Earlier today, Padres GM Jed Hoyer all but guaranteed that Ryan Ludwick would return to the Padres next season, as MLB.com's Corey Brock tweeted. Given the Padres' lack of middle-of-the-order pop around Adrian Gonzalez, bringing back Ludwick appears to be the right call. However, it's not the team's only option.
Ludwick, 32, earned $5.45MM in 2010 and will enter his final year of arbitration eligibility. While his overall numbers (.251/.325/.418, 17 HR) were slightly disappointing, he should still be a line for a small bump in salary, making him one of the highest-paid Padres heading into next season. While $6MM+ will be well-spent on stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell, Ludwick's stock isn't quite as high. After coming over from St. Louis, the outfielder hit just .211/.301/.330 in 239 plate appearances as a Padre. The sample size is small and the change in home park has to be taken into account, but San Diego will clearly be expecting improvement from Ludwick if he's on next year's roster.
Hoyer has said he's open at least to listening on trade offers for Gonzalez and Bell, but there are a few factors working against dealing Ludwick. Not only could Ludwick's second-half struggles scare away interested teams, but the 32-year-old means more to the Padres than he would to most other clubs. Given San Diego's pitcher's park and limited payroll, they'll have trouble bringing any big free agent bats to town; plus, the club's outfield and lineup would become even thinner if non-tender candidate Scott Hairston isn't retained.
As Brock notes in a separate tweet, the Padres acquired Ludwick from St. Louis this summer in part because the outfielder had an additional year of team control. So it seems San Diego's best plan of action is bringing back Ludwick and hoping that he helps the team contend for the postseason in 2011. If things aren't going well by next year's trade deadline, the club could consider cutting their losses by moving the former Cardinal at that point. What do you think? Is retaining Ludwick the right move for the Padres?