Padres 2015 Season Preview, Part Two

Last time, we looked at the reason for optimism for the 2015 Padres: the offensive is much better, the starting pitching is better (if that were possible, and with the signing of James Shields, it is), the bullpen is still strong, and second baseman Jedd Gyorko figures to have a good rebound season after a disastrous 2014 campaign.

But if the above points were the only things I wrote about the 2015 Padres, that would be misleading on my part. For that reason, let us come now to part two of my Padres 2015 preview.

This time, we will consider the reasons for potential pessimism.

1. The Outfield defense is much worse. For the 2015 Padres, the good news is that fans will see much less of Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.

But that brings us to the potential bad news: fans will see much less of Maybin and Venable.

Here’s what I mean: while Maybin and Venable have disappointed fans (and put them to sleep) over their dreadful offense, they could always be counted upon to cover lots of ground defensively.

In their place (and Seth Smith’s, who was the primary starting left fielder last year), the Padres will start Justin Upton in left, Wil Myers in center, and Matt Kemp in right. Upton is considered average (i.e, not spectacular) in left. He won’t make too many flashy plays, but he won’t bring back memories of Dave Kingman, either.

Asking Myers to play center field every day could prove risky. While he is only 24, he is better suited for a corner outfield position, given his skill-set. As of right now, his total Major League experience in center includes eight games (six starts) in 2013, and two innings in 2014.

So then, why not just move him to right field? Because that’s where newcomer Matt Kemp will be playing. While he can still swing a hefty bat at age 30, there are health concerns. Prior to 2014, he missed significant playing time due to injuries (over 50 games in 2012, and more than half the season in ’13). And prior to being traded to the Padres, a physical revealed that Kemp has arthritic hips, which is going to slow him down considerably in the field. All of which is going to make for a very porous outfield defense.

So then, the proper question might not be, “Will this outfield of Upton-Myers-Kemp work,” but, “What’s Plan B?” Plan B may consist of waiting to see whether Yonder Alonso is truly recovered from his injuries (see below); if he’s not, manager Bud Black might switch either Myers or Kemp to first, and platoon Venable and Maybin in centerfield, which would go a long way toward solving the defense problem.

Should Alonso work out, Maybin and Venable will serve as late inning defensive replacements, and spot starters to give Kemp a rest. But if that’s the case, then Padre fans should expect a lot of high-scoring games.

2. No Legitimate Leadoff Hitter. For all of the great offseason acquisitions, who is going to bat first?

Alexi Amarista? He’s fast, but in three years, he has never had an OBP above .290.

Derek Norris? He gets on base, but as a catcher, he’s really slow.

Wil Myers? Perhaps, but since he is also coping with being a full-time center fielder, asking him to be the leadoff hitter as well might be too much pressure on him.

Yongervis Solarte? He is probably the best bet, as he is willing to take a walk. But his starting position is third base, and it seems the Padres really want Will Middlebrooks to win the everyday job.

Another trade? That is certainly possible. It appears on this one that we will have to stay tuned, because none of the current options really inspires much in the way of confidence when it comes to thinking of traditional leadoff hitters.

3. Shortstop Offers Little in Offense. To his credit, Amarista did well in filling in for extended periods for the since-departed Everth Cabrera. For that reason, Black and Preller felt comfortable going with “Little Ninja” and free agent signee Clint Barmes.

But here’s the problem: neither one of them hits. On the other hand, they have a far better offense than they did last year. So if they’re weak offensively at just this position, they should be okay.

4. Who’s On First? Alonso is the incumbent, but not by much. Which is tragic.

The Padres acquired him in the Mat Latos deal prior to the 2012 season. He was billed as the ideal hitter for Petco Park: a high average with extra-base power. In his rookie season, he slapped 39 doubles and had an acceptable .273/.348/.393 slash.

His 2013 season began well, with a .284 average, six home runs and 29 RBI in 54 games. But then, Alonso broke a bone in his hand, and he hasn’t been the same since. Although, he showed some glimpses of his former self late last season, batting .421 (in 38 at-bats) after the All-Star break, until he re-fractured his hand.

So given his recent injury history, why are the Padres hoping to keep him around? Probably this…

5. The Offense is Right-Handed Top-Heavy. For all of the good news about acquiring Kemp, Myers, Upton, Middlebrooks, and Norris, there is just one problem: they all bat right-handed.

Statistically, that’s going to make it harder to win against right-handed pitchers, and that’s what the majority of starting pitchers are.

So then, who are the potential left-handed batters?

The most obvious is Amarista, who will be the primary starting shortstop. But he hardly instills fear in opposing pitchers.

Another option is Solarte, should he win the third base job. Venable will likely get some spot starts in the outfield.

If Corey Spangenburg makes the team, he will likely be a super-utility player, who can alternately spell the regulars at second, third, and all three outfield positions. Presumably, we would get about 250 at-bats or so in this role, mostly as a leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers. Even still, the Padres do not at this point consider him viable as an everyday ballplayer.

Which brings us back to…

Yonder Alonso.

He is potentially the best left-handed hitter they have, which could be why they did not give up on him after 2014. The Padres know that the potential is still there, if he can get past his nagging wrist injuries. But given his recent history, that’s a big if.

Bottom line: With all of the offseason improvements, the Padres still have reason for concern. But next time, we will look at the remaining intangibles, and I will make my prediction for how they will do.

Padres 2015 Season Preview, Part One

And so it begins.

The Padres’ most glamorous offseason is coming to a close as Spring Training begins. Their challenge now is to do what other recent winners of the so-called “Stove Top League” (i.e., 2011 Marlins, 2012 Blue Jays) could not do: translate the big offseason moves into wins and a pennant run.

Can they do it? Absolutely; on the whole, they are definitely a better club than the last three seasons. On the other hand, there are reasons for concern. And as with any team, there are lots and lots of intangibles which, if tipped the right way, could lead to 90-plus wins and a serious World Series run; or if tipped the wrong way, could make fans long to see Will Venable and Cameron Maybin back in the outfield–yes, you read that correctly.

So today in part one, we’re going to cover what’s right with the Padres. Next time, in part two, we’ll consider where they are lacking. And in part three, I will offer my predictions for 2015.

Reasons for Optimism

1. The Offense is much better. In 2014, their one respectable hitter was Seth Smith. An almost strictly platoon player, he led the team with a .266 batting average, with 12 home runs and 48 RBI. That is certainly respectful for a role player like him, but you know you’re in trouble when he’s the best you’ve got.

While Smith is now gone, the offense saw a massive upgrade in terms of quality this offseason. In his place will be Justin Upton; at 27, he is in his walk year, and figures to hit 25-30 home runs to go with 90-100 RBI and an OPS above .800.

Center field gets a huge boost, as the team moves on from the perennial disappointment, Cameron Maybin, to newcomer Wil Myers. At 24, Myers is still very young, and is just two seasons removed from winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. While he may still have some growing pains, and there will be adjustments to being a full-time center fielder (more on this next time), whatever he provides will surely be an improvement over Maybin’s meager .235/.290/.331 2014 slash.

Right field provides the biggest new name for the Padres, Matt Kemp. While there are concerns about his health, there is no question about what his bat can do: his career slash is .292/.350/.495, to go with 182 home runs.

While he probably won’t steal bases like he used to (40 in 2011), he can still carry a team when he gets hot–witness his second half last year: 17 homers in 64 games, coupled with a .309/.365/606 slash (.971 OPS).

The Padres will of course have to take it cautiously with him, removing him early for defensive purposes and giving him routine days off. But doing so will provide huge dividends.

Derek Norris will take over from Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal as the new starting catcher. His .270 batting average, ten homers, and .361 OBP show him to have a good batting eye with some power.

Will Middlebrooks may or may not be the starting third baseman. If he is, the Padres hope he can recapture the promise that he showed in his 2012 rookie season: .288 BA with 15 home runs in 75 games. All told, general manager A.J. Preller gave the Padres offense exactly what it needed for them to be competitive in 2015: a massive facelift.

If nothing else, they will be much more exciting to watch this year.

2. Their Starting Pitching Is Even Better (as if that were possible). It’s amazing to think that the 2014 Padres, awful as their hitting was, didn’t lose 90-plus games. Instead, they were 77-85. That speaks volumes about their starting pitching, which was solid if not spectacular.

Returning this year is Tyson Ross (13-14, 2.81 ERA, 195 strikeouts in 195.2 innings). He could have reached 200 in both those categories, but management wisely decided to shut him down early due to a minor injury, and save him for ’15. There is no reason to think that Ross won’t improve on his already solid ’14 numbers.

Andrew Cashner will also be back. While he furnished a solid 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, it was only in 19 starts and 123.1 innings. But there is no doubt that when he is on, he is very good. In a late 2012 game, he pitched a one-hitter on the road against a superior offensive team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ian Kennedy also returns in his walk year. In 2014, he proved reliable, making 33 starts and logging 201 innings with 207 k’s, while sporting a respectable 3.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Coupled with the new offense, these returning three would have already made them more competitive. But Preller placed the icing on his offseason cake when he signed free agent James Shields to a four-year contract. While not quite in the same league as, say, Cole Hamels or Jordan Zimmerman, Shields does provide veteran leadership, and a dependable arm: over the last four seasons, he has averaged a 14-10 record, four complete games, 233 innings, a 3.17 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP.

But perhaps most importantly, the last time he made fewer than 33 starts in a season was 2007.

Simply stated, Shields is the definition of reliable. He will provide needed veteran leadership, and he automatically makes the other starters around him even better.

Battling for the fifth spot in the rotation will be Brandon Morrow, Odrisamer Despaigne, Robbie Erlin, and Matt Wisler. This means that whoever wins the last spot (likely Morrow) will be on a short leash, with everyone else waiting in the wings.

3. The Bullpen is still strong. No surprise here, as this is a Padre tradition.

But this year, that is especially so since Preller declined to trade closer Joaquin Benoit, who was so effective last year. I was one of the many who pushed for Preller to trade the closer, thinking that he was a needed piece of bait to pry a solid hitter from another club.

But I was wrong. In keeping Benoit, Black retains a very deep bullpen. Other returnees include Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer, Kevin Quackenbush (as the heir apparent at closer, he saved six games when Benoit missed some playing time in ’14), and lefties Alex Torres Frank Garces.

New faces include righties Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer (both acquired via trade).

4. Jedd Gyorko is set for a rebound. For starters, how could he be any worse than he was in 2014? For the season, he batted .210 with a .612 OPS. But that was because he was held back by plantar fasciitis in the first half, which then kept him out of action for two months. His numbers did improve when he came back.

But in addition to his injuries, there are two other reasons for his struggles: first, he received a five-year extension early in the season. It is common for younger recipients of such extensions to feel the need to prove their worth with every swing. Second, with San Diego’s offense being so terrible last year, Gyorko was regularly slotted to bat third, fourth, of fifth–spots from which you typically expect production. In spite of his denials, Gyorko could have pressed himself.

But this year, this should be better, for two reasons: first off, his numbers did improve when he came back (.745 OPS, to go with a .260 BA and .347 OBP in the second half). While not stellar, such numbers would be serviceable if that’s how he were to hit over a full season, especially given the greater offense San Diego now has.

That takes us directly to the second reason for optimism on Gyorko: there will be less pressure upon him to perform. He will likely bat sixth or seventh in the lineup, and Black will consider any production from him to be a bonus.

5. The Buy Low/Sell High Trade of the Year: Acquiring Will Middlebrooks for Ryan Hanigan. Chances are, this will be a forgettable deal; after all, we’re talking about a once-promising third baseman for a career backup catcher–albeit a defensively solid one (and after losing Tim Federowizs until the All-Star break, Preller might be regretting letting Hanigan go so quickly–he was a Padre for all of two days after being acquired in the Wil Myers trade from Tampa.

Then again, what if Middlebrooks bounces back from two very troubled, injury-plagued season? What if, at the still-young age of 26, all he really needed to blossom was to get out of the high-pressured environment of Boston, hit 20-25 home runs, and provide above average defense?

It could happen. If it did, this could be a repeat of two years ago, when the Padres swiped Tyson Ross from Oakland for Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner–neither of whom is currently on a major league roster.

Well, that’s it for the high points. Indeed, there are many reasons to be excited about the Padres in 2015.

But not all is rosy. Next time, we’ll consider the reasons for concern that could prevent San Diego from reaching the playoffs.

3 Questions the Padres Must Answer During Spring Training.

Good article by Corey Brock. Read about it here.

Reaction to the James Shields Signing

The Padres have now officially inked right-handed starter James Shields to a four-year, $75 million contract. There is much to like in this deal, but also some reason for concern.

What’s To Like

Since a subpar rookie season in 2006, Shields has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball. While he has only once finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award balloting, he has been a very dependable commodity for both Tampa Bay and Kansas City, pitching at least 200 innings every season since 2007. His numbers over the last four seasons are especially telling. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he has averaged 233 innings, a 14-10 record, 34 starts, 206 strikeouts, a 3.17 ERA, and a 1.16 WHIP.

Last season, he went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, and 180 strikeouts, helping the Royals to within one game of a World Series Championship. While his poor start in game 7 was costly, there can be little doubt that had they not traded for him in January, 2013 (ironically for Wil Myers, his new Padre teammate) the Royals might not have even made the playoffs.

Bear in mind also that Shields’ numbers are from the American League, where he has to face the Designated Hitter. No more in San Diego, where he will also pitch half of his games at Petco Park, the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in major league baseball. Shields’ addition also makes the starting rotation even better.

Before adding him, the already-strong rotation featured Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and several candidates for the last two spots, including Brandon Morrow, Robbie Erlin, Odrisamer Desaigne, and rookie Matt Wisler. Assuming that Ross were numbers one, two, and three in the rotation prior to adding Shields, they are now numbers two, three, and four, assuming Shields becomes the ace. And now, there is only one slot available to the remaining competitors.

In plain English, this means that their rotation now stacks up far better against their competitors than it did in 2014, when the Padres already had one of the best set of starting pitchers in baseball.

Lastly, this is a good deal because general manager A.J. Preller did not have to guarantee a fifth season to Shields. With a four year guarantee (plus an opt-out clause after 2016), Preller has minimized the risk for the Padres.

But this takes us directly to the…

Reason for Concern

While it’s true the Padres are getting a solid arm in Shields, it’s also true that signing a pitcher Shields’ age to more than three guaranteed years is risky. Already in his career, Shields has logged 1,910 innings, or an average of 227 innings per season.

It has been noted elsewhere that during this period, only Max Scherzer (recently signed by the Washington Nationals) has logged more.

While this speaks to his durability, it also increases the likelihood that at some point, Shields’ arm is going to break down.

A Cautionary Tale

Many years ago, the Padres dodged a bullet in a very similar situation. Just prior to Spring Training in 1998, San Diego acquired Kevin Brown from the Marlins. As with Shields, 1998 was going to be his age-33 season. But what a brilliant season it was: in 35 starts, he went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and 257 strikeouts to go with 257 innings, leading them to the National League Pennant.

That was Brown’s only season with San Diego.

In the offseason, Brown signed a hefty seven-year, $105 million contract with the Dodgers (and bear in mind, nine-figure contracts were far more rare than they are today, so this contract was a huge deal).

Here are Brown’s numbers for his first two seasons in Dodger Blue:

    W-L  IP    K    ERA  WHIP

1999: 18-9 252 221 3.00 1.06

2000: 13-6 230 216 2.58 0.99

Very good numbers from a very good pitcher.

But then, it happened: in the third season, Brown pitched in only 20 games (19 starts), even while maintaining a solid 2.65 ERA. The next season, 2002, Brown pitched in only 63.2 innings (10 starts, 17 games). After another solid season in 2003 (32 starts), Brown was shipped to the Yankees, where he made 35 starts and 205 innings over two seasons, to go with a 4.95 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP.

Granted, Kevin Brown and James Shields are two different pitchers, and in two different eras. Even still, the potential parallels exist: assuming that Shields does as well as Brown did, the Padres can expect some turbulence along the way. If that happens (This year? 2018? Some time in between?), the contract could look more like a boondoggle than a solid move.

Worth the Risk?

But in baseball, you have to take risks like this. Again, there are good reasons why San Diego (and other potential suitors) were not willing to go above four guaranteed seasons. And with Bud Black’s stellar bullpen, Shields will be more likely to be pulled after regularly after 6 or 7 innings, rather than 8 or 9. This will lessen the wear-and-tear on his arm.

And for the reasons given above and “What’s to Like,” this remains a worthwhile deal. Yes, there are other questions as well that need to be addressed (team offense, outfield defense, a right-handed-heavy lineup, etc.). But that will have to wait for another blog post.

Padres Sign Shields

Read about it here. Analysis to come soon…

Did A.J. Preller Gamble Away the Farm?

2014-2015 was the offseason Padre fans had been waiting for, but had often wondered would ever happen again. In unloading a number of prospects, they revamped their once-sorry outfield, put a 2014 All-Star behind home plate, and added a 26-year-old third baseman with tremendous (albeit untapped) upside.

But while a number of solid prospects were traded, general manager A.J. Preller accomplished all of these moves without having to move the following: their top three starting pitchers Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy, and their top three prospects Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges, and Hunter Renfroe.

However, there is a potentially huge down-side: they traded away many of their top-name prospects. And while it’s great that they have a surging new offense, some might wonder just how necessary some of these deals were.

Let’s take a look at each of these deals, and where that leaves the Padres now:

Matt Kemp

If memory serves, this is the first trade the Padres have made with the Dodgers since 2006, when they traded a declining Greg Maddux to LA mid-season.

Only this time, they were on the receiving end of talent. In receiving former All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp, the Padres surrendered catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland, and a prospect.

Only Grandal figures to start for the Dodgers next year, and while he has tremendous upside, he has yet to prove himself as a consistent performer at the big league level.

Wieland, 24, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery. In August 2014, he pitched in the majors for the first time in over two years.

San Diego also received backup catcher Tim Federowicz in the deal.

Kemp, 30, slashed .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs, 38 doubles and 89 RBI. He figures to play in right field, and hit either third or fourth in the batting order.

The only concerns here stem from Kemp’s health: in 2012-13, he missed significant playing time, and his defensive prowess isn’t what it once was. He will probably have to be spelled at least once every 8-10 games, and be removed late in games for defensive purposes.

Also, there were concerns about his being difficult in the clubhouse. Even still, this move boosts the Padres offense considerably, which is why the deal was made.

And as an added bonus, Kemp is going to be pumped whenever he trades his former team, which happens to be in the same division. Los Angeles could live to regret this team for a very long time.

Grade: A-

Wil Myers

This was likely the most surprising move, as not too many people even realized that Myers might be available from Tampa Bay.

But to the Padres’ benefit, he was.

It says a lot that as he was climbing his way through the Kansas City Royals farm system, he was touted as possibly the next George Brett–that’s quite a compliment. In 2012, his final full season in the minors, he smashed 37 home runs with 109 RBI, with a .987 OPS at the age of 21.

Before the 2013 season, he was the centerpiece of a trade for starter James Shields, a move that surprised many in the industry, given Myers’ immense talent. That year, he vindicated Tampa Bay’s confidence in him when, after being called up in June, he went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Myers had a difficult sophomore season, that was shortened by injuries. Even still, there is little question that the talent remains.

Still just 24, the Padres had to surrender some of their more talented prospects in starter Joe Ross and 2014 first round pick Trey Turner, as well as catcher Rene Rivera. This talented young hitter is now Padre property, controllable through the 2019 season.

He will probably play in center field for them, with the possibility of being the leadoff hitter.

Still, there are concerns:

  • His defense will be a downgrade from the light-hitting Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.
  • His skill-set is not typically what you would consider in a leadoff hitter. This might put unneeded pressure on him.
  • Consider that for all of his talent, you have to wonder why, at the age of 24, he has already been traded twice. This is mere speculation at this point, but could it be that he has attitude problems which make him a difficult teammate?
  • Turner and Ross are very talented, and losing them to Washington (the third partner in this 3-team swap) could end up haunting them down the road.

Time will tell if the Padres made the right move. A lot will depend upon whether Myers can tap his amazing potential, and not make fans rue the day they traded Turner and Ross.

Grade: B+

Justin Upton

On the one hand, this may be the best trade the Padres made. On the other hand, it could be the worst.

It could be the best because of all the three outfield acquisitions, he is both the healthiest and most established. At age 27, he has already hit 164 career home runs, hitting 20 four different times, with a solid career slash of .274/.354/.476, and two Silver Slugger awards.

So then, why might it be the worst trade? Because he could just be a one-year rental: after 2015, Upton becomes a free agent. If he plays true to form, Upton will get a lot of money next offseason from a big-market club. Sure, the Padres can make a run at him, but given that most big hitters would prefer not to play half their games at Petco Park, I wouldn’t bet on it.

In exchange for Upton, the Atlanta Braves received left-handed pitching prospect Max Fried, who missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, AAA infielder Jace Peterson, and lower level prospects Mallex Smith and Dustin Peterson. This is a pretty talented bunch to surrender for one year of Justin Upton.

If it had been me (and yes, I know it wasn’t), I don’t know that I would have made this trade. I would have preferred that they kept Seth Smith, a left-handed bat who is cheaper, who was signed to a two-year extension, and handles his bat very well.

Of course, the prospects sent to Atlanta could fizzle (returning from rotator cuff surgery is hard so Fried could be out for a while, and Jace Peterson was not impressive in a mid-season call-up), and Upton could have a career year and lead San Diego to their first World Series championship. There are so many intangibles on this trade, but given what they gave up, my grade for Preller is…

Grade: B- (A in the short term, C- in the long term).

Derek Norris

Like the Myers trade, this was something of a surprise. Since Norris is not known for his defensive skills, Preller obviously only had one thing in mind when he acquired him: offense.

Norris made the All-Star team for the first time last year, hitting 10 home runs to go with a .270/.361/.403 slash. But when you look a little deeper, there is reason for concern:

  • Most of the damage he did was against lefties (.863 OPS, vs. .699 against righties).
  • He slumped badly in the second half (8 home runs, .879 OPS in the first half, vs. 2 and .638 in the second half).

Also, the Padres surrendered some very solid pitching prospects for him: Jesse Hahn, 25, who went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for the Padres, and reliever R.J. Alvarez, who flashed a 1.13 ERA in ten late-season appearances.

But since the Padres are stocked pitching-wise (again, they still have their top three starters, closer Joaquin Benoit, up-and-comer Kevin Quackenbush and others), Preller obviously figured the trade was worth it.

And don’t forget, as the former longtime assistant G.M. of the Texas Rangers, Preller got to see plenty of Norris when they played against the A’s, and so has an inkling of what he is capable of doing as he matures. He’s still just 26, and figures to only get better offensively.

Grade: B+

Will Middlebrooks

This trade will either be remembered as either a huge steal or largely insignificant. Hence, it was worth the risk of trading away career backup catcher Ryan Hanigan.

A star in the minor leagues, Middlebrooks had a promising rookie season in 2012. He hit 15 home runs with 54 RBI, a .288 batting average, and .835 OPS in 75 games.

Since then, he has struggled mightily. In his sophomore campaign, he regressed to .227 with just a .271 OBP. Last year, he batted only .191 in 63 games.

At 26, what will Middlebrooks do? Will he continue his downward trend? Or, will he find his untapped potential in the lower pressure environment of San Diego?

Either way, this deal was worthwhile, given (a) the small price, and (b) the fact that Yongervis Solarte is waiting in the wings, should Middlebrooks fail.

Grade: B+

Overall

On the whole, this is a vastly improved Padres baseball team. For the first time in nearly a decade, this team is relevant in terms of high expectations.

Yes, they are heavily right-handed, but first baseman Yonder Alonso’s health is improving. With the added hefty bats, the pressure on him to perform is diminished, and if he can remain injury-free, he can provide the left-handed extra base power the team was always hoping for.

Also, Alexi Amarista figures to see the bulk of the starts at shortstop (barring another trade), and Will Venable will get in some spot starts as the fourth outfielder.

It is true, however, that another dependable left-handed bat would bring some needed balance.

Yes, the outfield defense will take a hit. But if you want to contend, you need offense, an area where the Padres were sorely lacking.

No longer will manager Bud Black be depending upon Venable and Maybin to provide production that they simply are not capable of providing; now, their most likely role will be in providing late inning defense, spot starts, and/or pinch running, which they’re best suited for anyway.

All told, the 2015 San Diego Padres will be a contender. Yes, some of these moves are risky. But all trades are. Yes, they have depleted their farm system.

But don’t forget that a prospect merely means that a player has potential. They don’t always work out.

Remember the names of the two prospects the Padres sent to Chicago to obtain Carlos Quentin (keeping in mind how good he was then)? Neither do I.

Remember the four prospects the Padres acquired for Jake Peavy? There’s Clayton Richard who was mediocre at best, and…who?

Remember the three prospects the Padres got for Adrian Gonzalez just four years ago? Only one of them, Casey Kelly, is still on their roster, and he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Remember the package the Padres procured from the Reds for pitcher Mat Latos? Three years later, only one of them, Alonso, is still on the team, and unless there is substantial improvement, he may be hanging by a thread.

Lesson: Unless his name is Ken Griffey Jr. or Chipper Jones (i.e., can’t miss), prospects are for trading. With a good scouting system, the farm clubs will replentish themselves in almost no time at all. Preller knows this. He cashed them in, and now, the San Diego Padres are a team to be reckoned with.

Padres Trade Seth Smith to Seattle

This was a foregone conclusion, given how the Padres have overhauled their outfield this offseason. I’m sorry to see him go; I was hoping that perhaps the team could train him to play first base, or else move Matt Kemp there, and so keep Smith’s left-handed bat in the lineup.

You can read the story here.

Update (Wed. Dec. 31, 11:50 AM/CST): Jeff Sanders of the Union-Tribune on why trading Smith makes financial sense for the Padres.

Does A.J. Preller Sleep?

Let’s see. In the past 24 hours, the Padres…

  • finalized their trade for Matt Kemp;
  • finalized their deal for Wil Myers;
  • acquired All-Star catcher Derek Norris from Oakland;
  • sent catcher Ryan Hanigan to Boston for third baseman Will Middlebrooks;
  • are close to signing backup catcher David Ross.

The question is no longer, does A.J. Preller sleep. We all know the answer to that. The real question is, will he give the bloggers covering the Padres a chance to sleep?

That’s not a complaint, mind you.

At this point, I am not going to give a full evaluation of what’s going on in San Diego, since Preller is clearly not done yet. Hopefully, that will come in the next few days.

But for now, take cheer, Padre fans. Your team is relevant again.

 

What’s Happening with the Matt Kemp Trade?

Buster Olney of ESPN reports in a video blog. See it here.

Update: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/12/18/matt-kemp-trade-holdup-padres/20587645/.

Padres Acquire Wil Myers in Three-Way Deal

A.J. Preller has laid his cards on the table.

Fresh off a trade of Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp (pending physical), the new Padres’ general manager has just acquired 24-year-old Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-way trade that also includes the Washington Nationals. The deal was first reported by Jim Bowden of ESPN.

In acquiring the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, Preller has demonstrated that his objective is to win now. This is a swift turnaround for the Padres and their fans, who in recent years had gotten used to their team trading away established talent for prospects.

But now, the tables have turned: to acquire young Myers, the Padres parted with young arms Joe Ross and Burch Smith, catcher Rene Rivera, 19-year-old first base prospect Joe Bauers, and 2014 first-round draft pick Trea Turner–perhaps the biggest surprise of all in this trade.

Turner and Ross were sent to the Nationals, who sent outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott. The Padres also received veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan, and young pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo.

Reaction

It’s hard to see how Tampa Bay benefits from this deal: they trade Myers to San Diego, and yet Washington ends up with the Padres two best prospects in Turner and Ross!

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo helped his club a lot in this deal, trading minimal talent and replentishing his farm system with the high-ceiling Ross and shortstop-of-the-future Turner.

But for the Padres, the message is simple: win now.

Preller’s Method

Whenever a team hires a new general manager, it’s always interesting to see what direction he wants to go. It is now clear that since being hired in August, Preller observed his new team and came to certain conclusions:

1. This team has the pitching (both starters and the bullpen) to be competitive right now.

2. The missing ingredient is offense, so move some of your minor league talent to go and get some–notice that in the Kemp and Myers trade, only two established big leaguers, Yasmani Grandal and Rivera, were surrendered.

3. Manager Bud Black is a keeper. Since he has a year left on his contract anyway, keep him around and see how well you can work with him.

In acquiring Myers, the Padres now have a potentially solid middle of the order, to go with Kemp. Noteworthy is that their top three starting pitchers, Tyson Ross (brother of the departed Joe Ross) Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy, originally thought to be the Preller’s best trade chips this offseason, are still with the team.

More About Myers

This is not the first time Wil Myers was moved. He was originally drafted by the Kansas City Royals, and groomed in their minor league system.

But then, in the 2012-13 offseason, he was dealt to Tampa in a package of prospects for James Shields, as KC had World Series aspirations. Pundits were aghast, as Myers was very highly regarded, even as the next George Brett.

Myers began the 2013 season in the minors, but was called up to the Rays in June. In 88 games, he slashed .294/.354/.478, with 13 home runs, 23 doubles, and 53 RBI in 373 plate appearances. His play merited him the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

In 2014, Myers regressed badly: in 87 games, he slashed .222/.294/.320, with six homers in 361 plate appearances. While part of this can be blamed on a broken bone in his hand, Myers was slumping before then as well.

Even still, Myers will only be 24 years old on opening day, and he has tremendous upside. Along with Kemp, he will be controlled by San Diego until 2019.

Did They Give Up Too Much?

In getting their second big bat in a week, the Padres mortgaged a lot of their future. While Ross and Smith both have lots of potential, their inclusion in the deal is not a huge surprise: in order to get a bat like Myers’, you have to give up something.

The shocker was their inclusion of Turner, who was a first-round pick just this last June. Until today, he was considered the Padres shortstop of the future. However, San Diego also has Jose Rondon, acquired in the July trade of Huston Street, in the minors. Like Turner, he is also at least two years away from being major league-ready.

If dealing Turner was a shocker, then swapping Rivera for Hanigan was a head-scratcher. Here, the Padres and Rays basically swapped solid backup catchers. It appears the plan for backstop is to have Hanigan and Tim Federowicz (acquired with Kemp from L.A.) to hold down catcher until highly touted prospect Austin Hedges is ready, probably for a late season call-up in 2016.

More To Come?

Preller is not done yet.

San Diego’s already-stacked outfield is now overwhelmed: even before Kemp and Myers, they already had Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith, Will Venable, and Cameron Maybin.

What to do with the overflow? The most likely conclusion is that Smith and Quentin are gone; both are corner outfielders, as are Kemp and Myers. The Padres will miss Smith, who signed a two-year contract immediately prior to Preller’s arrival. He slashed .266/.367/.440 with an .807 OPS with 31 doubles, 12 homers, and 67 walks in 136 games. For this reason, Smith’s value is high, and so he will be a solid piece to trade to another team to help shore up needs elsewhere.

Quentin will be more difficult. Owed $8 million in ’15, there are two options: release him now, and just eat his contract, or see if he performs well in spring training, and hope he does well enough to pique an AL team’s interest.

Venable and Maybin, who were perhaps two of the previous GM’s worst signings, will probably platoon in center field–there are no other options in the foreseeable future.

Preller clearly knows that there are many holes, especially at first base (Yonder Alonso is too injury-prone), third base (in-house options Yongervis Solarte and Cory Spangenburg don’t inspire much enthusiasm), and shortstop (assuming they don’t go with Alexi Amarista).

So even though bats have been added, there is still work to do. But it is apparent that Preller is a work-horse, and he wants to see this team go for it all in 2015. Otherwise, there is no way he would have pursued Kemp and Myers–let alone with so much diligence.

With Preller, Padre fans don’t need to put on a poker face; they can grin with satisfaction that finally, they have an aggressive general manager who’s backed up by a front office that’s willing to spend the money to win.

 

 

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