The last time that Trevor Hoffman was a free agent, there were some doubts among executives with other teams whether he would ever seriously consider leaving the Padres -- a team he had played with for more than a decade. But there is no doubt now that Hoffman's time with San Diego is over, he said Friday afternoon, and he feels like the Padres are not being forthright about how and why he is departing.
"I was blindsided by this, I really was," said Hoffman, who joined the team in 1993.
Hoffman, the all-time leader in saves with 554, met with Padres general manager Kevin Towers near the end of the regular season in Milwaukee, and coming out of that conversation, Hoffman felt good about the chances that something would be worked out for the 2009 season. But on Oct. 15, the tone of the negotiations changed: Hoffman, who made $7 million in 2008, received a $4 million offer from the Padres, and the perception of his agent was that this was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, with no room for incentives, no room for negotiation.
Hoffman says that for days, there was no response to his request for a meeting that would include Padres owner John Moores -- and then last Friday, he was told by his agent, Rick Thurman, that Towers had called and indicated that the team intended to withdraw its offer because word of the $4 million proposal had leaked out. "I didn't believe him," said Hoffman. "I told Thurman that I was seeing stuff on the Internet that they still intended to negotiate."
But Towers reiterated to Thurman that there would be no offer, and when Hoffman learned this, he asked for a face-to-face meeting with Towers and Padres CEO Sandy Alderson. Fifteen minutes later, the Padres' offer was officially withdrawn, via fax. Hoffman said that when he spoke to Towers, the GM said, "No, we are no longer negotiating. We are going in another direction."
"I said to him, 'KT, after 16 years, you're telling me that you're ending the relationship over the phone?'"
In retrospect, Hoffman is convinced that the Padres never really wanted him back. Alderson told a radio station earlier this week that he is willing to meet with Hoffman now, but Hoffman believes Alderson is merely posturing. "It was never their intention to honor [the offer]," said Hoffman. "And they didn't have the strength to stand up and do that the right way."
Towers did not immediately return a call for response.
Hoffman was on a trip in Puerto Rico when this happened, and since returning, he said he has received positive responses from Padres fans who greet him in person. He has found that some fans are waiting for him to go to a meeting with the team -- when in fact the relationship is over. "It's hard to explain to a fan who you bump into briefly, 'Look, this has been done for awhile,'" said Hoffman. "It's hard to explain to people that No. 1, they never wanted to have you back, and No. 2 ... they're unwilling to come out and say that for themselves.
"You don't really want to deal with people who handle their business that way. ... To come home and to hear the comments, and hear how they're spinning lies to do damage control, I feel like I have to stand up and set the record straight a little bit, and say how things happened."
Hoffman said he didn't want to sound as if he was whining, and he said that if the Padres had simply told him directly at season's end that they didn't want him back, then he might feel differently. "I would not have liked it, but I don't think a player can argue with a team's direction," he said. "It would have been difficult, but it would have made more sense, in how they handled it.
"I don't know why they're spinning it, what they're trying to protect themselves from.
"When they drag you through the mud, though, it's just wrong. ... Nobody is perfect, but I don't like to be made out to be a liar."
It is clear from his voice that he remains angry with Towers, and with Alderson. "But [Alderson] is the CEO. John [Moores] is the owner of the club, and if he didn't want to see this go on, he needed to step up."
Hoffman, 41, intends to continue pitching, and he said that as a player with more time left in his career, he is not really ready to consider the question of what his relationship will be with the Padres after he retires. He has always had an excellent relationship with the San Diego community, and with the organization.
But for now, Hoffman said, "It's pretty much done. If something like that" -- a post-career relationship between a team and a player -- "doesn't happen, the real losers are the fans. You have pride for the organization that you cheer for; when something like this happens and it's severed, the ultimate losers are the fan."
Hoffman and his agent have heard from some teams, in an offseason in which numerous teams are looking to find a closer. The market for closers will probably fall like dominoes, with the likes of Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes and Kerry Wood signing before Hoffman does.
"I know people had a question in the past whether I would leave San Diego, and whether there would be a tug at the heartstrings," said Hoffman. "Since things have come to an end here, it's a much different outlook on the whole free-agent market.
"The fact is that San Diego is not an option, and maybe people will take [my free agency] more seriously this time around."
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.