Eckstein prefers to aid rebuilding Padres
Infielder rejects chance to be traded to contender
SAN DIEGO -- It was on or about the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline when San Diego general manager Kevin Towers was queried by the Minnesota Twins if veteran infielder David Eckstein was available.
Towers' first inclination was to decline such an overture, given everything that Eckstein has meant to the Padres this season, on and off the field. But he called Eckstein anyway.
"I just wanted to see where his head was," Towers said. "I felt as if I owed it to him. If he felt like he wanted to go to a contending club with a chance to win, I would do everything to make that happen."
Towers was more than relieved when Eckstein, 34, said he wanted to stay in San Diego.
"He told me he enjoyed playing here in San Diego, likes the young players and likes the challenge," Towers said.
Eckstein echoed those sentiments this week, saying his reasons for wanting to remain in San Diego were because of the challenge of helping mold a young team and being a part of something that's growing, not something that's on the decline.
"I've been through a lot of stages in my career, having been on teams that won, on teams that were supposed to win, teams that are young," Eckstein said. "But knowing the direction this club is going, I want to be a part of that.
"I want to be a guy who can help these young guys out. I don't think this club is as far off as some people think. They've got to learn how to play the game the right away, because next year, there's not going to be any excuses. These guys are starting to step up."
That's been reflected in the Padres' play of late, as San Diego had won nine of its past 12 games, including a 6-3 mark on a homestand that concludes with Sunday's game against the New York Mets at PETCO Park.
Towers said that he would like to talk about extending Eckstein's contract before the end of the season. Eckstein signed a one-year deal for $850,000 this season and can make an additional $150,000 in incentives each for 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances. He went into Sunday's game with 367 plate appearances.
Eckstein missed 19 games last month with a strained right hamstring. He was activated from the disabled list on July 28.
But, as Eckstein said, it's not about money for him at this point in a career that has seen him be a part of two World Series champions (2002 with the Angels and 2006 with the Cardinals) and two All-Star teams (2005-06).
For Eckstein, it's about serving a greater cause, being able to show young players on the roster -- like rookies Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, Kyle Blanks and the handful of other 20-something players in the clubhouse -- how to play the game the right way and providing leadership, something the Padres have lacked since the departure of Trevor Hoffman.
"Watching what Darin Erstad did [in Anaheim], the way he molded the young guys, how he taught them the right way to play this game, I saw how that helped," Eckstein said. "... We've got a bunch of young guys here who want to get better. Playing alongside a guy like Everth, that inspires you."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.