Did the Padres really think they had a chance to beat Benito Santiago in arbitration with a $2.5 million offer?
Or settle with their catcher for a "compromise" offer of $2.65 million?
Have they not wandered through baseball's supermarket of free agents and noticed the price tags?
What baseball players have been getting is, of course, ridiculous, but you get out of the store if you cannot afford the merchandise.
Alas, it was a slam-dunk gimme that the arbitrator would rule for Santiago and his demand for $3.3 million.
If the Padres really wanted to avoid all that nasty hassling with the arbitrator, they needed to come up with a more reasonable settlement offer. They needed to nudge past $3 million. They should have had enough sense to realize they might as well, because they were going to lose anyway.
That this case went to arbitration simply confirms that a) Santiago is gone after the 1992 season, if not earlier, and b) the Padres do not have the desire or resources to compete for blue-chip talent.
Where have you gone, Joan Kroc?
She had a commitment to the community and to winning which does not seem to exist any longer. She did not know or understand baseball, but she responded to those who did. She opened her purse.
Kroc's successors--the Hole-in-the-Wallet Gang--are trying to build a National League contender at Rotisserie League prices.
It won't work.
It hurts badly enough when stinginess causes potential free-agent signees, such as Danny Tartabull this year and Terry Pendleton last year, to go elsewhere. Pendleton, of course, was the National League's most valuable player for Atlanta, and watch for Tartabull to play in San Diego this summer after all . . . for the American League All-Stars.
What's worse, though, is letting home-grown stars get away with nary a fiscal fight.
Enter (or exit) Benito Santiago.
Or will be.
It's a matter of when.
The Padres have a choice of trading him for whatever he might be worth to a contender, which the Padres are not, or losing him in the off-season.
Another option, though far-fetched, would be that the Padres release him in spring training and owe him only one-sixth of his $3.3-million salary. After all, they will not be contenders with or without him. This would be bad public relations, but saving money seems to be more important than good public relations . . . or winning.
All of these options are ugly, unless they can find a way to trade him for reasonable compensation. His value would vary according to whether the team acquiring him was able to sign him to a multi-year contract. He clearly will not be worth as much to a team merely "renting" him for the season or part of a season.
The shame of this is that it has come to such a narrow field of options. This week's arbitration hearing and result closed the door on Santiago's San Diego future. The club just did not make an effort to make the man feel appreciated or wanted.
You might say $2.5 million or $2.65 million would make you feel very appreciated and very wanted. Me, too. Unfortunately, we live in a different world. Most of us won't make in a lifetime what an average baseball player makes in a year.
And Benito Santiago is not an average baseball player. At his position, in fact, he is the best. Period. He plays the most physically demanding position in baseball, yet he led his team in at-bats and finished second only to first baseman Fred McGriff in games played. He batted .267 with 17 home runs and 87 runs batted in. You don't get those numbers from a catcher, especially one whose strength is probably his defensive skills.
Santiago is not perfect, though he probably doesn't realize that. He needs to develop his "bedside manner" in terms of handling pitchers. If he can improve in that area and sustain in the other areas, he will be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame.
This is not the type of player you let get away.
And do not blame Benito Santiago. Do not boo him through what will be a lame-duck year. Do not consider him to be a traitor of some sort.
Benito Santiago did not establish this insane marketplace. He did not establish what players of his caliber are being paid. He simply understands it. And he wants to benefit from it.
It will be to the Padres' benefit when they, too, come to understand the marketplace. Maybe they do. If so, it is obvious what they have come to understand is that they cannot afford the merchandise.