While the White Sox have sent some mixed messages this offseason, the Padres have not. New San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes wants his team to score more runs in 2012, and he again made a move to try to do that acquiring outfielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox in exchange for two minor-league pitchers.
"Ownership let us stretch payroll to make this move," Byrnes said Saturday afternoon on a conference call. "We started a couple of years ago, when (former GM) Jed (Hoyer) put a big focus on building a talent base and acquiring prospects to a point where it's a real strength. (Owner Jeff Morad) told me we had ways to stretch our payroll if we can be a surprise team in 2012 and have a foundation to sustain success at the Major League level."
Byrnes, who took over the team when Hoyer went to the Cubs, has used not only what is arguably the game's deepest farm system, but also some of the current talent to improve the Padres' immediate future.
Since taking over, Byrnes acquired a replacement at closer for Heath Bell in Huston Street, pulled off a big trade with the Reds that brought in Yonder Alonso and Edinson Volquez, along with more prospects, for Mat Latos. And the Byrnes may not be done yet.
"We feel like we still have some work to do," Byrnes said. "I think certainly the biggest weakness of the 2011 team, the offense, we feel like we've taken some steps to improve it."
Quentin was named to his second All-Star team last season, hitting 17 home runs in the first half of the season, before being limited to just 33 games after the All-Star Game in Arizona. The San Diego native -- and current resident -- hit 36 homers in 2008 and has averaged nearly 24 homers a season since, despite playing in just 116 games a year since his break-out season.
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"He's a real threat and we lacked that last season," Byrnes said. "Last year, when we were down two or three runs, we were out of the game."
Quentin also is a better fit than many for Petco Park because he's a right-handed hitter and the majority of his homers are to left field, where it's easier to homer at Petco. Of Quentin's 24 home runs in 2011, all but one came to the left of second base. While U.S. Cellular Field has the opposite reputation for home run hitters as Petco, 14 of his 24 homers were calculated to have gone out in all 30 parks, according to HitTrackerOnline.com -- and as Byrnes noted, the Padres do play half their games away from Petco Park, something he's no doubt told free agent hitters since taking over.
"I've heard the different talks about the park. I was here when the park was first built -- I'm familiar with it, I've played here," Quentin said. "Bottom line is I'm a hitter first. … It's always been my approach to hit first and stay within myself. That's the most ideal approach to produce power. I'm not planning on changing that at all."
Acquiring Quentin helps rectify what Byrnes called one of his "regrets." As general manager of the Diamondbacks, Byrnes sent Quentin to the White Sox in December of 2007 in a move that helped bring Dan Haren to Arizona.
"The key point with Carlos is the intensity he has, he plays with a real edge and that's something we've been missing," Byrnes said.
Quentin will play left field, joining center fielder Cameron Maybin in the outfield a likely platoon of Will Venable and Chris Denorfia in right. The team also has Kyle Blanks, Mark Kotsay and Jesus Guzman, meaning another trade is far from unlikely at this point.
While one of the pitchers the Padres traded away, right-hander Simon Castro, was ranked as a Top 100 prospect before the 2011 season, he struggled in 2011 at Double-A and Triple-A, putting up a 5.63 ERA (although some of that can be attributed to the altitude in Tucson). Castro, and left-hander Pedro Hernandez, were unlikely to be ranked in the Padres' Top 10. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein had Castro ranked as the team's 20th best prospect and Hernandez wasn't ranked by Goldstein, so the true cost of the Padres' acquisition will be money. Quentin is arbitration-eligible and will be a free agent after the season. He could make as much as $8 million this season through arbitration, plus the Padres took on payroll in the Latos deal, meaning the team could see a significant bump in its payroll for 2012.
As for the White Sox, they have perhaps the worst minor-league system in baseball and the acquisition of Castro and Hernandez should help. Both should be in Chicago's top prospects list. The White Sox have already traded off closer Sergio Santos and despite the extension for John Danks, the team appears to be in rebuilding mode, which is why they went ahead and dealt Quentin.