SAN DIEGO -- So far, advantage Kevin Towers.
The deal the Padres general manager pulled off last winter, swapping Reggie Sanders, Wally Joyner and Quilvio Veras to the Braves for Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko and minor league pitcher Jason Shiell has favored the Padres through the first month of the season.
That's largely due to the struggle Sanders is enduring to produce a hit, any hit. The left fielder, who had 26 homers, 72 RBI and 36 steals last season is limping along at .137 without a homer and just one RBI, light years away from the numbers Klesko has put up.
Klesko, who was sorry to leave the Braves last December, but delighted to return to his southern California roots, headed into Friday night's opener of a three-game series against his former team hitting .278 with six homers and 20 RBI. He still isn't producing much against lefties (.100), but hitting in the third and fifth spots in the lineup he's on pace for his first 100-RBI season.
"Every year the Braves made a change after the World Series," Klesko said. "I guess it was mine and Boonie's time to get out of there. Right away it was great here. I grew up with a lot of these guys. I played in high school against some of these guys, played in Connie Mack against some of them. I'm having a real good time here. I wake up to sunny skies and the beach every morning."
Coming off a 95-RBI, Gold Glove season, Boone disappointed the Braves by hitting .252 and committing 13 errors last season. Like Klesko, he's returned home, having grown up in the Southern Cal area, and his comfort level is reflected in his fast start. Hitting in the No. 6 slot, he's batting .302 with one homer and 10 RBI and has produced a .325 average with runners on base.
That's in sharp contrast to the numbers Boone put up last season, when he hit .261 with runners in scoring position and .209 from the seventh inning on.
"Last April I came out swinging and everybody was catching everything I hit," Boone said. "I was in the No. 2 hole with the Braves, and my job was to score runs. It wasn't an ideal place for me, but I tried to fit in. (The trade) was no slap in the face. Both teams got what they needed. I have nothing but good memories of Atlanta. I had a great time for a year over there."
If Sanders was hitting, the swap wouldn't appear so one-sided. Though Veras has come alive at the plate, boosting his average to .319 after a 4 for 25 start, and Joyner is filling a role behind first baseman Andres Galarraga, without Sanders producing, the deal is falling San Diego's way.
Even so, given a chance to do it all over again, Braves GM John Schuerholz would make the same deal. Veras gives the Braves a quintessential leadoff man, and Joyner was insurance in case Galarraga couldn't return after missing a year battling cancer. Sanders will hit, though after his slow start he'll have to produce great numbers over the next five months to match last year's totals.
Though the trade benefited both teams, no one came away from it feeling better than Klesko, who needed a fresh start after spending his entire career in Atlanta's organization. He never quite lived up to his potential with the Braves, though he produced a 34-homer, 93-RBI season in 1996. He failed to build on those numbers, his power and production falling off to a low of 18 homers and 70 RBI in '98, so the trade offers him an opportunity to demonstrate the '96 season wasn't an aberration.
"Obviously, you want to play good for yourself and help your team," Klesko said. "But putting up some good numbers will help me walk around a little taller."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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