Sports Update: Padres, Chargers Camp, Aztecs Preview
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The Padres have picked up two new players, and avoided a Marlins sweep by winning Sunday's game 5 to 4. But will the recent acquisitions help the red hot San Diego Padres sizzle right into the pennant race? And, the Chargers training camp gets a boost with the signing of running back Ryan Mathews but the Chargers camp is still down a few big name no-shows. There’s a lot going on in local sports and joining us to talk about it is my guest, Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton. Good morning, Lee, and welcome to These Days.
LEE ‘HACKSAW’ HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning. Would you like my Padre tickets or my Charger tickets in your hand?
CAVANAUGH: You know, I think I would go for the Padres but, I tell you, it’s a real toss-up, isn’t it?
HAMILTON: I tell you, it's been a very interesting summer so far here in San Diego and, obviously, the Padres are in the midst of the pennant race and the Chargers with, you know, a fair amount of optimism but an awful lot of controversy, they've just opened their camp so there's an awful lot to talk about.
CAVANAUGH: Now last time we had you on the show, you talked about how you wanted to see the Padres management basically stand up and make some kind of trades that were going to help the team to add hitters to their lineup and, you know, to basically show that they were supporting this winning team by actually opening up the pocketbook and getting some people in. Did – Do these new acquisitions Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick, do they fill that requirement for you?
HAMILTON: Yeah, it does. It took – I think it sends a real message to the clubhouse about the commitment of ownership, the fact that they added about $3.5 million to their payroll for this year then they’ve taken on maybe an additional $6 to $7 million next season, I think, is a real positive sign as it relates to Jeff Moorad and his leadership and ownership. They still have the second smallest payroll in major league baseball but they made some bold moves. In the past, at the trading deadline, historically the Padres would do some strange things like bring in a utility player, a guy that would hardly have any impact at all or bring in a fringe pitcher. Well, they added one guy that is a six-time Gold Glove shortstop in…
HAMILTON: …Miguel Tejada and they went out and got a power hitter who hits very well in National League West parks in Ryan Ludwick. And these two guys are going to, I think, you know, support what has been really an anemic batting order. So I think there’s positives to come from it. The other intangible, they did not separate themselves from anybody on their 25-man roster. They traded lower, minor league prospects which means that clubhouse stays the same, the chemistry stays the same, and now you add two veteran bats in the heat of the pennant race so I think it was a very positive weekend for the Padres and for Jeff Moorad’s capability.
CAVANAUGH: Now some people were saying, you know, that Miguel Tejada especially perhaps, his best days are behind him. What do you say to that?
HAMILTON: Well, he is 36, let’s understand that. He is not the shortstop he used to be. But the fact he was hitting almost .280 on just a dreadful Baltimore team, I still think he’s got gas left in the tank. And it’s a couple of months rental. I mean, it’s the rest of this season then he becomes a free agent so there’s no financial commitment there. But anything is better than what we’ve had, at least offensively. Their other young shortstop, Everth Cabrera, was struggling to stay above .200 and Cabrera’s, you know, is a career hitter in the .280s. So I think with a better batting order around him, Cabrera will probably, you know, have some big hits and, you know, I think he’ll play a pretty decent defense but, again, you’re adding two bats to a batting order that has really struggled.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the Padres, they hold a game and a half lead over the Giants for first place in the National League West. What will it take for the Padres to hold that lead and win the West?
HAMILTON: Well, they – This is a tough stretch. They have 17 of their next 20 on the road, starting tonight at Dodger Stadium. This is going to be an enormous challenge. But they continue, for the most part, to get really good pitching and I think with the addition of Ludwick and Tejada, hopefully they’ll score more runs, which’ll take a little bit of the burden off the pitching staff. It is odd, though, because in the rest of the division, everybody’s got problems. San Francisco did not make any acquisitions at the trade deadline, which was a stunner. They still don’t have enough bats. The Dodgers did rent three players at the trade deadline. Whether or not they have a big impact on the Dodgers remains to be seen because their star slugger, Manny Ramirez, is still out on the disabled list with a calf injury. And Colorado is starting to get hot but Colorado’s had an enormous number of injuries and they are so far back I just don’t know if they can position themselves right into here. But there’s a big stretch of time for the Padres. I mean, they’ve got to continue to get quality pitching. Hopefully, they can score some runs. So, yeah, do I think they have a chance to win this division? Yeah. There’s a lot of baseball to be played though. We’re still talking about 55 games or so left on the schedule.
CAVANAUGH: Right, okay, so a good chance to win the division but do you think the Padres have a legitimate shot as a World Series contender?
HAMILTON: Well, here’s the critical piece of the equation that nobody’s paying any attention to. The National League team will get the home field advantage in the World Series. If the Padres, who have one of the best records in the National League, can get home field advantage in the first round and maybe even into the second round, I think that’s a huge advantage at Petco Park. Their team is built for Petco Park. You don’t hit a lot of homeruns at Petco Park. Petco Park is a comfort zone for their pitchers. I think if they have extra games at Petco by virtue of home field advantage, whether it’s the first round or wildcard round or even if we ever got to the World Series, I think that’s a big intangible.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. That’s real – that’s something we hadn’t thought about. Thank you for that. Okay, let’s move to the Chargers now. The Chargers kicked off training camp over the weekend. Focus seems to be on the three players who haven’t shown up yet but let’s take a minute and talk about the signing of runningback Ryan Mathews because that’s big for the Chargers.
HAMILTON: Well, he’s a tremendous talent. He is probably a more compleat running back right now coming out of Fresno State than LaDainian Tomlinson was when Tomlinson came out of TCU. He’s a really fine football player. But that does not solve all the Charger problems.
HAMILTON: You know, I do believe they are committed to run the football a lot more with Ryan Mathews but that’s behind the same offensive line that could not run block for anybody last season so this bears watching once we get to the start of the regular season. Is the ratio run versus throw going to be different? They became a real strong throwing football team playing to the strength of the quarterback Philip Rivers. Or will they really try to establish the running game and stay at it and stay at it? Mathews is a really fine player and Ryan Mathews is also a very rich man right now by virtue of the $15 million signing bonus he got yesterday.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. And one of the reasons that he was a little late showing up to camp, as I understand it, is that he wanted stability. Is that a valid reason for someone to hold off signing?
HAMILTON: Well, he was not all that late. Virtually all the first round picks have signed in the last three days.
HAMILTON: This always goes down to the deadline. You know, if a holdout had gone into the third week of camp, yeah, then I’d really be alarmed. But he only missed three days of camp so it’s not a big deal because he was here for a lot of the off season workouts after he got drafted out of Fresno State. So it’s not a problem. It’s just the process of the way the league operates with its draft picks. Everybody waits to see what the guy in front of him or the guy around him got as it relates to a total value contract and a signing bonus, and then those guys usually get slotted in and that’s exactly what happened with Ryan Mathews. So green light, go, for him. Obviously, the red light is what’s happened with the other three players.
HAMILTON: It’s pretty awful what the relationship has become with their prized left tackle Marcus McNeill and their star wide receiver Vincent Jackson and even their holdout linebacker Shawne Merriman. This is very troublesome.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton and I – Lee, what are – is there anything new to report on those contract discussions with the no-shows?
HAMILTON: Well, there’s no dialogue at all.
HAMILTON: Again, it’s a very complex picture to try to paint for the listener. These players were supposed to be unrestricted free agents, which would have put them out on the open market where they could negotiate with anybody but because the agreement with the union expired, instead of becoming unrestricted free agents, they were kicked – their rights were kicked back to their respective teams, they became restricted free agents, which means the Chargers could offer them a base salary with no multi-year extension and no signing bonus. And the business of the NFL is to play, be successful, get multiyear contracts with signing bonuses. The Chargers have denied those signing bonuses and the multi-year extensions to Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson and by virtue of that, the players refuse to sign the one-year offer. They cannot come to camp. They’re now threatening to sit out maybe the entire season, which I think would be devastating. And I think what’s appalling is a lot of other clubs around the league who had marquee players who were about to become unrestricted free agents took care of their players. They gave them multi-year deals, they gave them signing bonus money. And what complicates it is the Chargers took care of a couple of their own players whose contracts were not even expired. They gave extensions to Antonio Gates and to the quarterback Philip Rivers and gave them mega-signing bonuses and yet they’ve refused to take care of their most important asset, the left tackle, Marcus McNeill, and their leading receiver, Vincent Jackson. So it is – it has really lead to, I think, a terrible emotional divorce. And if these holdouts go through the entire season or most of the season, this will not be the same Charger team.
CAVANAUGH: It sounds like the Chargers are open to trade offers for Vincent Jackson. What do you think the chances are that Jackson could be traded?
HAMILTON: I think it could be. But, you know, you’re losing a receiver who averaged almost 18 yards per catch and you can trade him and maybe you even get a first round draft pick next year but that first round pick can’t play this year with Philip Rivers. So it really, really hurts you. And if Marcus McNeill sits, and that seems to be the feeling right now, they are putting that quarterback at great risk because the second most important player on your team aside from your quarterback is the left tackle who protects the quarterback’s blind side. And the left tackles in the NFL are the gold standard and if you don’t have one, you’re always trying to get one. And if you lose one, it’s catastrophic to your team. And in this case, it’s horrible because this guy’s sitting out because of the way he’s been treated.
CAVANAUGH: Now it sounds to me that you think that there’s a real good chance that Merriman, Jackson and McNeill will not show up.
HAMILTON: I don’t think Jackson and McNeill are coming for a while. I think they should’ve signed the one-year tender offer at $3 million. The Chargers cut their pay after they refused to sign it, which, to me, is an utter disgrace. I think it virtually ended the relationship. In terms of Merriman, he’s got a year left on his contract. He wants a guarantee that he’s not going to be traded. Well, nobody makes those guarantees. He owes them a year. Come in, sign your tender, come in and play, have a breakout season, and then if you want to leave, you can leave. But what has become a big turnoff in the community is the General Manager A.J. Smith has been so defiant in his hatred for agents and so resolute that he’s not changing his offers. I think he’s painted himself into a corner, which I think, in turn, has now put the Chargers in a box that they can’t really get out of if he doesn’t – if the general manager does not change the way he’s doing business. I mean, what fairness is it for him to give that tight end a huge bonus, to give the running back who’s never played a down a huge bonus, to give his quarterback a huge bonus and then not take care of the other two really important components in Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson. That is what has set off all this firestorm.
CAVANAUGH: Now, what – Are there any other big storylines heading into this season for the Chargers?
HAMILTON: Well, they’re looking for a starting cornerback because they ran Antonio Cromartie out of here. They traded him in the off season after he played so poorly and acted so badly last season leading up to the playoff loss. They definitely have to figure out defensively up front, do they have enough defensive tackles? And how quickly can they bring along one of the young nose tackles that they drafted, Cam Thomas. But it is a fairly complete roster. You know, I think it’d be safe to say Super Bowl potential team if Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson were here. I don’t think we can mention those words right now because I don’t know how deep they’ll go in the playoffs if those two guys are not part of Philip Rivers’ offense.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s move north to La Costa. Women’s professional tennis returns to La Costa after a two-year hiatus. Is it good for San Diego to have this tournament back?
HAMILTON: It is amazing to me that in a community this big there’s some things we don’t have in this community. You know, we don’t have an auto racing track any longer, which is a bit of a stunner. Our LPGA tournaments have been few and far between on the ladies’ golf tour.
HAMILTON: The women’s pro tennis tour, you know, has been in and out of here. Now that being said, you know, we do have a great tournament that’s up in Palm Desert and Indian Wells, which is really well attended. It’s good to see it back here, the Mercury Open at La Costa. I think the only thing that disappoints me is some of the marquee names are not here. Venus and Serena Williams, who are two of our top in the U.S. are not playing here because they played a week ago. They’re not mandated by the Women’s Tennis Association that they have to play every stop. They can kind of pick and choose. I think they have to play 14 tournaments in the U.S. on any given calendar year but they’ve elected not to be here. And, obviously, they would’ve been a huge, huge draw had they been here. But it’s good to have it back and hopefully this’ll be the foundation. It’ll be well enough attended that it’ll continue here on a permanent basis.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, let’s move on to college. The SDSU Aztecs finished 4 and 8 in their first season under head coach Brady Hoke. What do the Aztecs have to do to improve their win total and possibly earn a trip to a bowl game this year?
HAMILTON: Well, Maureen, they were en route to a bowl appearance last year and they kind of ran out of gas and ran out of players at the end of the season. They had two rather appalling losses at the end of the year to Wyoming and UNLV, which really took the wind out of the sails. That being said, Brady’s had another good recruiting year. I really think you make the big jump between your first and second year as a new head coach, once your players, your new players and your system is really in place. What, to me, makes San Diego State football so appealing is the quarterback Ryan Lindley comes back as a third year starter. He is only a junior. They return two of their veteran wide receivers, they return their top tight end, they return three running backs. I think they’re poised for a breakout season. And breakout might mean 7 wins, you know, if they go 7 and 5, they go to a bowl game. Maybe…
HAMILTON: …the Poinsettia Bowl. Cannot afford any significant injuries because I think depth is still a situation they have to be concerned about. Do play a really down-graded schedule. I don’t know who’s going to go see them at home. You know, they’re playing the likes of New Mexico State and Utah State. It’s just not a very colorful schedule. But if Brady can get them into a bowl game and then success begets success, you’ll see this thing start to take off. So I project them to have a good season. I think it’s a bowl season and I think Ryan Lindley’s going to be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference again.
CAVANAUGH: Mountain West Conference, media predicted that the Aztecs would finish sixth. Do you that’s a pretty good prediction?
HAMILTON: I don’t think they’re paying any attention to what Brady Hoke has accomplished here or Brady Hoke’s track record back at Ball State. I project them fourth.
HAMILTON: And, you know, if they pull off any type of an upset against a marquee team, I guess anything is possible. You know, I mean, granted, the elite teams are still the elite teams in the conference with Utah and Texas Christian and Brigham Young but, you know, Brigham Young has to replace virtually all of its skilled people so maybe they won’t be the same team and maybe that’s the one that the Aztecs ambush.
CAVANAUGH: We’ll have to see.
HAMILTON: I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they could finish fairly higher in the standings.
CAVANAUGH: That’s fabulous. You’ve really given us a lot of information. Thanks a lot.
HAMILTON: Maureen, talk to you again. My pleasure.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. I’ve been speaking with Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton. He is sports talk show host on XX1090. And if you’d like to comment, online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, monogamy may not be for everyone. We’ll discuss polyamory next on These Days.