The Red Sox broke the fabled Curse of the Bambino not long after they hired a bright young executive from the Padres. Theo Epstein migrated east when Larry Lucchino took over as CEO of the Red Sox.
Now Epstein's former protégé Hoyer, described by Lucchino as a rising star, will try to build San Diego's first World Series champion by similarly emphasizing scouting and development.
Hired as San Diego's general manager in October, Hoyer said he'll apply lessons learned in Boston, even if the Padres are far less wealthy than the Red Sox.
"One of the things Theo always preached was to be a small market team with big market resources," Hoyer said after Padres CEO Jeff Moorad hired him. "It still comes down to scouting and player development and building a team with talented young players coming up from the farm system all the time."
Hoyer said he's "incredibly thankful" for the young talent he inherits from Kevin Towers, the longtime GM fired by Moorad on Oct. 2.
Towers, who worked under Lucchino and mentored Epstein, left behind star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, several young big leaguers of some promise and no player contracts that will impede Hoyer's plans. Towers also added several power pitchers obtained in trades this year to a San Diego farm system that has bounced back to respectability after chronic underachievement.
Hoyer will decide who drafts and develops players. He reassigned Bill "Chief" Gayton, the scouting director since late 2000, and fired Grady Fuson, a major voice in Padres drafts since 2005. Fuson oversaw both scouting and player development.
Gayton and Fuson were hired by Towers, whose 14-year tenure yielded four National League West titles and one NL pennant.
Moorad said he sought a GM who can bring "more planning and more discipline" to scouting and player development. Hoyer's time under Epstein and Lucchino worked in his favor, said Moorad, who in 2005 hired another Red Sox assistant GM, Josh Byrnes, to run the Diamondbacks.
Byrnes inherited young talent that helped Arizona reach the NL Championship Series in 2007. To hear Fuson and longtime Padres staffer Randy Smith, Hoyer's timing may be as good.
"The farm system is really in pretty good shape," Fuson said. "And the young players who are in the major leagues should be fun to watch. I think the club is in real, real, real good position."
Fuson praised the system's depth in potential starting pitchers, singling out homegrown power pitcher Mat Latos, who spent part of the 2009 season in San Diego; and Cory Luebke, a lefthander who is "real close to becoming a No. 3 starter" in the majors.
He described as potential impact players third baseman Logan Forsythe, who could begin the 2010 season in Triple-A; rising Double-A third baseman James Darnell, who would've dabbled at second base or as a corner outfielder if Fuson had been retained; and Donavan Tate, the center fielder signed for $6.25 million last summer after the Padres drafted him third overall. Many other Padres prospects drew praise from Fuson, who as Oakland's scouting director drafted future All-Star such as Barry Zito, Eric Chavez, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson.
"There are some good middle infielders in that system," he said. "There is pitching with a lot of variables to it."
Budgeting For Success
Randy Smith, who oversees San Diego's international staff, said prospects such as power righthander Simon Castro and third baseman Edinson Rincon are proof that efforts in the Dominican are paying off.
He also touted several of the young majors leaguers who recently came up through the farm system, plus rookie shortstop Everth Cabrera, a big league Rule 5 pick out of Colorado's system last December.
"It's probably as many major league players we've seen breaking in here in 20 years," said Smith, a former Padres GM.
Towers was adept at making trades, but Padres owner John Moores grew frustrated with the farm system's lengthy struggles. In March 2007, when asked about the seven extra picks the Padres would have that June, Moores vented.
"We'll see what the club is capable of doing, because there are years we did very poorly, and that's just unacceptable," he said. "We're at best a mid-market ballclub, and we have virtually no history of taking anybody out of the draft, and that's embarrassing. That will come back to haunt anybody."
Sometimes the Padres were too cheap for their own good. When Gayton wanted to draft Mike Fontenot with the team's first-round pick in 2001, Towers instead struck a predraft deal for Jake Gautreau to save money. "Jake Gautreau was overdrafted," acknowledged Moorad, who was Gautreau's agent.
Pleased with Gayton's selection of Khalil Greene 13th overall in 2002, Moores in 2004 balked when Padres scouts recommended another college shortstop. After all, Stephen Drew's pricetag was about three times higher than Greene's $1.5 million bonus. In the end, the Padres chose Matt Bush first overall, the worst No. 1 pick in draft history. The Bush fiasco contributed to a front office overhaul that brought Fuson to San Diego in early 2005, followed by CEO Sandy Alderson.
The picture began to brighten, and not just because the new regime invested $140,000 in draft-and-follow Kyle Blanks, Gayton's 42nd-round pick from 2004 who became a fan favorite this year. Under Alderson, the Padres invested like never before in their farm system. They built an $8 million facility in the Dominican in early 2008, then spent about $5 million that summer on four 16-year-olds from Latin America. Alderson budgeted a hefty sum that encouraged the Padres last June to draft Tate and other "high upside" but tough-to-sign players recommended by their scouts, such as outfielder Everett Williams and pitcher Keyvious Sampson.
Moorad, who replaced Alderson in March, maintained an aggressive posture, approving above-slot commitments to Tate, Williams and Sampson—but not without help from Towers, who on July 31 moved Jake Peavy's $56 million contract to friend Ken Williams of the White Sox, at a time when Peavy was on the disabled list.
"If you look at it," Smith said, "we've spent about $20 million in the last two years on the farm system. We're seeing more power arms and multi-dimensional athletes."
The Padres continued to whiff in the draft's first round, though, and the Alderson regime drew criticism for undervaluing athleticism and power arms in the draft.
But Fuson offers a history lesson.
"If people truly go back to 2005, what was truly in this farm system at that time?" he said. "No matter how you want to look at it, there was very little. There was certainly no depth and there were very few players you would put your upside impact stamp on.
"We looked at it as, we have to build depth No. 1, procure talent, eliminate so much of the risk taken with the Bush guys, the big dream guys. As much as I love Donavan Tate, I would have not taken him in 2006 if he was in that draft. Don't get me wrong. There is upside in Donavan Tate through the roof, but there is also a ton of risk in Donavan Tate. In 2006, we were not in position to take the risk. I certainly believe in upside, but the risk factor was not as great this year, because we had created a lot of depth. I also think you have to look past the first round, where we did some good things."
Hoyer takes over a system that's much deeper than it was when Alderson and Fuson arrived. The big league roster still has several spots to fill but is improved from 2008. Is San Diego's overall youth movement comparable to those which powered the rival Dodgers to consecutive NL Championship Series in 2008 and 2009 and the Rockies to the World Series in 2007 and a playoff berth this year?
Time will tell, but while studying the Padres this year, Hoyer saw reasons for optimism. Cabrera, a switch-hitting shortstop who made the jump from the low Class A South Atlantic League, sparked comparisons to Rafael Furcal. Blanks made Petco Park look small when he made good contact, and Will Venable at times resembled Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier with his all-around skills.
"I'm incredibly lucky to inherit such a core of good young talent and a very talented farm system," Hoyer said. "My goal here is to continue to build on the momentum that's already been created."
Gayton said the scouting department is well prepared going forward, although well-regarded scout Scott Littlefield accepted a better job with the Rangers this month.
Gayton told a funny story about his attempts nearly a decade ago to familiarize scouts with computers, cell phones and other modern tools.
"It was a different world back then," he said. "I tried to be proactive with the computers and how we'd go and collect information. We had one scout who had a little trouble dialing up through his computer—he dialed 911 17 times and a SWAT team showed up."
The way Towers and Fuson described it, the final draft was their favorite with the Padres, and Gayton sounded a similar theme. The Padres heeded their scouts and drafted aggressively for athleticism and upside.
"This past draft was the most fun of all my drafts," Gayton said.
Both Moorad and Hoyer like the Padres' increased emphasis on speed and athleticism, notably in the 2009 draft, and Moorad said it showed up at Petco Park this year.
"To take nothing away from teams that have been built here in the past, we feel that the second half of last season, when the club demonstrated some more athleticism and speed, perhaps was a glimpse of the future, and the kind of clubs that ought to be built here going forward." Moorad said. "To be sure, it was a theme of our discussions. Jed brought it up day one, and Jed consistently expressed his belief that that was an inherent advantage that we have at Petco, and we ought to be taking advantage of it every day."
Tom Krasovic is a freelance writer based in San Diego