Deal with Padres lets Hawpe return to first

Deal with Padres lets Hawpe return to first

Deal with Padres lets Hawpe return to first
SAN DIEGO -- To be clear, new Padres first baseman Brad Hawpe never wanted to move from his natural position of first base to the outfield in the first place.

But when Hawpe arrived in Colorado as a rookie in 2004, the Rockies had an All-Star in Todd Helton firmly entrenched at the position.

Helton, three years into a nine-year, $141.5 million contract, obviously wasn't going anywhere.

Hawpe, as it turned out, was.

"It was either fall in love with [Triple-A] Colorado Springs or learn to play the outfield," Hawpe said with a laugh on Monday.

After spending the last seven seasons at the Major League level as an outfielder, Hawpe is headed back to first base and he couldn't be happier about it.

On Monday, the Padres signed Hawpe to a one-year contract worth $3 million. He will earn $2 million in 2011 with a mutual option for $6 million for 2012 or a $1 million buyout.

"I couldn't wait to jump on it. I was hoping for first base," Hawpe said of the opportunity to return to the position that he played for parts of his first four seasons in the Rockies organization from 2000-03.

Even if that means replacing three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Gonzalez, who was traded last month to the Red Sox for four players.

"I'm not replacing Adrian Gonzalez," Hawpe said. "He's a heck of a first baseman. I'm just going to go out and do my thing."

The 31-year-old Hawpe is a left-handed hitter who has a career .279 batting average, .373 on-base percentage and a .490 slugging percentage. Hawpe knocked in 116 runs with the Rockies in 2007.

He hit .245 last season with nine home runs and 44 RBIs between stints with the Rockies and Rays. Hawpe also got to play nine games at first base, six with the Rockies and three more with the Rays.

The Padres had some interest in Hawpe when he was released by the Rockies on Aug. 24 but he eventually signed a Minor League deal with the Rays because he felt there was a better chance of more playing time.

Now he's hoping to take advantage of a full-time opportunity with the Padres.

While San Diego's PETCO Park doesn't usually doesn't play well for left-handed power hitters, Hawpe does have a career .281 average and .371 on-base percentage with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 153 at-bats there.

"I really enjoy that ballpark," he said. "If you're talking about hitting, the first thing I notice is the ability to see the baseball. I think San Diego is right up there with their backdrop. I've always enjoyed it there."

Hawpe completes what will almost be an entirely new infield for the Padres, as he joins Orlando Hudson (second base) and Jason Bartlett (shortstop). Hudson agreed to a two-year deal last month while the Padres traded for Bartlett.

Third baseman Chase Headley is the lone holdover from last season.

The Padres are hopeful that Anthony Rizzo, one of four players obtained from the Red Sox in the Gonzalez trade, can be ready to push for the first-base job in 2012. Rizzo is likely set to begin next season with Triple-A Tucson.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.