PEORIA, Ariz. -- Into the bag, from his locker, went the cleats. Next, the first baseman's glove. Followed by batting gloves.
Preview of coming attractions in San Diego?
The Human Trade Rumor was packing up the other morning. But, alas, only for the 30-minute drive to Tempe for a Cactus League game. Not for a permanent change in residence.
Not yet, anyway.
"I've had some talks with Mr. Moorad," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez says, referring to Padres CEO Jeff Moorad. "I know where they're at. I know there's a goal. A three-year plan, four-year plan, five-year plan. Whatever it is."
Looking every bit the short-timer, Gonzalez currently is on a two-year plan -- the time remaining on his contract -- or less.
He is currently the best bargain in baseball, due a $4.5 million salary in 2010 after slugging 40 home runs, collecting 99 RBI and batting .277 in San Diego's enormous Petco Park. The Padres hold a club option on him for 2011 at the still-rock-bottom-bargain price of $5.5 million.
He is everything that the Padres should want in a franchise player: A slugging, San Diego native. Two-time Gold Glover. Hard-worker. Intelligent. Personable. A wildly popular star among Hispanics, no small thing for an organization nestled only a few miles from the United States/Mexico border.
And yet ...
Take a look at the Padres' promotions planned for this summer and it is difficult to decipher anything other than nobody here figures Gonzalez will be around for the entire season.
One replica jersey night is planned featuring pitcher Chris Young ... but no Gonzalez.
The cover of the media guide features Petco Park ... but no Gonzalez.
"I know, there are no bobblehead dolls for me or Heath [Bell, the Padres' closer who also has been subject to numerous trade rumors]," Gonzalez says. "I really don't care. From a personal perspective, people always bring it up to me. I don't know ... they want to promote the younger guys, I guess. I get that."
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He acknowledges that it is difficult not to read anything into it.
"It's something people recognize," Gonzalez says, smiling. "It's definitely a good conversation piece if you want to get into it.
"I'm totally fine with it. You can definitely run with it if you want to."
Since last July, Gonzalez has been dogged by more rumors than Rihanna. Seattle, Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers all attempted to pry him from the Padres at last summer's trade deadline. Before that, it was the Los Angeles Angels. Already this spring, ex-teammate Jake Peavy did a very thorough job to colleague Danny Knobler of publicly lobbying the Chicago White Sox to acquire Gonzalez.
For his part, unlike many of his Padres predecessors (Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Jake Peavy), Gonzalez has shown no hint of being willing to take a "hometown discount", which has squashed what little momentum there might have been toward negotiating an extension beyond 2011.
He was disgusted by the piecemeal breakup of a Padres team that had won back-to-back NL West titles in 2005 and 2006. He has made no secret that his desire to win trumps simply settling for playing for his hometown team.
It is here that Gonzalez and the Padres represent the Great Myth of the New Ballpark Phenomenon: Once opened, while money initially flows freely, a new crib does not guarantee boom times forever.
Petco Park is only six years old, yet the Padres last summer traded Peavy -- who was signed to a club-friendly, below-market-value contract. Now, things don't look good for Gonzalez.
The comparable -- star player, local native, face of the franchise -- of course is Minnesota's Joe Mauer.
But there are key points that make their situations completely different:
Gonzalez wants to play for a winner. Mauer is with a winner.
The Twins are committed to doing things right. The Padres have been torched by the owner's divorce.
Gonzalez is a hometown guy who is playing for a team with a payroll of around $40 million.
Mauer is a hometown guy who is playing for a team with a projected $96 million payroll in 2010.
It isn't just about whether the organization is willing to come up with the dough. It's also about how much give there is in the player. And right now, there just isn't enough incentive on either side to come close to a match.
That said, the Padres, after bottoming out at 63-99 two summers ago, appear to be making progress with young, athletic players. But the club's timetable and that of Gonzalez, in his prime at 28, are not on parallel paths.
"We have to play well," Padres second baseman David Eckstein says, acknowledging the grim truth that pretty much is accepted throughout the clubhouse regarding the slim chance of Gonzalez staying. "Everyone knows what direction this club is going in. We need to play well."
Eckstein, one of the clubhouse elders, made it a point to talk to Gonzalez after Peavy, as Eckstein puts it, went "on the campaign trail."
Sleeper ... Mat Latos: Injury-returnee Chris R. Young will prove to be a late-round steal if he can finally keep that big body healthy, but the lightning-armed Mat Latos is our pick for the sleeper to watch here. He is a Low Investment Mound Ace (L.I.M.A.) capable of a huge sophomore splash. We figure he has a rotation spot to lose and could sneak up to be a great member of mixed-league pitching staffs in his first full season.
Bust ... Heath Bell: One, Bell is an injury risk because he could eat himself to the DL. Two, he is a trade-deadline candidate. After all, what good is a closer as a commodity for a team that doesn't figure to win a lot of games? Answer: trade bait, mostly. A midseason trade to a contender would almost certainly render your high-priced closer pick a glorified setup man. That could hurt. Three, Bell just cannot be as good as he was a year ago. In fact, there are warning signs to track from the second half of last season, when Bell posted a 3.90 ERA and blew five saves. Solid, yes. Great, no. You will be paying for great on Draft Day.
Breakout ... Kyle Blanks: Blanks' size won't make him much of a defensive player, but his power just has to be in the lineup regularly. He promises to put up some impressive power numbers in his first full season in the major leagues. Having exhausted his rookie eligibility, hitting 10 homers in 148 at-bats, Blanks is one of those superb overlooked sophomores that can be a sleeper on Draft Day and a breakout candidate to help in any format.
-- Eric Mack
Top Padres Prospects (2010 destination)
1. Jaff Decker, OF, Class A
2. Donavan Tate, OF, Class A
3. Aaron Poreda, SP, Triple-A
4. James Darnell, 3B, Double-A
5. Logan Forsythe, 3B, Triple-A
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"One thing about Adrian is, that kind of thing doesn't bug him too much," Eckstein says of the persistently overheated rumor machine. "You're going to have that no matter what. No matter what you're talking about, with his contract status, no matter what club he's on, those rumors are going to be there."
Padres manager Bud Black, who has spoken with Gonzalez several times about the trade speculation since last season, says Gonzalez is "doing fine" and that he doesn't think it will be a distraction to either his first baseman or the team. This is the club, remember, that spent all of last February, March, April, May, June and July with trade rumors swirling around Peavy before he ultimately was dealt.
"Things are out of [Gonzalez's] control," Black says. "The bottom line is, he's a player. And he knows that. His focus is to play. And he's handling it great. He's doing what he's done the last three springs since I've been here. He's taking on a leadership role with this team, and he's working hard."
Part of Gonzalez's steely demeanor probably has to do with the fact that he's already been traded twice in his career, from Florida to Texas and then from the Rangers to San Diego. He's experienced the emotions that go along with being traded. He long ago learned the game's business side.
He's no novice. Nor is his wife, who he says is taking the rumors in stride.
"Her story to everybody is, the first year we were married, we moved into nine different condos," Gonzalez says, chuckling. "I had surgery the year before, so we were in spring training and I was rehabbing, then I got sent to Albuquerque, then to Carolina, then I was traded and went to Frisco [Tex.], then they sent me to hang out with [the Rangers] for a few days, then they sent me to the Arizona Fall League.
"I stayed in Scottsdale, but then I went to Tempe to train [for the winter] and then I went to spring training in Surprise [with the Rangers]. When the season started, I went to Oklahoma City.
"She just says, 'I'm used to it. I learned how to put everything in a car and go.'
"Wal-Mart and Target are her best friends."
Based on where her husband's salary is headed, Betsy Gonzalez will be afforded the opportunity to make new friends in the, say, Neiman-Marcus or Saks Fifth Ave. neighborhoods if she wishes. Adrian's agent, John Boggs, has told him that, as a comparable, they should at least take a hard look at the deal Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees (eight years, $180 million), based in no small part on what his road numbers would project to in a ballpark that is more fair to hitters than Petco Park.
For example, Gonzalez last year cracked 28 homers on the road, and 12 at Petco. He batted .306 on the road, and .244 in Petco. He slugged .643 on the road, and .446 in Petco.
In Boston, Chicago and other burgs, they look at this and visions of sugarplums dance in their heads.
In San Diego, first hint they hear of Teixeira's contract, poor new general manager Jed Hoyer will choke on his first fish taco.
So the Human Trade Rumor goes on about the business of preparing for 2010, and read into "business" how you like.
"It's sad to say, but having been traded a couple of times, I play for the guys in the clubhouse, the players, Buddy [Black] and his staff," Gonzalez says. "I play in San Diego, but I'm not playing for the name across the jersey. I play for the guys in the clubhouse. You learn that you play for them."
He offers no predictions for which guys in which clubhouse he will be playing in August and September.
"No," he says, smiling. "And I don't even want to start looking into it."
It's OK. There are plenty of others who will be doing that for him.