Here’s a postcard from the Cactus League and the Padres’ spring training camp. In true Padres tradition, can you lend me some money for stamps to mail this?
The story lines in spring training could be about the four key Padres pitchers coming off arm problems or the assembly line of young arms stockpiled in the farm system. They might be about third baseman Chase Headley or the return of fiery left fielder Carlos Quentin.
No, Padres baseball this spring has been hijacked by the drug suspension of catcher Yasmani Grandal, ownership’s refusal to spend any money to upgrade the roster and the war of words over the still unresolved issue of substandard TV coverage because of the battle between Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner Cable.
Such is life in small market America, especially with a franchise no one pays attention to nationwide, and whose ownership has refused to pay its star players.
It is a sad situation — new stadium, new ownership, new television contract, but the same old problem. Lack of financial commitment from ownership.
On the field, manager Bud Black will be asked to drive a fairly young team with a few veterans deep into a pennant race, with neighbors like the Giants (two World Series rings) and the Dodgers ($213 million payroll).
Adding to the issues are the re-emergence of the Arizona Diamondbacks — loaded with pitching, defined by gritty play and led by ex-Padres general manager Kevin Towers and demanding manager Kirk Gibson.
Headley is the face of the franchise now, a reluctant public person and leader, but a quality ballplayer. His $8 million payday thanks to last season’s 30-plus homer season means one of two things — he has arrived as a star, or he is about to be traded. He is a proud player, a grinder and a real pro at a young age. He may become unaffordable if the Padres’ way of business continues.
Quentin is a fierce competitor, running into walls, crashing to the ground, but with a history of injury. He is not psyched out by Petco Park’s dimensions, plays with reckless abandon, but has not been able to stay on the field. If he could play 130 games without injury, he could carry this team with his big bat and his strong-willed demeanor.
Yonder Alonso arrived as a full-time player and after a shaky first month really established himself in the field and in the batter’s box.
Cam Maybin had a good first year, a bad start to last year, but a strong finish. He is bigger and stronger and chases everything down in spacious Petco Park.
Young catcher Nick Hundley arrived two years ago, hit home runs and became a leader. Then he hurt a knee, wound up with a .200 batting average, went to Tucson and had surgery. He is healthy, he is back, all seems good.
The pitching in San Diego has always been good, thanks to the open real estate dimensions of Petco Park. Now it is different, with the right field and right center walls moved in 11 feet and the wall standing just eight feet high. Padres’ batters should be able to hit the seats, but so will all the power hitters coming into Petco Park.
Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard will headline the top of the staff. If phenom Casey Kelly and young Anthony Bass are ready, they move into the rotation.
If not, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults move into slots three and four. Andrew Cashner (thumb and shoulder issues) and Tim Stauffer (forearm surgery) seem close to being ready. That could give San Diego eight starters for opening day.
At mid-season, left-hander Corey Luebke and young rookie Joe Wieland may become available once their surgery rehab is over. And there could be 11 more arms in the farm system to watch.
Keep an eye on the Lake Elsinore Storm — the Padres could load the roster with blue-chip talent, a signal the future is brighter.
But, for now, there is anguish in San Diego.
The Grandal 50-game drug suspension has to be served. Almost 25 percent of the county, and parts up the I-15 corridor, still won’t have games on cable unless they buy Direct TV.
And the Fowler-O’Malley group is not being viewed very favorably, yet. Columnists have used the words “broke, swindlers, liars” when describing the incoming leadership.
Nice way to start a season.
The Padres want to subscribe to the Tampa Bay blueprint. Draft well, sign them all, hope many get to your club. It has worked for the Rays. It looks like it is starting to work for the Friars.
In a season that looked like it had 105 losses written all over at the All Star break, the Padres went 49-37 to finish 2012.
Stay healthy, they might be good. How good? Who knows. But who could have thought the low-budget Oakland Athletics would win the division last year, or that Tampa Bay would become what Tampa Bay has become — five straight years of being upper echelon in the always-tough American League East.
I got it. Found a stamp, mailing this postcard before the postal rates go up. Think that will happen before the Padres payroll goes up. Thinking the arrow is pointing up in San Diego, even if the emotions of the fans seem really down.
Next stop — opening day.