run.
“Agree, but look at Trout,” Axelrod said. “He’s the best player in the game and he’s been to three playoff games in his career.”
A penny for your thoughts and few have them with the perspective of Axelrod’s.
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports.