At it again, they're creating gossip and headlines not so much for on-field artistry as for, well, being the Padres.
They've won only one playoff game in the last 11 years, and never raised a World Series trophy in their 41 seasons.
But you'll notice them, and so will Big Media, because once again the Padres are as big in the trade market as the Yankees are on the field.
Will the Padres deal their best player (Adrian Gonzalez) and best pitcher (closer Heath Bell) before the July 31st deadline?
Last July, they beat the clock and cleared $56 million by dealing homegrown Cy Young Award-winner Jake Peavy to the White Sox. The move seemed anti-climactic. For the prevous 10 months, every Peavy development sparked bulletins and commentary about where Peavy would end up.
This time around, bobbleheads are taking on new meaning, at least with one lovable kook.
"Did you see the Padres aren't giving away bobbleheads of Adrian and me this year?" Bell said as he headed to join his teammates at Peoria Stadium on Saturday. "I thought that was kind of strange."
| Get ready for Opening Day as FanHouse breaks down all 30 teams in March to the Season
Washington Nationals | Primer
Pittsburgh Pirates | Primer
Baltimore Orioles | Primer
Kansas City Royals | Primer
Cleveland Indians | Primer
New York Mets | Primer
Houston Astros | Primer
San Diego Padres | Primer
Oakland Athletics | Primer
Toronto Blue Jays | Primer
Cincinnati Reds | Primer
Chicago White Sox | Primer
Milwaukee Brewers | Primer
Chicago Cubs | Primer
Arizona Diamondbacks | Primer
Tampa Bay Rays | Primer
Seattle Mariners | Primer
Detroit Tigers | Primer
Atlanta Braves | Primer
Minnesota Twins | Primer
Texas Rangers | Primer
Florida Marlins | Primer
San Francisco Giants | Primer
St. Louis Cardinals | Primer
Colorado Rockies | Primer
Philadelphia Phillies | Primer
Los Angeles Dodgers | Primer
Boston Red Sox | Primer
L.A. Angels of Anaheim | Primer
New York Yankees | Primer
Dogged as Woodward and Bernstein, I asked Padres president Tom Garfinkel if Gonzalez's and Bell's absence from the bobblehead rotation means the two will be gone by summer.
"No, it has nothing to do with it," he said. "We are promoting the 'team,' not any set of two or three players over and over again. The bobbleheads are a chance to get some other names out there too. You'll see all of the players featured on banners and marketing materials, including Adrian and Heath, who are prominently featured in a lot of places throughout Petco Park and in our videos and marketing materials."
General Manager Jed Hoyer said "there is nothing going on" in trade talks.
Among Padres players, however, the storyline is viewed as it was last March. Just as with Peavy, the veterans expect that the front office will deal veteran talent for prospects.
Unless, that is, the Padres can defy outside expectations and contend for a playoff berth deep into the season.
"Hopefully," said pitcher Chris Young, who also could be dealt, "we're in first place on July 31st and this is a very difficult decision. Certainly Adrian wants to win, and I think that all can be accomplished here."
Said Gonzalez: "I'd rather not be traded."
The first baseman then explained why he thinks he and his teammates can make a playoff push.
"Talent," said Gonzalez, who hit a career-high 40 home runs last year and won his second Gold Glove. "We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things, and that's a huge plus. I don't think we need to outslug anybody. As a team, I think we can put together a pretty good season."
The Padres lost too many games last summer to prevent Peavy from being swapped for a quartet of White Sox pitchers, although not before Peavy had blocked a deal to Chicago's south side in May.
For several reasons Gonzalez's trade value now far exceeds Peavy's entering the 2009 season. Gonzalez's consent isn't needed for a trade. Also, his salaries of $4.75 million this year and $5.7 million in 2011 are pocket change compared with the $63 million guaranteed to Peavy from 2009-12. Unlike Peavy, who was shut down in May 2008 by an inflamed elbow, and some year likely will need ankle surgery to repair a frayed tendon, Gonzalez has no red flags in his medical profile.
Padres CEO Jeff Moorad, who pushed for Peavy to be dealt last year, was asked whether Gonzalez's fate will be linked to the team's place in the standings leading up to the trade deadline.
"At this point," Moorad said, "Adrian is under contract for two more seasons and we have no plans to trade him. As I've always said, if there is a deal that improves our team for the long haul, we're going to listen. Obviously, to the extent the club is performing well, we're going to be reluctant to alter the chemistry."
It took a 37-25 surge into the offseason for the Padres to end up fourth in the National League West last year. At 75-87, they still finished 20 games behind the Dodgers. Working with a payroll that ranks among the majors' bottom three, Hoyer, the freshman GM and former Red Sox assistant GM hired by Moorad last October, signed veterans such as starting pitcher Jon Garland and catcher Yorvit Torreabla to season a young squad that now includes the formerly miscast left fielder Chase Headley at third base.
The 37-25 finish might bode well for a fast start in 2010, but when asked if one leads to another, manager Bud Black's offered a rare dash of salt.
"You know what that means going into this season? It doesn't mean [expletive]," Black said.
He continued. "It means we can't live in the past, but we can learn from the past."
Bell also seemed a bit disoriented, telling Dan Hayes of the North County Times that the Padres will reach the "Series," then coyly saying two days later that he didn't say which "Series" he meant -- then specifying the League Championship Series, last visited by the Padres in 1998.
The closer, who had 42 saves and a 2.71 ERA last year, said he experienced an epiphany on the drive from San Diego to Phoenix in his Nissan Altima.
"I just got a feeling driving over," he said. "I felt like we were going to get to the Series this season."
Bell said if the Padres enter May with a winning record, they'll stay in the hunt all season.
A fast start also would allow the club to make good on its projections that attendance, after falling to below 2 million for the first time since 1995, should get back above 2 million this year.
However the Padres fare in April, several would-be contenders in each league will be watching them closely.
The Red Sox have ogled Gonzalez for years. A left-handed hitter, Gonzalez slugged a preposterous .889 to left field last year, according to Fangraphs.com, and seemingly would be even more dangerous with the Green Monster looming so close. The Red Sox have a deep farm system, but because GM Theo Epstein and his protege Hoyer are likely to value players similarly, it's not a slam dunk that the two would strike a deal.
Peavy told CBSSports.com that he has lobbied the White Sox to go after Gonzalez.
"I'm flattered that he thought enough of me to say that I could his his team," Gonzalez said. Some Padres players, though, said it was bush for Peavy to be so covetous publicly. Despite dealing several prospects in the last two years, the White Sox still have some young players to offer. Among them is pitcher Dan Hudson, who was part of the first Peavy trade scenario last May but was removed by Chicago from the package that landed Peavy in July.
"Oakland could be a sleeper," said an executive with another club.
The A's have a crying need for offense and are deep in power arms. The Mariners fit the same bill, and two years ago, another American League West club, the Angels, asked the Padres what it would take to land both Peavy and Gonzalez. But the Angels now have a star first baseman in Kendry Morales.
As for Bell, the Padres encouraged trade offers on him last summer and last offseason. Then they kept him and signed him for $4 million. Bell would have more trade value now if Padres upper-level executives had OK'd the terms that then-GM Kevin Towers and Bell's agent had agreed to in the 2008-09 offseason. According to Bell, that pact would've guaranteed him $1.2 million in 2009 and $2.1 million this year. "I like the number 21 and wanted those numbers -- 1.2 and 2.1," said Bell, who wears 21.
When the club deemed the deal too risky, Bell signed for one year and put up enough numbers to raise his salary to $4 million. He said escalators in the scuttled deal would've bumped his 2010 salary to $3 million.
Bell said he'd be agreeable to signing an extension that is budget friendly for the Padres.
With two years left on one of the most pro-club contracts in baseball, Gonzalez, however, has said he is looking for "value." His agent John Boggs has linked Gonzalez, 27, to Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira, who is getting $20 million a year. The Padres say they will not go that high.
Whether the two sides begin negotiations in earnest could hinge on whether the team's most intriguing group of young players in years -- admittedly, a low bar to clear -- can grow up fast.
A's executive Grady Fuson, who was San Diego's director of player of scouting and player development from 2005-09, said the Padres appear to be the most improved team in the division. He said the organization's pool of young talent and dearth of bad contracts has "the Padres in better position as an organization than they've been in years."
Young isn't ruling out a dream season.
"I hope Adrian spends his whole career in San Diego," he said. "I think we have a lot of talent, and we have a group that doesn't really care about outside expectations."