The Myth of the Padres Extension

Perhaps the largest complaint from Padres fans about their favorite team is how they failed to extend Adrian Gonzalez, arguably the best hitter the Padres have had in the past decade. This complaint is understandable and entirely justified.

Historically, Padres fans have tended to latch on to the most recent grievance, in effect brushing history under the rug. Recently, though, that has started to change. Fans are more aware of the Padres’ frugality than ever before and even local journalists and beat writers who used to shrug at the notion that the Padres were cheap – or ignore it altogether – are using the Padres historical frugality as evidence when reasoning whether or not the Padres will pursue specific free agents.

Let me throw some fuel on that fire.

Not only have the Padres had what is arguably the cheapest ownership groups over the past decade (or even two decades), and not only are they historically inept at drafting and developing, but perhaps what sets the Padres furthest apart from any other organization in baseball is their unbelievably dismal history regarding player extensions.

What follows is a thorough account of each individual contract extension awarded by the Padres since roughly 1997, around when I began to form critical thinking skills as a Padres fan.

Get prepared to be disgusted. The Padres have welshed on as many extensions before the extension even began as extensions that they saw through to completion, have failed to offer some of their most notable players extensions (as I’m sure you’re already aware), and referred to numerous other contracts as extensions despite the fact that the contracts didn’t ultimately extend past team-controlled arbitration seasons.

Whether or not the extensions worked out, or whether the Padres got equitable trade value for an extended player they traded, is not the point: the point is whether the extension actually was an extension, whether the Padres actually saw the extension through to completion, and whether the Padres even offered an extension at all.

Each of these examples helps form the ‘Myth of the Padres Extension’.

Extensions That Weren’t Fulfilled

Woody Williams

In April 2001, entering the final season of his contract with the San Diego Padres, Woody Williams agreed to a two year extension with the Padres through the 2003 season.

Less than four months later, before the extension even began, he was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Ray Lankford.

If you wanted a very brief way of epitomizing the Myth of the Padres Extension, you could basically stop here. I’ll continue on, however…

Mark Kotsay

The Padres signed Mark Kotsay to a three year extension on July 12th, 2002, extending Kotsay’s contract past its scheduled completion date at the end of 2003, from 2004 through 2006.

Predictably, the Padres dealt Mark Kotsay before the calendar ever said 2004, again before the extension ever started, dealing him in November 2003 to the Oakland Athletics for Ramon Hernandez and Terrance Long.

At the time of the extension, the headline story at Padres.com read:

With the signing of Mark Kotsay to a three-year contract over the weekend, the Padres have their core position players — Ryan Klesko, Phil Nevin, Kotsay and Wiki Gonzalez signed through 2006.

Which brings us to…

Phil Nevin

Before there was a Jake Peavy extension, there was a Phil Nevin extension. In 2001, Phil Nevin, still a year away from free agency, signed the most lucrative contract extension in San Diego Padres history: a 4 year extension worth $34 million.

Before the extension even kicked in, the Padres agreed to trade Phil Nevin to the Cincinnati Reds for Ken Griffey Jr. The only problem was that Phil Nevin’s extension gave him no-trade protection, which he exercised. So while the Padres technically didn’t trade Phil Nevin to the Reds that offseason, they basically did all they could to get rid of Nevin before they had to pay a single penny of Nevin’s then-club-record $34 million extension.

In the second year of the extension, the Padres moved into Petco Park. At the time, Padres fans and management had little idea precisely how much of a pitchers’ park Petco Park was. After Phil Nevin batted .289 with 26 homeruns, posting a .368 OBP and driving in over 100 runs, Padres fans were disappointed. Yes, disappointed.

Since then, only two Padres have posted a line that nice: Adrian Gonzalez on a few occasions and Chase Headley once.

After a poor start to the 2005 season, the Padres dealt Nevin to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Chan Ho Park, after Phil blocked another trade attempt earlier that week to Baltimore (for Sidney Ponson). Park also had one season remaining on his extension, which was actually more lucrative than Nevin’s.

However, the Padres received the difference in guaranteed money between the two contracts, meaning the Padres technically paid the full $34 million of Nevin’s extension.

Local blogs told us “Never say Nevin again“, but he’s an important part of the Myth of the Padres Extension. The entity that is the Padres Franchise attempted to get rid of their most lucrative extension holder before the extension even began.

Speaking of which…

Jake Peavy

The Padres’ treatment of Jake Peavy after he signed his team record contract extension in December 2007 was almost a spitting image of how the Padres treated Phil Nevin.

In case you forgot or were otherwise brainwashed, Jake Peavy signed his contract extension with the Padres at a discounted rate. Hell, the first two lines in the Associated Press’ story said as much:

When Jake Peavy said it wasn’t about the money, he really meant it.

After all, the Cy Young Award winner could have played out his contract with the San Diego Padres and gotten big money elsewhere as a free agent.

Despite getting Peavy at that discount, the Padres pulled a Padres and agreed to deal Peavy to the Chicago White Sox before the extension ever began. Twice. After rejecting an initial trade to the Chicago White Sox in 2009, Peavy would turn around and accept a similar trade to the same team later in that same season. Peavy’s contract extension was to begin in 2010.

In the time that has since passed, Padres fans have learned that Jake Peavy was, more or less, threatened by Padres management into accepting the trade. Had Peavy not accepted the trade, according to local radio hosts, the Padres had threatened to trade Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell, and numerous other productive pieces in order to meet the outgoing and incoming owners’ budget restriction.

It’s hard to think of a worse way to treat an extended player. The player agrees to what most people believe is a discounted contract and the team subsequently threatens the player off the roster, for financial reasons, to a destination that the player had initially refused to go.

Mark Loretta

To say Mark Loretta had some nice years in Petco Park would actually be an understatement. His 2004 season was not only the fourth best in Petco Park history, in terms of fWAR, but his .335 average is still the ballpark record by 29 points. That production also allowed him to set the ballpark record for runs scored in a season, at 108.

The Padres signed Mark Loretta to a one year contract via free agency in December 2002 after Edgar Alfonso allegedly rejected the Padres $24 million offer. By August 2003, the Padres had become so enamored with Loretta as a player that they signed him to a contract extension through 2005 with a cheap, $3 million club option for 2006 that vested based on plate appearances in 2005. Despite a hand injury, Loretta met the plate appearances requirement and the option vested.

The Padres dealt Mark Loretta that offseason for Doug Mirabelli. While Josh Bard and Jason Varitek’s inabilities to catch a knuckleball prompted Mirabelli to get sent back to Boston (in a trade that would work out nicely for the Padres), the city had to deal with embarrassing statements from Mirabelli based on his short time here.

More importantly, the Padres didn’t live up to their end of the extension. While Loretta was never the same player as he was in 2004, he was still worth positive fWAR and produced a higher walk rate than strikeout rate in that final extension season in Boston. Meanwhile, the Padres filled the hole with Josh Barfield before handing the position to Marcus Giles and Tadahito Iguchi, among others.

Huston Street

As this one is fresh on our memories, and we all have the impression that the return for Huston Street was equitable and ultimately favorable for the Padres, it’s important to re-iterate what I said in the opening paragraph: this is not about judging the Padres based on how they treated each individual extension. This is about ingesting all of the Padres’s extensions in order to build the Myth of the Padres Extension.

The Padres extended Huston Street in late July 2012, giving him a guaranteed contract through 2014 with a favorable team option for the 2015 season. While the extension raised a few eyebrows – why was a team with such a low payroll and a penchant for producing relief pitchers giving out a “lucrative” extension to a closer? – there’s no question that Street out-produced what the market would have otherwise paid him.

That, and especially the team-friendly option, made him a desirable trade chip near the 2014 deadline, where the Padres predictably dealt him.

While the return on the trade appears to be fair – though only time will tell – I can promise you that there is no return accepted on any Street jersey purchase that you’d like refunded after the Padres dealt him barely 50% of the way into his extension.

Carlos Quentin

Around the same time that the Padres extended Huston Street, the Padres also signed Carlos Quentin to a three year extension with a vesting team option for the 2016 season.

While the Padres surprisingly haven’t welshed on this extension, yet, it isn’t because they don’t want to. It’s because no one really wants Quentin and, up until this point, Carlos has been reluctant to waive his no-trade protection.

If you’re going to count an ill-conceived extension – Carlos Quentin’s three most similar ZIPS comparisons that season were Bubba Trammell, Kevin Mench, and a player from the early 1900s…all of whom were out of baseball less than three years later – that the Padres uphold based entirely on the market’s disinterest in the player and the player’s disinterest in said market as something positive for the Padres, then you have the most inclusive way of giving credit than almost everyone else.

Greg Vaughn

The Padres dealt Greg Vaughn to the Cincinnati Reds in February of 1999, refusing to pay the final year of Vaughn’s three year extension signed before the 1997 season.

Besides the fact that the Padres didn’t live up to their end of the bargain on the extension, it was clear that the Padres also misled the player himself:

“We don’t understand,” Vaughn said during a conference call. “We felt that once we got the stadium, we were going to be able to stay together. And once we got the stadium, everybody’s gone. We were misled a little bit.”

Reggie Sanders and the other pieces that came back to the Padres were fine – and ultimately sent to Atlanta for Ryan Klesko – but this trade can actually be seen as the tip of the iceberg when it came to the Padres franchise failing to see an extension through to completion.

Andy Ashby

In May 1997, with Ashby less than six months from hitting free agency, the Padres agreed to a three year extension with Andy Ashby that was supposed to keep him in a Padres uniform through the 2000 season.

However, at the end of the 1999 season the Padres dealt Ashby to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for a few young arms. The trade was ultimately a good one for the Padres, as Adam Eaton became a reliable starter before becoming an integral part of the trade that fetched Adrian Gonzalez.

Again, the point isn’t that the trade was bad, it’s that the Padres didn’t see the extension through its entirety. They were actually reasonably close on this one, but – like a Bud Black team competing in August – couldn’t complete the job.

Extensions That Weren’t Extensions

Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke’s “contract extension” in the 2012 offseason was looked at as a seminal achievement for the San Diego Padres as an organization. In fact, this was not a contract extension, or will end up not being one when it’s all said and done.

The actual terms of the contract gave Luebke a guaranteed deal through 2015 with back-to-back team options in 2016 and 2017. 2016 was going to be Luebke’s final season of arbitration, so this “extension” was only really an extension if the Padres exercised consecutive team options.

It’s extremely unlikely that the Padres will exercise either of the options, let alone both, so this falls squarely in the category of ‘Extensions That Weren’t Extensions’.

Wiki Gonzalez

I’d be real surprised if you can remember anything substantive about Wiki Gonzalez, so you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten this one. As was mentioned above in the ‘Mark Kotsay’ section, Wiki Gonzalez was hailed as one of the Padres’ “core” players back when he was given an “extension” back in October 2001.

The Padres four year extension of Wiki Gonzalez bought out his 2002-2005 seasons, while giving the team a club option for the 2006 season. This was referred to as an extension even though the only thing that would have actually extended Wiki’s stay in San Diego past arbitration was that club option 2006 season.

The Padres traded Wiki Gonzalez along with Kevin Jarvis to the Seattle Mariners in January of 2004 for Jeff Cirillo. The trade sucked for everyone, but it especially sucked for anyone who bought a Wiki Gonzalez jersey back in 2001 when the Padres hailed Wiki’s contract as a extension and referred to him as a core player. It and he were neither.

Nick Hundley

I wasn’t sure where to put Nick Hundley, since it seems like he qualifies for both, but since his “extension” isn’t really an extension at all, he best fits here.

signed what the Padres called a contract extension before the 2012 season. The contract bought out all three of Hundley’s arbitration years, 2012 through 2014, and gave the Padres the team option of paying Nick Hundley $5 million in 2015.

Of course, the Padres dealt Nick Hundley to the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 for Troy Patton, which nullified any opportunity the Padres had to make this contract a true extension.

In any case, the Orioles declined Hundley’s $5 million option for 2015. Nick Hundley got $0 and the Padres paid $0 for any season that wasn’t one of Hundley’s already team-controlled arbitration seasons.

Many other “extensions”

This term is bandied about pretty liberally in San Diego for contracts that are simply guaranteeing arbitration seasons.

Adrian Gonzalez’s four year deal in 2007? Only arbitration seasons.

Khalil Greene’s deal? Only arbitration seasons.

Will Venable’s recent two year deal? The final two seasons of arbitration.

None of these are true extensions, and there are many other examples of these such deals.

Are We There Yet?

Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin, and Seth Smith are present-day tests of the Myth of the Padres Extension.

While Maybin’s extension years are guaranteed, there’s no guarantee he ever plays them in a Padres uniform.

Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko’s contract guarantees at least one year past arbitration, with a team option for a second.

Seth Smith is about to enter year one of his two year contract extension. With a new GM in house and a rumored roster shake-up over the next couple months, I wouldn’t be surprised if he joins the long list of players above who were dealt before any dollar of the extension was actually paid.

Extensions Fulfilled, Sort Of

Scott Linebrink, Chris Denorfia, and Jason Bartlett all received two year extensions from the Padres. All three were either traded or released in the middle of the final deal of the extension.

From an opportunity standpoint, the Padres upheld their end of the bargain on these deals. Financially, the Padres paid roughly 85% of the total contract value of these three.

Because of the length (or lack thereof) of the commitment and that the Padres allowed these players to at least play part of the final season of their extension with the senior club, the Padres sort of fulfilled their obligations with these extensions.

Never Got An Extension

We all can name these.

Adrian Gonzalez never got an extension despite two different ownership groups expressing, explicitly, that they wanted Adrian in a Padres uniform “for a long time”. He got shipped out before even playing out the contract that bought out his arbitration season at a below-market rate.

Mat Latos was dealt WAY before he hit free agency, allegedly due to a combination of behavioral reasons and the return package. While the return looked nice at the time, only Grandal has shown any value for the Padres. Meanwhile, Mat Latos has never been involved in any domestic dispute, has never tested positive for any PED or controlled substance, has never been arrested, and has never been the subject of any other off-the-field problem. In summation, the character assassination was bullshit, and was probably just a ruse by Padres management to convince small-minded fans not to doubt their decision.

Chase Headley was promised a “team record” contract extension offer, but that never materialized. We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the merits of such an extension, but there’s no question the Padres blew the entire opportunity. A complete list of when the Padres had an opportunity to extend Chase Headley for less money than he’ll get in free agency: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014. A complete list of when the Padres promised they’d extend Chase Headley despite the fact that his value was at its highest: 2013. A complete list of when the Padres actually extended Chase Headley: .

There are many more we can add to this list, some more realistic than others: Kevin Brown, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti, and so on.

Purple Unicorns

So there are a small few who got extensions that the Padres played out in their entirety: Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Ryan Klesko, and Brian Giles. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to extend the greatest contact hitter of the modern era, the greatest closer in National League history, or a perennial .400+ on-base percentage hometown player, so excuse me for failing to heap credit here. For Klesko, on the other hand, I give the Padres a brief golf clap; congrats for sticking with a still productive player, baseball team!

If I really wanted to be picky, I could even throw Hoffman back in that last group for Alderson’s decision not to allow Hoffman to finish his career in a Padres uniform.

The Myth of the Padres Extension

I’m not sure there’s anything more egregious about the Padres franchise than the ‘Myth of the Padres Extension’. Between not offering star players extensions, trading players before their extensions begin, and calling contracts extensions when they don’t actually extend the player’s stay in a Padres uniform, the franchise has dug itself into a deep hole with respect to fan perception.

This is a particularly salient point for the Padres now, who have an opportunity to finally add talent externally through free agency. Because, after this article, no one’s buying the Gyorko extension as a gesture of good will.

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One response to “The Myth of the Padres Extension

  1. great article, only the tip of the iceberg of what a pathetic franchise this has been over the life of its MLB history.

    Like

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