Padres Burning Question

San Diego Padres Burning Question: Is it time to trade Adrian Gonzalez?

The Padres enter 2010 a team at a crossroads with a new general manager for the first time since 1995. In replacing Kevin Towers, former Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer has to make a decision right off the bat that will chart the direction the team takes for years to come -- whether to trade star slugger and local product Adrian Gonzalez.

Although Gonzalez's contract is still quite reasonable as he is due a total of just over $10 million over the next two seasons, the Padres could join teams including the Rangers and Rockies, that have seen dramatic improvement throughout their systems by trading superstars Matt Holliday and Mark Teixeira before risking losing them as free agents.

With a two-year total of 76 home runs and an incredible road slugging percentage of .643 in 2009, not to mention a Gold Glove at first base, Gonzalez would bring back a prospect-laden package similar to what Holliday and Teixeira fetched for the Rockies and Rangers, respectively. Additionally, Gonzalez's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, coming off a 40-home run season in a watered-down free agent year makes A-Gone's talents even more in-demand.

Meanwhile, a trade of Gonzalez for the wrong package risks alienating an already disgruntled San Diego fan base. Not only has Gonzalez been by far the team's most productive offensive player since 2007, the former top-overall draft pick of the Marlins grew up a Padres fan in the San Diego area, further endearing him to the local fans.

If Gonzalez has indeed played his last game with the Padres, at six-foot-six, 285 pounds, Kyle Blanks has the size and power to step in and tackle Petco Park, the cavernous home of the Padres, as the team's next prolific slugger. Blanks blasted ten home runs in just 54 games as a rookie in 2009.

2009 Season at a Glance:

The Good: With ace Jake Peavy injured most of the year and baseball's second-lowest Opening Day payroll, the Padres actually exceeded expectations by finishing out of the NL West basement in 2009. All-Star closer Heath Bell was stellar in his first season as the Friars closer, throwing flames past NL hitters on his way to an NL-best 42 saves while igniting fans with his all-out style. Despite being pitched around in a rotation short on power, Adrian Gonzalez continued to defy Petco Park logic with 40 home runs. The youth movement showed its first signs of success late in the season as the Padres became a thorn in the side of fellow NL contenders, rattling off 17 September victories including late-season series triumphs over Colorado, Los Angels and San Francisco.

The Bad: After seeing payroll slashed by nearly 50 percent after the divorce of long-time owner John Moores, the Padres were doomed for a long season before it even began. San Diego fixture Trevor Hoffman ended up in Milwaukee and Jake Peavy was eventually shipped to the White Sox. Only the Pirates scored less runs than the Padres did in 2009 as the team failed to consistently protect Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the order.

2010 Breakout Candidate: Mat Latos, P.

The emergence of prospect Mat Latos in 2009 made the trade of long-time ace Jake Peavy a bit easier to swallow in San Diego. Thanks to a blazing fastball consistently clocked in the mid-to-high nineties, Latos cruised through the minors in 2009, dominating the Midwest League with a 3-0 mark and 0.36 ERA before following up with a 5-1 record and 1.91 ERA in Class AA before earning a July start with the Padres. On a strict pitch count to limit innings, Latos saw mixed success in his first taste of major league action, finishing 4-5 with a 4.62 ERA. With his restrictions taken off and a home ballpark that is any pitcher's dream, Latos is primed to burst onto the scene in 2010 armed with his blazing fastball that cuts in across the plate and a deceptive delivery that makes his pitches appear seemingly out of nowhere. Though he was raised in Florida, Latos even looks the part of San Diego star with his lanky frame and long-blond hair sure to make him a fan favorite in SD for years to come.

2010 Rookie to Watch: Aaron Poreda, P.

With most of the Padres' impact talent still being seasoned in the low-minors, left-handed pitcher Aaron Poreda might be the only real prospect who finds his way to San Diego in 2010. Acquired from the White Sox in last September's Jake Peavy deal, Poreda is a six-foot-six, 240-pound University of San Francisco product who has yet to find his niche as a starter or reliever since being selected in the first-round of the 2007 draft. Walks have been the root of most of Poreda's struggles in the minors and he must learn to keep his mid-nineties fastball in the strike zone despite his unusual three-quarters delivery. If Poreda can put his control problems behind him and continue to show improvement on his lively slider and two-seem fastball, he could end up in the middle of the Padres rotation for the long-haul but his best role for 2010 is most likely as a left-handed setup man.

2010 Padre on the Hot Seat: Chris Young, P.

Once the running mate of Padres ace Jake Peavy, Chris Young has struggled through two injury-plagued seasons since San Diego last made a playoff run in 2007. Barring an unexpected free agent signing, Young will be highest-paid member of the Padres in 2010 even though he has made just 32 combined starts over the last two years. If Young is able to return 100% from the shoulder surgery he underwent in 2009, he could serve as the staff leader to a host of young Padres starters in need of a veteran anchor. But if Young suffers another setback, it will likely be his last in San Diego as the team holds an $8.5 million option on him following the season.