The San Diego Padres were one of the four teams that joined Major League Baseball in 1969, along with the Seattle Pilots (Milwaukee Brewers), Kansas City Royals, and Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals). Despite their relative youth, they’ve already retired five numbers, second-most among expansion teams. And so, they become the next team covered in the Retired Numbers Series; what does the future hold for the Padres and their honored players?
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
So far, the Padres have retired five numbers. The first came in 1988, the Padres’ twentieth season, in honor of Steve Garvey. No. 6, Garvey was a leader on San Diego’s first pennant-winning team back in 1984. Even with that, though, his best days were behind him by the time he made it to San Diego; his five seasons there (1983 to 1987) only accounted for 0.3 of his 34.4 career bWAR and 2.0 of his 42.5 fWAR.
About a decade later, the Padres honored their second number, 35, in honor of pitcher Randy Jones. Jones pitched in San Diego for his first eight seasons, spanning from 1973 (the team’s fifth season, making him one of their first franchise players) to 1980. He retired two years after that. Those eight seasons represented 19 bWAR-his two seasons as a Met actually subtracted from that value.
Four years later, the team retired no. 31 for Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield. Winfield, who also started as a Padre, is second in team history in both fWAR (32) and bWAR (30.5). In total, he amassed 59.4 bWAR and 67.7 fWAR
Franchise star Tony Gwynn's 19 came fourth. The move came in September 2004, almost halfway in between his retirement and his induction into the Hall of Fame. All twenty of his seasons came in San Diego, which includes all 65.3 of his bWAR and all 68 of his fWAR. Both numbers lead the franchise.
Finally, former all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman had his no. 51 retired in 2011. From 1993 to 2008, he served as the Padres closer, totaling 552 of his 601 career saves during that time. He also leads all Padres pitchers in bWAR, at 25.0.
When looking at teams’ standards, there are three different categories I can use to compare: bWAR versus fWAR; value accrued with the team versus career value; and the average WAR of honorees versus the median WAR.
The Padres rank in the bottom quartile in every category except for median career fWAR, where they rank in the exact middle. This isn’t anything too ground-breaking; most expansion teams rank below the original sixteen teams due to their comparably shorter histories.
On a straight total basis, the Padres’ five retired numbers puts them in a three-way tie for eighteenth place overall with the Angels and Athletics. As previously mentioned, only the Astros have retired more numbers among expansion teams.*
The Padres have already done a good job of honoring their top players. Gwynn and Winfield are one-two in both bWAR and fWAR. Number three in both categories is still active: Adrian Gonzalez. He only played five seasons with them, but in that time, was worth 19.1 bWAR and 22 fWAR. While it’s impressive that he managed all that in such a short time, that relative shortness probably hurt his chances, as does the fact that he now plays for a nearby rival.
Normally, I would say the third-best player in team history stands a decent chance, but Gonzalez also rates far lower than most other teams’ third-best hitters. He still probably has an at-least even chance, though, just based on the Padres’ precedent. There’s also a very real chance that his time in San Diego outweighs his time with any other team.
Curiously, both methods have the same clump of players ranked fourth through eleventh. They don’t agree exactly in order, though. Gene Tenace rates the highest in both, at fourth in bWAR (18.9) and sixth in fWAR (20). Like Garvey, he’s best known with another team; he played eight years in Oakland, compared to only four in San Diego.
I would imagine Garvey was unique, in that he got his number retired in spite of his short career and longer tenure in another city. I’m not sure I expect it to happen again, especially since it’s been three decades since Tenace’s last game with no indication that he’ll get his number retired to date.
Brian Giles actually rates fourth in fWAR, at 21. He’s eighth in bWAR, though, at 16.0. It’s worth noting that his final year actually brought his WAR down by two wins in both systems. Even more, Giles was actually a native of Southern California, giving him the added appeal of a hometown hero. He did play more seasons in San Diego than anywhere else, although his best seasons came in Pittsburgh. His career numbers were good enough that they would increase the Padres numbers in those regards, too.
Unfortunately for him, he’s probably still mostly remembered as a Pirate; Petco Park killed his power numbers, masking his continued brilliance. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of Giles, and would love for some team to retire his number; I’m just not convinced that it will happen, in either San Diego or Pittsburgh.
Another standout from the four-through-eleven mass is Nate Colbert. Colbert started for the Padres at first base in their first season, and played five more for them after that. He still leads the franchise in home runs too, believe it or not, at 163 (two ahead of Gonzalez). He’s ranked similarly to Giles, tied for eighth in bWAR (16.0) and fifth in fWAR (20). The home run lead helps his case, as does his role as the first star of the team.
He never quite reached the level of stardom of any of the other players, though, and he never started after leaving the team, meaning his career is more or less just those six seasons. That really shouldn’t affect his standing in San Diego, but I still think he’s unlikely to get his number retired (even if he’s still one of the more probable candidates at the moment). On top of that, since he’s been retired for three-and-a-half decades, I would think the team would have already retired his number if they seriously intended to. His odds are probably close to Giles’.
Gene Richards and Phil Nevin were both first overall picks who had their best seasons with the team. Richards only played eight seasons, though seven of them were in San Diego. That gave him 17.7 bWAR and 19 fWAR. Like Colbert, it’s been a long time since he hung up his uniform (last played in 1984), and there’s been no movement to retire his number. On top of that, the number he wore the longest was the same as Colbert (17). If either of them were to actually get their number retired, I would bet on Colbert.
Nevin spent seven of his twelve seasons in San Diego, where he got 16.4 bWAR and 19 fWAR. Really, his time amounted to four good seasons and three bad seasons, which I imagine wouldn’t be enough to earn a spot on the outfield wall (especially since he wore the same number as Adrian Gonzalez).
So it goes with the other players in the clump. Ken Caminiti was worth 16.7 bWAR and 18 fWAR in San Diego, but only played four seasons with the team. Ryan Klesko played six seasons with the Padres and was also worth 18 fWAR, in addition to 14.7 bWAR. Terry Kennedy also played six seasons with the team and was also worth 18 fWAR, and had 15.5 bWAR on top of that. None of them was particularly standout in any way-they were all just okay enough to work their way into the bottom of this clump of players with relatively close numbers.
As for the pitchers, three players fall between Randy Jones and Trevor Hoffman on the pitching bWAR list. Jake Peavy rates second with 23.2 bWAR from 2002 to 2009, as well as a Cy Young Award (also, for what it’s worth, pitching fWAR rates him first in franchise history with 25.4, 2.2 ahead of Jones and 3.1 ahead of Hoffman). He probably has the best chance of anyone covered so far, but like Gonzalez, more seasons with the team and/or a stronger peak would probably have been needed to make him a likely pick for the future. It still may happen, but I’m not sure if I would go much further than a toss-up.
Two Andy's—Andy Benes and Andy Ashby—also fall between Hoffman and Jones. In eight seasons as a Padre, Ashby was worth 21.6 bWAR (and 16.3 fWAR). Meanwhile, in seven seasons, Andy Benes accumulated 19.4 bWAR (and 22.1 fWAR). Benes, a former number one pick, had the better post-Padre career, but they fall into the same problem as the hitter clump in that neither really stood out. They were both solid for an extended period, but neither was really dominant. Again, both seem unlikely to get retired numbers.
This just leaves the current roster to look at. Players like Casey Kelly, Andrew Cashner, Yonder Alonso, and Yasmani Grandal may all someday rank among the best in franchise history, but at the moment, they’re all just touted young players. All we can do at the moment is speculate. I’ll take their possibility over the already-established mediocrity of some of the previously-covered players.
Cameron Maybin has had two decent years with the team and is signed long-term (through 2016). He has 7 fWAR and 6.7 bWAR, and at 25, should have some good years ahead of him. Again, though, his case is almost entirely speculation at this point. He has enough talent to make it to the top of the franchise ranks some day, but it’s all guesswork for now.
Chase Headley, at 28, is much further into his peak, meaning there’s less room to wildly speculate. But he’s been solid, too, and has played his whole career to date with the Padres. That gives him 11.8 bWAR and 15 fWAR, with at least 2013 and 2014 to build his case. 2012 has been his best season yet, so if he can continue at this rate, he’ll make for a good debate. If he resigns on top of that, he’ll make for a very strong case. Right now, though, that’s probably a few too many ifs.
If nothing else, the Padres have a very strong farm system now. They may soon have another Tony Gwynn among their ranks; only time will tell.
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the San Diego Padres in the future are, in order:
This article is also featured at Hot Corner Harbor.