The Padres Are On the Map!

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has a new a piece on the Padres, and in particular on new GM A.J. Preller. According to those in the know, Preller is “all over the map” in seeking offense for San Diego. It seems that ownership chose wisely when they selected Preller to rebuild the team’s shabby ’14 offense.

Read the article here.

Padres Are Interested In “Panda” Sandoval

This would make sense. They need to beef up their offense badly. But can they outbid the Red Sox? And, wouldn’t Sandoval rather return to the team with which he has won three World Championships, as opposed to their division rival? It would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath.

Read the story here.

Is Korea’s Best Pitcher Coming to San Diego?

Here’s the story.

The Off-Season Agenda, Part Five

I have been posting what I think the Padres should do this off-season to be a truly competitive team in 2015 and beyond. To review, the first four things they should do are:

1. Go Cuban (i.e., sign Yasmani Tomas and Jose Fernandez). Signing both–or even just one– would be a huge offensive boost.

2. Get a new first baseman. Sadly, sometimes talented ballplayers have their careers cut short by lingering injuries. Such seems to be the case with Yonder Alonso. After a promising rookie season in ’12, a recurring wrist injury has affected his play the last two years.

Sure, he could recover. But if the Padres want to compete, they need a first baseman who can produce now.

3. Trade Ian Kennedy and Joaquin Benoit. Their values will never be higher than they are right now.

4. Lock up Tyson Ross. The guy is a budding ace. Do it now, or regret it later.

And number 5…

Pray that Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano develop quickly.

Josh Byrnes’ tenure as Padres GM was mixed. At his best, he swiped Ross away from Oakland. At his worst, well, look at the Padres outfield (with the notable exception of Seth Smith): he was too eager to sign players to extensions when they should the slightest signs of productivity. But after signing Cameron Maybin to five years, Carlos Quentin to three years, and Will Venable to two years, they all flopped. Miserably.

This is why the Padres had the worst offensive outfield in Major League Baseball in 2014. How bad was it? The most productive member was Smith, who was third on the team with 12 home runs, third in RBI (48), and first in batting average (.266).

That’s not a knock on Smith, as his numbers were what you would expect from him. I just bring that up to reiterate: he was their best hitting outfielder last year.

As for the rest of the bunch, Will Venable was terrible, slashing .224/.288/.325 with career lows in home runs (eight) and stolen bases (11), after signing a two-year, $8.75 million extension.

Cameron Maybin slashed .235/.290/.331, with a mere 15 RBI in 95 games (251 at-bats). He also served a 25 game suspension due to PED use. There is still time for him to turn it around, and because he is guaranteed $15 million over the next two years, he will be afforded the opportunity to do so. But if the past three years are any indication, we shouldn’t expect much different than what we’ve already seen.

Carlos Quentin missed even more time than the two previous season, and that’s saying a lot. Last year, he batted .177 in 50 games with just four home runs. He is owed $8 million in 2015. The hope here is that he hits well enough in spring training and early in the season to garner interest from an AL team, where he can be a DH–the task he is best suited for.

The Padres have young talent in Renfroe and Liriano. But last year, both showed they are not ready for the big time: Renfroe struggled at AA, while Liriano was overmatched after being called up in August.

Bottom line: if they weren’t locked in to guaranteed contracts, Maybin, Venable, and Quentin would have been gone by now. They have little trade value, and frankly, the Padres might be better served by releasing at least one of them–the most likely one being Quentin. As with first base, the status quo in the outfield will not do.

Which makes it all the more imperative that they sign Yasmani Tomas. Or if not him, that they make a creative trade to bring in offense from somewhere else.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know what happens.

The Off-Season Agenda, Part Four

4. Lock up Tyson Ross. The Padres might want to take their time before determining what to do with Andrew Cashner. No question, the talent is there. But for the third year in a row, Cashner missed significant playing time, and this year, he missed over one-third of his starts due to a sore elbow. If he can show by mid-June that he is healthy, then by all means revisit an extension. But until then, it’s best to wait.

The story is different for Ross. He showed himself to be the ace of the staff, winning 13 games and sporting a 2.81/1.21/.230 slash. Ross likely would have equaled Kennedy’s feat of 200 strikeouts if not for a minor injury in mid-September–after which the Padres wisely played it safe by shutting him down, causing him to miss his final three starts.

Suffice to say, Ross has pitched like an ace in his two seasons in San Diego. The Padres should do themselves a favor and lock him in for at least the next three years.

The Off-Season Agenda, Part Three

3. Trade Kennedy and Benoit. For the record, I like Joaquin Benoit. After all, what’s not to like? For the Padres in 2014, he was electric: 11 saves in 12 opportunities after Street was traded, a 1.49 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and .151 BAA. He was virtually un-hittable.

But here’s why they should trade him anyway:
1. he’s 36 years old, so you never know when his quality is going to decline;
2. after the year he had, his value will never be higher than it is right now;
3. an $8 million reliever is a luxury the Padres don’t need. They already have two closers-in-waiting: Kevin Quackenbush, who converted six of seven save opportunities when Benoit was injured, and R.J. Alvarez (of the Street trade), who showed promise after a September call-up.

For better or for worse, though, it seems that general manager A.J. Preller is inclined to keep Benoit for now.

As for Kennedy, he had a nice bounce-back year, striking out 207 in 201 innings while winning 13 games with a 3.63 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, and .250 BAA.

Both are valuable commodities which a lot of teams would be happy to have. For instance, the Chicago Cubs appear poised to make a run at the playoffs in ’15, and they have three immensely talented young shortstops, which the Padres desperately need after the Everth Cabrera fiasco. The Red Sox could also be interested, and perhaps they might be willing to part with Allen Craig or the young Mookie Betts for the right price. Toronto and Baltimore may be interested as well.

Some have speculated–correctly–that Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner would fetch more return value than Kennedy. True enough. But they are the building blocks which Preller should build around. Plus, Cashner’s value is down due to injuries which caused him to miss at least 10 starts.

And while Kennedy bounced back, he is a free agent after next season, and his 1.29 WHIP is still a little high, in my opinion. While Kennedy may not be enough by himself to acquire, say, Mookie Betts, perhaps Boston (or another trade partner) would be persuaded if a prospect were included.

Bottom line: The Padres are loaded with pitching, and lacking in offense. Benoit and Kennedy have value, and they are the two most expendable (and traceable) pieces the Padres have this offseason. They will go a long way towards bringing in real talent in areas where the Padres have the greatest needs. Therefore, they should be traded.

The Post-Season Agenda, Part Two

Last time, we looked at priority one for the Padres in the 2014-15 offseason: go after Cuban defectors Yasmani Tomas and Jose Fernandez.

Today, let’s look at option #2:

2. Get A New First Baseman. This might be a tall order. Also, some are not yet ready to jettison Yonder Alonso, in spite of his recent history.

Certainly, anything can happen. And it is true that prior to his season-ending injury, Alonso was starting to resemble his ’12 version, when he swatted 39 doubles as a rookie. Even still, his wrist was injured for the second year in a row, which is a very troubling sign. Also, there is just no way around it: Alonso was terrible last year. Through the end of June he batted an unsightly .213, and before the All-Star break, his OPS was .591.

This is just one year after he had just one extra-base hit in the second half of the ’13 season.

While it appears that Black and Preller are willing to invite him back to spring training, it should be obvious that he is not the long-term answer. If anything, his injuries and poor play have relegated him to Plan B status.

But then, who should they try to acquire?

There are a few free agents, including Michael Cuddyer, Michael Morse, Corey Hart, Adam LaRoche, Adam Lind, Victor Martinez, and Kendrys Morales. Of these options…
-Cuddyer, who might be the best fit since he can also play in the outfield, will likely re-sign with Colorado;

-Morse has not been the same since his breakthrough 2011 season (31 homers), although he might not be a bad place-holder while minor leaguer Alex Dickerson develops;

-LaRoche and Martinez will likely command richer contracts than the Padres are willing to pay;

-Lind missed significant playing time with injuries last year. But assuming that Toronto either declines his option or tries to trade him (and they do need pitching, something the Padres have), he could be an intriguing option.

-Morales would be a risk, especially since he batted just .218 with eight home runs in an injury-plagued season. However, he batted in the .270s with over 20 homers in both 2012 and ’13.

Or, they can make a trade. Perhaps Chris Davis, one year removed from a 50-homer campaign, could be available as a sell-low option. Anaheim’s C.J. Cron and Boston’s Allen Craig are other possibilities.

Bottom line: unless you have stellar offense elsewhere and so can afford to have a Mark Grace/Keith Hernandez-type first baseman, offensive production at this position is a must-have. Such is the case with the Padres.

The Post-Season Agenda, Part One

Another World Series, and another year with former Padres winning it all: manager Bruce Bochy, coach Tim Flannery, and pitcher Jake Peavy.

Remember them? Bochy and Flannery were bit-players for the Padres during the 1980s, including their first World Series appearance in 1984. Bochy later managed the Padres from 1996-2006, and Flannery was the third base coach until 2003. Peavy began his career in San Diego and had his best years there, including 2006, when he won the Cy Young Award. Yesterday, as members of the San Francisco Giants, they beat the Kansas City Royals in seven games.

It was a great series, but sadly, it was also another year where the Padres didn’t even make the playoffs. It’s tempting to think how, if things had just been a little different, maybe Bochy, Flannery, and Peavy could have been winning championships in Padre uniforms.

But things are not different. In my line of work, I use a phrase a lot more than I thought I ever would: It is what it is. In other words, no matter how troubling or bothersome something might be, you can’t go back and change what’s already been done.

Regarding the Padres, it doesn’t really matter if Bochy, Flannery, and Peavy were still in San Diego; there were circumstances beyond their control that led to the Padres’ mediocrity, most especially the dysfunctional saga of John Moores’ latter years as owner, which was then followed by the badly mishandled Jeff Moorad era.

But those days are done. The Padres have a very capable manager in Bud Black, new ownership that has indicated that they are willing to spend more if the price is right, and a highly regarded new general manager in A.J. Preller.

With that in view, what should the Padres do this offseason? Where should they start? Whom should they trade? Whom should they sign to long-term deals? Which free agents should they go after?

Starting today and for the next few days, we’re going to consider five things the Padres should do to improve for 2015 and beyond, so that like their neighbors to the north in San Francisco, they too can regularly compete in the postseason.

So let’s get started.

1. Go Cuban! There are two very talented Cuban defectors who have recently been declared free agents. The first, outfielder Yasmani Tomas, is already well-known by Padres fans. At 23, he appears to be the real deal: he hits for power and is a excellent fielder with a strong throwing arm. So real, in fact, that many other teams are also very interested.

In fact, many observers were surprised that the Padres are even interested. But when the Union-Tribune reported a few weeks back that Tomas had given a second private workout to the Padres, this confirmed that they are serious contenders for his services.

Granted, there is reason for caution; most especially, what certainty do they have that Tomas will perform at the big league level? Signing anyone–especially an unproven quantity–to a multi-year, $100 million contract is very risky. However, it seems to be one that is worth it. Last year, the Chicago White Sox took a chance on Jose Abreu, Tomas’ fellow Cuban, and it paid off in spades: he batted .317 with a league-leading 36 home runs and 107 RBI. Not only is he the favorite to not only be named AL Rookie of the Year, he may also be selected as the AL MVP.

Tomas has gotten many of the high marks that Abreu did, and he appears to be the real deal. So I say, go for it!

The second Cuban free agent is Jose Fernandez. According to mlbtraderumors.com, he is an on-base machine, and at age 26 is major-league ready. It would make sense to pursue him, especially since the Padres do not seem comfortable going with their in-house talent (Cory Spangenburg and Yongervis Solarte are projected as utility players, Alexi Amarista might become the starting shortstop next year, and AAA 2B Taylor Lindsey drastically underperformed after being acquired in the Huston Street trade). So perhaps even more than Tomas, Fernandez seems to be a perfect fit for the Padres.

Should they sign Fernandez, Black can slide Jedd Gyorko back to third base, and bat Fernandez leadoff or number two in the order. If he can put up a .340-.360 OBP, that would be a dramatic improvement from what the Padres had last year, when they finished dead last in this category.

But don’t other clubs have more money? Certainly. But Padres management has given Preller the green light to boost the payroll if the right circumstances come along. Well. What could be more right than a power-hitting outfielder in Tomas and an on-base machine in Fernandez? Two of the biggest woes of the 2014 season (lack of power and on-base potential) would automatically be corrected.

Additionally, Tomas and Fernandez would be welcomed by fellow countrymen Yasmani Grandal, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Yonder Alonso (assuming he is still around).

Finally, Preller’s specialty is international scouting, and given the paucity of decent free agents, this is the most beneficial area for the Padres to be looking for talent.

For these reasons, it would benefit the Padres greatly to pursue Yasmani Tomas and Jose Fernandez, and provide a solid one-two punch to the lineup that has been sorely lacking.

Coming Soon…

After the World Series, I will be posting a five-part series on what the Padres need to do this off-season. I hope you will join me for that.

In the meantime, doesn’t it hurt to see ‘ol Bruce Bochy and Tim Flannery going for a third World Championship in Giants uniforms?

The Padres 2014 Season (Mercifully) Ends

The Padres 2014 season has mercifully come to an end. Of course, the season was marred by the deaths of two team staples: first, longtime announcer Jerry Coleman passed on at age 91. But then, team legend Tony Gwynn (i.e., “Mr. Padre”) lost his battle with cancer. For those reasons alone, 2014 is a year the Padres would like to forget.

On the field, their final record was 77-85. On the one hand, it’s a one-game improvement over the previous two seasons and hence a (very small) step in the right direction.

On the other hand, fans were expecting much more fireworks, especially from the offense. However, the team’s bats–especially in the first half of the season–fell short by near-historic proportions: in the month of June, the team batting average was a disastrously low .140 (!!!), a new major league record for a single month. For the year, they were last in nearly every offensive category: batting average, on base percentage, runs, and slugging percentage.

For that reason alone, someone needed to take the fall, and it was general manager Josh Byrnes. While he is apparently a decent fellow, it is inexcusable to put that kind of a team onto a major league field, even if it is pitching-friendly Petco Park.

New general manager A.J. Preller has his work cut out for him, and among the questions he will have to answer include:

Who’s on first? There’s no getting around it: Yonder Alonso was awful. His final average of .240 is somewhat deceptive: it came only after batting .552 (12-for-23) in August before a season-ending injury, and batting under .200 in two different months (April and June), all of which are inexcusable for a first baseman–a position which demands offensive production. So, do the Padres give him one last chance, or go with someone else? Installing Yasmani Grandal there while splitting time with Rene Rivera behind home plate is an intriguing option if a trade is not made.

Where do you put Jedd Gyorko? Sadly, his season was damaged by a bad first half, and missing time due to plantar fascilitis. But a decent second half (with a .260/.347/.398 slash) should give fans hope. But, where to put him? If you keep him at second base, you then need to find a third baseman. If you move him back to third, his natural position, that opens up the door for either Cory Spangenberg or Yongervis Solarte to man second.

Is the Will Venable experiment finally over? Outside of six weeks in 2013 where Venable played way above his head, this outfielder has been the epitome of meh. And after being awarded a two-year, $8 million contract, Venable responded with his worst season: .224 batting average, .288 OBP, a paltry .325 slugging average, and a mere .613 OPS. Bottom line: he turns 32 on October 29, San Diego has given him countless opportunities over eight seasons, and he’s proven that he’s not going to get any better. It’s time to cut him loose, and give someone else a chance.

Cut or keep Everth Cabrera? “Cabbie” may be the Padres’ biggest disappointment this year. Coming off a decent ’13 season cut short by his “Biogenesis” suspension, the team was counting on him bouncing back with a .350 OBP and 50-plus stolen bases. Instead, they got a .272 OBP and 18 SB’s. And then, while he was supposed to be recovering from a stint on the disabled list, he got caught on a drug-induced DUI. If Preller keeps him, he might bounce back with a decent year, he is controllable for two more seasons, and good shortstops don’t exactly grow on trees–plus, top draft pick Trey Turner is likely 2-3 years away. On the down side, the old saying speaks for itself: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Who’s the Stopper? After trading Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit inherited the role, and performed quite well. But when he missed a few weeks, rookie Kevin Quackenbush stepped in, and performed quite well, converting six saves in seven opportunities. Overall, he limited hitters to a .212 batting average, struck out 56 in 54.1 innings, and sported a decent 1.10 WHIP. The Padres could trade Benoit and his $8 million salary, which would free up room for another good hitter. But is Quackenbush ready? This is one question that general managers love to have, and that make baseball so much fun.

Certainly, there are other questions, such as what to do with the often-injured Carlos Quentin, and whether to trade or keep Ian Kennedy. But those are the main off-season questions that need to be addressed.

That said, Preller already answered his first question correctly the day after the season ended: he is bringing Bud Black back to manage the Padres. For a team to hit as poorly as they did and still be just four games under .500 speaks to the quality of a manager the Padres have.

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