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Padres should appease hungry fans by eating Edmonds' big contract
By Tim Sullivan
10:15 p.m. May 7, 2008
Should you happen to run across John Moores around mealtime, be sure to pass him some Pepto-Bismol. If the Padres' owner is about to eat Jim Edmonds' contract, indigestion would seem inevitable.
But the time has come for aggressive action, and the time has passed when Edmonds could be counted on as a productive ballplayer.
You have to know you've overstayed your welcome when Callix Crabbe is sent up to pinch hit in your place in the ninth inning. You have to know the end is near when your general manager goes on the radio to remark on how much your legs and bat have slowed down.
You almost have to wonder whether manager Bud Black sent Crabbe up Wednesday night in Atlanta to play a percentage or to shame Edmonds into retirement.
That's how bad things have become, both for Edmonds and the Home Team, and maybe that's as bad as it can get. If the Padres are to make any progress this season, if they are to climb out from Rock Bottom and cling to their disaffected fan base, they must face up to their flaws, swallow some salary and promote some prospects.
Maybe Crabbe for Edmonds was the tipping point. Maybe it signals some major moves, and in short order. Maybe it tells you that Padres management has resolved to change the story because it is resigned that it can't change the standings.
Edmonds is due $8 million in 2008 salary. Because a portion of that has already been paid and because the St. Louis Cardinals are obligated for $2 million of the total, the Padres' remaining payments will run about $4.75 million. Though that is a ponderous pile of cash -- the same sum Dyne Techservices agreed to pay for LGI Inc. last month -- the potential cost of standing pat could be exorbitant.
Fans are already angry. Padres management can't afford to let that anger cool into apathy. From a symbolic standpoint, at least, swallowing an expensive mistake tells the baseball consumer that pennants are more important than pride. There ought to be some value in that.
The value of Jim Edmonds at this point would seem puny. He will be 38 years old next month and has been in steep decline since he played a robust role on St. Louis' 2004 National League championship team. His batting average actually rose Wednesday night, but to only .180, and his recent work in center field would suggest he's been chasing fly balls while shackled to his eight Gold Gloves, much like the chain of cash boxes Dickens devised for Jacob Marley.
"I think he probably got a mulligan for the first two to three weeks just based on missing all spring," General Manager Kevin Towers told XX Sports Radio on Tuesday morning. "But, you know, certainly he's lost a step or two. I think that's been pretty obvious in the outfield, going back on balls, covering the gaps. And he just doesn't seem to have his legs underneath him (or) the bat speed with guys that have plus velocity."
Those are not the words of an executive dithering over a decision, but of a man who has already made up his mind. Barring a Fountain of Youth effort Thursday afternoon against the Braves, or an unscheduled trip to the disabled list, Edmonds may be lucky to last the weekend with the Padres.
Were the Padres more competitive, Edmonds' underperformance might be more palatable. He is a four-time All-Star, after all, one whose slow starts can be a contrary indicator. Edmonds has been able to improve his end-of-April batting average in each of the last four seasons, and once turned a .200 start into a .290 finish.
Given the calf problems that scuttled his spring and a stat sheet that shows 363 career home runs, Edmonds has probably earned a longer look than he's likely to get.
But the conditions that allowed the Padres to stick with Kevin Kouzmanoff last spring no longer exist. The Padres were one game back in the National League West when Kouzmanoff bottomed out at .108 last May 7. As of Wednesday, they are 10 games below .500.
"The thing that we don't know," Towers said Wednesday night, "is (whether) the calf is still bothering him. Jimmy is the type of guy who wants to go out and play every day. If it's still bothering him, he hasn't told us that it is."
Towers wonders, too, whether Edmonds is still suffering from the post-concussion syndrome diagnosed last August; whether it may have impaired his reaction time and/or his ability to recognize pitches.
"If there is any residual effect of that, that could affect his timing at the plate," Towers said. "We've seen it with hockey players and football players, how having concussions affects their play. I don't know if it has anything to do with (Edmonds), but I know it was a significant concussion."
Perhaps the Padres should seek a fresh medical opinion before making an irrevocable move -- the disabled list can serve as a hedge when the alternative is an outright release -- but keeping Edmonds in the lineup in his current condition is no longer an option. Jody Gerut has raised his average to .308 at Triple-A Portland with a .366 spurt over his last 10 games, owns 16 extra-base hits in 27 games, and played center field as recently as Wednesday in Omaha.
It's hard to keep a hot bat down on the farm when the big club is mired in last place; harder still to call him up without first clearing a roster spot.