Inside MLB | Padres hand the general manager reins to Theo Epstein disciple Jed Hoyer

The San Diego Padres finished the regular season with a record of 75-87, good for fourth place in their division, 20 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Padres have not made the playoffs since 2006, have not won the National League pennant since 1998 and, after 40 years in San Diego, have yet to be crowned the world champions of baseball.

But for the devoted fans at PETCO Park, there is now reason to hope. The organization’s new majority owner, former sports agent and part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks Jeff Moorad, has committed to reversing the fortunes of the franchise, and he has hired an innovative, experienced man for the job.

Jed Hoyer, 35, was named the new general manager of the Padres on Oct. 25, supplanting Kevin Towers, who had been the team’s GM for 14 years but was dismissed on Oct. 3 after three consecutive disappointing seasons. Hoyer knows baseball inside and out, both on the field and as a business.

Fifteen years ago, Hoyer was a star pitcher for the Wesleyan University baseball team, logging a 2.46 collegiate ERA over four seasons and 109 2/3 innings of work. He earned the closer role for the Cardinals and notched seven saves in his senior campaign in 1996, setting Wesleyan’s single-season record. Hoyer was named second-team All-New England that year for his dominance of NESCAC competition.

Six years later, Hoyer joined the front office of the Boston Red Sox as an intern and quickly rose to the title of assistant to the general manager, which made him Theo Epstein’s right-hand man. In 2003, Hoyer went with Epstein to persuade then-Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling to accept a trade to Boston, a successful process that became pivotal to the team’s 2004 world championship.

Hoyer also brings limited experience serving as the top dog in a team’s front office, having replaced Epstein — together with Ben Cherington — after Epstein left the Red Sox for 44 days during the fall of 2005. In that month and a half, Hoyer’s input was instrumental in the acquisition of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins — a move that boosted the Red Sox back to glory in 2007. 

But despite interviewing for multiple general manager jobs, including the GM openings of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007 and this year’s Washington Nationals, Hoyer was not rewarded for his excellent work with the Red Sox until a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, the man he is taking over for in San Diego is the very same Kevin Towers who mentored his former boss, Epstein, in his rise to the top.

As Hoyer takes the reins of the Padres on a four-year contract, he inherits a tidy financial situation from his predecessor, with just $21.5 million committed to the team’s 2010 payroll, not counting arbitration raises for some of the team’s young talent. The team has a bona fide star in Adrian Gonzalez, a valuable trade chip in closer Heath Bell and plenty of near-big-league-ready pitching in the pipeline. There is also only one bad contract on the books, which will pay oft-injured right-hander Chris Young $6.38 million in the last year of the deal. The framework of a winning franchise is certainly in place, but it’s up to Hoyer to fill in the gaps.

Realistically, Hoyer has two possible courses of action.

The new CEO, Moorad, has said that he is willing to raise the team’s payroll to $70-80 million over the next few years, which means that Hoyer could conceivably spend $15 million on the open market this winter. Should the rookie general manager take that approach, he would figure to retain both Gonzalez and Bell, or trade only the latter, while hoping to add 20 wins worth of talent via free agency. Clearly, winning now will be difficult, so instead Hoyer is more likely to pursue a long-term rebuilding plan.

Before taking advantage of the loosened monetary strings, Hoyer figures to blow up the nucleus of the Padres and export Gonzalez and Bell in trades that further enrich San Diego’s farm system. Some young standouts — such as shortstop Everth Cabrera, outfielder Kyle Blanks and starting pitchers Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda — will remain. Others will come in via the trades, and both the 27-year-old Gonzalez and the 32-year-old Bell should net a king’s ransom. Eventually, if all goes well, those acquisitions, combined with a payroll increase of $25-30 million and strong drafting, will culminate in the construction of a winning franchise that stays in contention for many years.

Hoyer presided over a similar process in his early days with the Red Sox, which is why Moorad believes that he is the right man to spearhead San Diego’s rebuilding process. Epstein is known for being one of the best drafters in baseball and an astute talent evaluator, and Moorad believes that his new general manager can aptly utilize both his own knowledge and the secrets he learned from the Red Sox GM to create a Padres squad that will rank among the National League’s elite.

Epstein’s shrewd management put an end to an 86-year title drought in Boston. Now, Moorad and the fans of the San Diego Padres are hoping that his disciple can bring a world championship to San Diego after 40 fruitless years.