June 23, 2014
A note to my readers: I realize it has been some time since I contributed here. After a prolonged work search, I recently moved a long distance (from Florida to North Dakota), and have been getting adjusted to my new calling up here. But all is well and good.
And now, for the big news: The Padres have fired Josh Byrnes. The baseball commentariat is atwitter, with Jon Heyman suggesting it was a bad move. His reasoning? Byrnes is a “good baseball man,” and that nobody should be surprised that the Padres are this bad (see the full article here).
Granted, Byrnes did make some good moves: he got Tyson Ross for two 4-A players and outfielder Seth Smith (thus far the team’s MVP) from the A’s for reliever Luke Gregerson.
But he also made a number of costly moves that have set the team back:
- He extended sophomore second baseman Jedd Gyorko for five years; Gyorko has batted a pitiful .162 this year.
- In 2012, Byrnes extended Carlos Quentin through 2015, guaranteeing him $26 million. Quentin has missed over 40% of his team’s games since then, and this year, he is batting .192.
- He put $8 million on Josh Johnson. While this was a low-risk/high reward deal, it is clear that the Padre’s biggest need coming into 2014 was for a premium bat. Aside from Smith, this is basically the same team that entered this season with consecutive 76-86 seasons.
But Byrnes’ biggest faux pas was the risky trade he made shortly after he became general manager: he traded up-and-coming starter Mat Latos to Cincinnati for four players, two of whom are no longer with the team. The other two, catcher Yasmani Grandal and first baseman Yonder Alonso, have played terribly this year: Grandal has batted .191 with a .281 OBP, and so lost the starting job to Rene Rivera, and Alonso just went on the disabled list after batting .210 in 229 at-bats. Even though Latos missed the first two months of the season, this deal is looking to be a steal for the Reds.
Coming into the season, the Padres had an outside chance of contending; assuming that their solid pitching remained solid (it generally has), and that their average hitters hit at their normal levels. They have not; in fact, the team has collectively batted .215 with a .275 OBP. That is pitiful.
Bottom line: a “good baseball guy” doesn’t put that kind of team on the field. Period.
Going forward, the Padres do have some intriguing options. One is to bring back former GM Kevin Towers. Towers was in San Diego 1995-2009, which included four playoff appearances and one World Series. He currently serves in the same capacity for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that team recently named Tony LaRussa its president, with the intent that he will clean house. Another option is Omar Minaya, who already works for the Padres and was previously general manager for the New York Mets (2005-2010).
At the end of the day, a move needed to be made. The Padres are 32-43, and as those who are paying attention know, they should have been better than this. Yes, their payroll as last in the division, but management increased it over 20% this offseason from 2013, when they finished 76-86. So surely they should be playing better than they are now.
And yes, injuries have hurt them. But this excuse is only going to go so far when the team batting average is .215.
It’s difficult to blame manager Bud Black; he was dealt a bad hand of players to begin with, and the one responsible for dealing him that bad hand was Josh Byrnes.
You’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
Just three years ago, he was an up-and-coming left-handed starter coming off his first full major league season. In his rookie season, 2011, he pitched 139.2 innings (17 starts in 46 appearances) with 154 strikeouts, and a 3.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and .209 BAA. He was 26 years old, and had nowhere to go but up.
In 2012, Luebke was named the number two starter in an otherwise lackluster rotation. Through five starts, he was 3-1 with a 2.61/1.16/.233 line. Should he have kept those numbers consistent, there is little doubt that he would have made the All-Star team, and been a centerpiece which the Padres could have built around.
But then, it all came to a screeching halt. It was revealed that he was going to need elbow reconstruction (i.e., Tommy John) surgery. Given that 12-18 months are needed for a full recovery, this meant that Luebke was done for 2012, but would have a decent chance of returning in the middle of 2013. And if you know anything about the San Diego rotation last year, you know they could have used him.
It didn’t happen. Three times, the Padres had to shut him down because his arm didn’t feel just right.
At any rate, the expectation for 2014 was that he would be a candidate for the rotation; or at the very least, he would fill a similar roll that he did in ’11: long relief with a chance to start whenever a member of the rotation went on the Disabled List.
But as fans know, it wasn’t to be: earlier this week, it was made known that Luebke is again going to have to go under the knife for the same surgery. This means that he might be ready for the 2015 season, when he will be turning 30 years old.
So it bears repeating: you’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
What This Means for the Padres
This news means that the Padres are once again going to be without a pitcher who has tremendous potential. No matter how much pitching a team has, losing a player like this is painful.
What remains unchanged, however, is that the rotation is stronger than it was a year ago. Andrew Cashner (who is also a a Tommy John recoverer) made tremendous strides last year, and figures to be the ace. Rounding out the rotation will likely be free agent signee Josh Johnson, Tyson Ross (who pitched far better than his 3-8 record indicates), Ian Kennedy (just three years removed from a 21-game-win season), and lefty Eric Stults.
Luebke’s absence does not change any of that. What it does do, however, is give those under him a clearer path to the big leagues should any of the starting five break down, and Cashner and Johnson do have injury histories. Those who are now in line to jump in in such a scenario include Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, who, while inconsistent, showed flashes of brilliance in stints with the Padres; youngsters Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach and Matt Wisler; and Tommy John recoveries Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly.
On the whole, the Padres are still a much better team than they were last year. If they catch a few breaks, they may challenge for the wild card. But now, they will have to do it without Corey Luebke, a piece they had been counting on.
Logan Forsythe is no longer a Padre.
Along with four others, the infielder was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for left-handed reliever Alex Torres and minor league hurler Jesse Hahn.
I’ll get to Torres and Hahn in a moment. But first, let’s talk about Forsythe. In 2012, he looked like he had arrived: in 315 at-bats, he batted a .273/.343./.390 split, with an OPS of .733, and eight stolen bases. And this was after he missed the first two months of the season with a foot injury.
It looked like he was on the way. In spring training 2013, he was projected to possibly be a “super utility” player, getting substantial time at second base by giving rookie Jedd Gyorko an occasional breather, doing the same for third baseman Chase Headley, make spot starts in the corner outfield spots, and possibly challenge Everth Cabrera to be the starting shortstop.
But then, three things happened: first, Forsythe developed plantar fasciitis, a major foot ailment which kept him out until June. Second, Cabrera took such full advantage of Forsythe’s absence, he outright won the everyday shortstop job by playing exceptional offense and defense.
When he was finally able to play, Forsythe did begin with a bang: in his first at-bat of the season, he hit a home run, temporarily making fans forget about Gyorko, who ironically enough went on the disabled list that same day.
After that first at-bat, though, the third thing happened: Forsythe’s bat went south: .214/.281/.332 with a .613 OBP in 220 at-bats.
While Forsythe did show some versatility, his lack of hitting made him expendable. With their recent acquisition of Ryan Jackson, the Padres now had three potential utility infielders, with Alexi Amarista still being in the picture. So one of them had to go, and that one was Forsythe.
In return, the Friars acquired the left-handed reliever they were seeking in Torres. He was impressive last year, throwing 58 innings in 39 games with 62 strikeouts and a miniscule 1.71 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Opponents batted just .159 against him, including .171 against left-handed batters.
While Hahn has talent, he is 24, has a history of injuries, and has not pitched above single-A ball. So perhaps the Padres will find they have a diamond in the rough with him. But with Hahn and the earlier addition of Joaquin Benoit, the Padres’ bullpen is now set, looking stronger even than last year’s stellar core of relievers.
All in all, this is a good trade for both teams, especially if Forsythe can break free of his history of injuries. I had high hopes for him as a Padre, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him good.
A footnote: Among those traded to Tampa Bay was Bruce Boxberger, he of the infamous Mat Latos trade. Since the Padres released Edison Volquez last summer, they now have only two players left to show for that swap: first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
The San Diego Padres have one two pennants in their relatively short history, in 1984 and 1998. The latter team featured a strong core of position players (Ken Caminiti, Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, and Greg Vaughn hit a team record 50 home runs) and pitchers (Kevin Brown won 18 games, Andy Ashby 17, while Trevor Hoffman was the runner-up in voting for the Cy Young Award).
But since this is the the 30th anniversary of their 1984 championship, let us examine that team. How were they able to make it to the World Series? To be frank, they really weren’t very good on paper. Aside from Tony Gwynn’s first batting title, they did not have any real achievements to speak of*:
- Four starting position players, Terry Kennedy, Garry Templeton, Steve Garvey and Kevin McReynolds had an OBP of .320 or less, with catcher Kennedy’s .284 being the worst; Luis Salazar, a bench player with 236 plate appearances, clocked in at a horrid .261;
- up to that point in their history, Graig Nettles was the best third baseman in club history, and he was 39 when they acquired him;
- the team leaders in home runs were Nettles and Kevin McReynolds, with 20 each;
- only Gwynn had an OPS higher than .800. The next best was McReynolds at .782, and he missed the World Series due to injury;
- the infield defense was very porous: Nettles had 20 errors at third base, Templeton 26 at shortstop, and Alan Wiggins was tremendously sloppy at second base with 32 miscues. In other words, they gave opposing team a shockingly high number of extra outs. Granted, Garvey had zero errors, but while he had good hands, his range was sharply reduced. In contrast, Gold Glove winner Keith Hernandez had 45 more total chances in nine fewer games. All told, the Padres committed 138 errors in 1984, almost one per game;
- Garvey was the team leader in RBI with 86, but he hit only eight home runs;
- starters Eric Show, Ed Whitson, and Mark Thurmond had decent seasons–though none of them dominated. But the remaining two-fifths of the rotation, Tim Lollar and Andy Hawkins, were somewhere between mediocre and downright awful: Lollar had a 3.91 ERA, yielded 105 walks, and had a 1.395 WHIP, while Hawkins had a 4.68 ERA and 1.473 WHIP.
Additionally, the performances of many of these players after 1984 speaks volumes: while Gwynn and Gossage are both in the Hall of Fame, Show was decent if inconsistent until he retired and 1991. Dave Dravecky could have been great if not for his tragic arm injury, and while McReynolds, Craig Lefferts and Whitson had pretty good careers, the rest of the team didn’t really amount to much after ’84:
- Wiggins got busted for drugs in early ’85, was traded shortly thereafter, and then out of baseball within four years in spite of tremendous talent;
- Templeton was clearly not the same player he had been with St. Louis;
- left fielder Carmelo Martinez never became the power hitter the Padres thought he would be;
- at 39 and 35, Nettles’ and Garvey’s best days were far behind them;
- Lollar and Thurmond, 28 and 27 respectively were out of baseball just a few years later.
All told, according to Bill James’ Pythagorean Winning Percentage, they only should have won 87 games, not 92.
So then, how in the world did this team do so well, let alone win the pennant? Was it just luck? Surely one can say that they were fortunate to play the snake-bit Chicago Cubs in the then-five game NLCS, but that can’t explain their regular season success.
That being so, how did they do it? At least five factors should be attributed to their success:
First, their biggest rivals, the Dodgers, flopped. Greg Brock, Garvey’s replacement at first base, was terrible, as his .225/.319/.402 line attests, Pedro Guerrero’s power numbers were way down (only 16 home runs and 72 RBI), second baseman Steve Sax had a bad year (.243 BA, .300 OPB), and CF Kenny Landreaux frankly wasn’t very good, sporting a .295 OBP.
The rest of the Western Division wasn’t that good, either: the Cincinnati Reds were unable to rebuild following their success in the 70s, the Giants were terrible, the Astros weren’t quite as good as they would be in 1986 (when they nearly upset the New York Mets in the NLCS), and as any Atlanta Braves fans knows, there were only two things you can say about the ’80s version of their team: Dale Murphy was terrific, and the rest of the team stunk.
Second, Dick Williams was the Padres manager. He was a winner everywhere he went: in his rookie year as a skipper in 1967, he took the Red Sox to the World Series; he won back-to-back championships with Oakland in 1972-73; and he won a division title with Montreal in 1980.
With the Padres, it took a little while to get on track. In 1982-83, they finished with consecutive 81-81 records. But in 1984, Williams finally got through to his players.
Third, they had veteran leaders who knew how to win: in 1977-78 and ’81, Nettles and “Goose” Gossage played for the Yankees in the World Series against the Garvey-led Dodgers. Even though their skills had deteriorated somewhat, they still had enough left to provide leadership for one more championship season, this time for the same team.
Fourth, their bullpen was generally very good. This was before the days when a reliever became a one inning specialist, which meant that Gossage, Lefferts, and Dravecky would go two, and sometimes three innings at a time. In 62 games, Gossage tossed 102.1 innings, had 25 saves, and a 2.90 ERA/1.085 WHIP. Lefferts pitched in 62 games as well, and registered 105.2 innings with 10 saves and a 2.13 ERA/1.06 WHIP. Not to be outdone, Dravecky made 37 relief appearances (as well as 13 starts) and had eight saves, a 2.93 ERA, and 1.123 WHIP. Lastly, though he made just 19 appearances, Greg Harris had 2.70 ERA/1.255 WHIP.
Granted, Greg Booker and Jose DeLeon weren’t that great. And it should not be ignored that the bullpen failed to impress in the World Series–perhaps in part because they were overworked in the regular season. But Gossage, Lefferts, and Dravecky went a long way in keeping the ’84 Padres in games when the starters faltered.
As a footnote, it is often forgotten that Lefferts was a mere afterthought when the Padres acquired him with Carmelo Martinez just prior to the season.
Fifth, the Padres won in ’84 because of the emergence of Gwynn, the best player they have ever had. Not only did Gwynn win his first batting title, he also captured his first of five Gold Glove Awards. This was an especially impressive achievement as when Gwynn first emerged in 1982, his fielding was not highly regarded. One longtime Padre watcher recalled to me that for Tony to make up for his subpar fielding, he would have to be at least a .330 hitter. Well. Not only did he have a .338 lifetime batting average; he became an exceptional fielder as well. In short, no Tony Gwynn, no 1984 National League Pennant.
So there you have it. Those are the reasons why the ’84 Padres, in spite of some glaring weaknesses, made it to the World Series. While the ’98 version was clearly better, the ’84 friars were fighters, and they had just the right chemistry to make it work. I hope management will do something to remember that remarkable season this year.
*All stats are taken from http://www.baseball-reference.com.
Starting in 2014, the San Diego Padres will never be the same: longtime announcer Jerry Coleman has passed away.
As longtime fans know, Coleman was more than just a broadcaster: he was also a decorated World War II hero, a second baseman for the New York Yankees who rubbed shoulders with greats like Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, and Whitey Ford and played in several World Series, and a manager (with San Diego in 1980).
Sadly, many will seek to remember him for his errors behind the mic–and to be honest, some of them were pretty funny. But let us not forget that broadcasting over the air is much more difficult than it looks, and he did it very well for nearly half a century. So to focus on his mistakes would be an error in judgment.
Jerry Coleman was also a gentleman. When I was 13 and lived in San Diego County, my Dad took me to hear him speak. I got to shake his hand, and talk to him. He even let me answer the first question during the Q&A session: I asked if he was nervous the first time he broadcast a baseball game. His answer (admittedly from memory) showcased his sense of humor: “Well, the first inning I broadcast a game there were eight hits, six runs, three errors a hit batsman, and a blown call by the umpire. So no, I wasn’t nervous.”
Even though there were many businessmen who wanted to bend his ear–it took place at a Kiwanis luncheon–he took a lot of time to talk to me, and answer my questions, which I really appreciated.
I moved to Florida in 1998, the year the Padres won their second pennant, so I wouldn’t get to hear their games on a regular basis. But whenever I returned to visit family, I would always try to catch a game. Just a few months ago, I was able to listen to a few on Sirius XM Radio, and even though he had just turned 89, Jerry Coleman was still on, still giving wise and insightful comments on the game and team he loved so much.
Jerry Coleman will be missed. He had fans all over the country and even the political spectrum. I discovered this when I saw Keith Olbermann’s recent tribute to him, which was touching and heartfelt. Though Olbermann and I agree on very little, we now have one thing in common: we both have a high regard for Jerry Coleman, and will miss him dearly.
It has been reported that the Padres have signed reliever Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5 million deal.
I’m not so sure this was the right move to make, for two reasons.
First is Joaquin Benoit. Yes, it’s true that he was lights out last year with the Tigers: he had a 2.01 ERA with 24 saves in 26 chances, and he held opposing batters to a .197 BAA. However, he is 36. How much gas does he have left? A year’s worth?
Furthermore, Benoit’s career numbers are okay, but they’re not that great: he has a 4.11 ERA. Granted, much of this came early on in his career as a starter with Texas, which is in the American League and home to a hitter’s ballpark. But it was 3.68 in ’12 and 5.00 in ’08.
Second, the Padres’ biggest needs are elsewhere: I have said before that should the Padres trade one of their relievers (as they did with Luke Gregerson), they have plenty of in-house talent to make up for it: Neil Vincent, Dale Thayer, even Burch Smith would be good eighth inning go-to guys.
More to the point, they are in desperate needs for offensive upgrades at 1B, 3B, and RF (Carlos Quentin is cemented in LF and is untradeable since he is often injured and signed to a hefty contract for the next two years). It would have been nice to see them splurge and aim for Shin-Soo Choo, although that might be wishful thinking. But they could have tried to trade for Yeonis Cespedes or Dominic Brown. They have the pieces: they could have offered a starting pitcher (Ian Kennedy, Robbie Erlin, Smith, or Eric Stults), Will Venable, and perhaps a minor leaguer to beef up their offense.
Instead, they landed Seth Smith. I’m not totally down on him, as they needed better lefty bats–their ’13 team average against right-handed pitchers (.241) was unacceptable, and hitting righties is his specialty (.279 career). But I am underwhelmed by this move. Like many Padre fans, I wanted someone a little more hefty.
At any rate, this signing points towards the Padres’ ’14 game plan: they are hoping that…
- 1B Yonder Alonso and 3B Chase Headley bounce back from subpar years;
- Jedd Gyorko develops from a powerful (if uneven) rookie season
- SS Everth Cabrera picks up from where he left off prior to his suspension;
- Quentin can play at least 100 games;
- CF Cameron Maybin’s wrist is fully healed;
- C Nick Hundley can hang in there until June when Yasmani Grandal comes back from a potentially devastating injury, and that he will then pick it up offensively;
- the RF platoon of Will Venable and Chris Denorfia will continue to do well–although adding Smith, who figures to get at least 250 at-bats, will figure into the mix. Then hopefully, Rymer Liriano will be fully recovered from his elbow reconstruction surgery to make his big league debut in September, and take over full-time in ’15.
- the starting pitching, led by Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and a recovering Corey Luebke will carry them.
With the moves they have made so far, the Padres have improved from ’13, but probably only by 5-6 games. This will make them a .500 team, which is not where they and their fans had hoped they would be, especially given their new ownership.
Thankfully, the off-season is not yet over. Perhaps the big trade is still coming. Until then, their latest moves (signing Benoit and trading for Smith) will help a little, but not much more than that. And frankly, the money they dished out to Benoit would have been better spent elsewhere.
Last offseason, the Padres front office gave its fans almost no reason to get excited about the 2013 season…unless you’re counting Jason Marquis.
So, how are they doing this offseason?
On the whole, much better, but I also expected more.
First, they signed free agent pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal. Given his past history with injuries, the club added an option of $4 for 2015 should Johnson make 8 or fewer starts.
Granted, his numbers in Toronto last year were bad: 2-8, 6.20 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, .305 BAA. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
But prior to last season, he was decent at worst, and on the threshold of greatness at best: from 2008-2011, Johnson was 36-13 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, including a league-leading 2.30 ERA in 2010. Suffice to say, when Johnson is good, he can be dominating. So given his recent past, the Padres did themselves a favor here.
I will admit to having been skeptical about why they should spend such precious resources on a starting pitcher when they already have so many. But then, I recalled the Atlanta Braves in the early 90s. Back then, they already had Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery (who was pretty good at that point). But as if they didn’t already have a stellar staff, they went out and signed Greg Maddux, one of the two or three greatest pitchers of the last two decades. They were unstoppable. Granted, Johnson isn’t Maddux and the ’13 Padres starting rotation isn’t the ’92 Braves starting rotation. Even still, the same principle applies: you can never have too much pitching.
Second, they made a few minor trades. In one, right-handed reliever Brad Brach was traded to Baltimore for minor league pitcher Devin Jones, who figures to start in AA.
In another move, they traded OF Jaff Decker and reliever Miles Mikolas to Pittsburgh for 1B/OF Alex Dickerson. This move could have long-term implications: not only were Decker and Mikolas expendable, but Dickerson is a left-handed power hitter who batted .288 with 16 homers at AA. Either a corner OF or first baseman, he could make an impact in the future. Keep an eye on him.
Third, last night they acquired Seth Smith from the Oakland A’s for Luke Gregerson.
What to make of this? I am mildly disappointed. I don’t think this is a terrible move, as Gregerson’s role is just to work one inning per game. Neil Vincent should do just fine as the 8th inning set-up man. But while the Padres needed another left-handed bat, I’m underwhelmed by Smith. Yes, he has a career .279/.357/.487 (.844 OPS) against right-handed pitching. But the bulk of that action came with the Colorado Rockies, whom he played for 2007-2011 in their rarified air. During his last two seasons in Oakland, his stats came back down to earth, literally and figuratively. at .246/.331/.406. He will certainly see playing time in left field to cover Carlos Quentin’s inevitable prolonged absences, and he could platoon in right field with Chris Denorfia if Cameron Maybin’s injuries persist (with Venable switching to center, assuming he is not traded). But aside from that, he’s a decent left-handed bat off the bench, but not much more than that.
So again, it’s an okay move. It’s not going to be a steal like last year’s Tyson Ross for Andy Perrino and Andrew Werner trade. Nor did Oakland GM Billy Beane exactly get his revenge for allowing that shameful (from his perspective) deal to go through.
At this moment, the Padres front office has achieved most of their goals: they have acquired a starting pitcher, beefed up their minor league talent, and added a left-handed bat. All that is left is to add a left-handed reliever, which shouldn’t be too hard. They may or may not trade Chase Headley. But if they do, then they should add a promising young second baseman as part of the mix, so that Jedd Gyorko can move over to third base.
In sum, do these moves improve the Padres? Yes, in the case of Johnson, but only slightly so in the case of Smith.
The latest on the Padres. Bill Center thinks there is good reason they will make a trade for a left-handed hitter and a lefty reliever. Given that Center is not prone to rumor and gossip, that makes it a pretty safe bet.
Originally posted on HardballTalk:
With an abundance of arms at the back end of the starting rotation, the Padres could make a deal to acquire a left-handed hitter and/or a left-handed reliever, suggests Bill Center of U-T San Diego. Center writes that Burch Smith, Robbie Erlin, or Eric Stults could be expendable.
Smith and Erlin got their first taste of Major League competition during the 2013 season at the ages of 23 and 22, respectively. As such, they each would have plenty of time under team control going forward. Stults turns 34 years old on December 9 and is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career after taking home slightly more than $507,000 over the past season.
Currently, the Padres’ bullpen is all right-handed. They aren’t exactly lacking in left-handed bats, with the strictly-lefty Yonder Alonso and Will Venable and the switch-hitting Chase Headley and Everth Cabrera.
And so it begins.
The Padres offseason quest to improve their team and move up in the standings has begun.
Where should the Padres turn their attention? To answer that question, let’s conduct a position-by-position analysis:
Catcher: As with last year, the Padres will begin 2013 the same way they did in 2012: with Nick Hundley as their starter, and Yasmani Grandal set to arrive around June (in 2012 due to a suspension, in 2013 due to recovering from a major injury).
Hundley is like how Chris Gomez was when he played for the Padres (1996-2000): you can get by with him, but you can also do a whole lot better. While Hundley did hit for more power this year (13 home runs), he does not hit enough to justify being an everyday starter–his .233/.290/.389 line is virtually identical to his career numbers: .237/.296/.390.
A lot will hinge upon Grandal’s return. If he hits like he did in 2012, the Padres will likely trade Hundley. If not, then they may feel pressured to call up top prospect Austin Hedges sooner than they otherwise would. A natural behind the plate, Hedges does need to work on his hitting skills, and so needs more seasoning in the minors. He may come up for a “cup of coffee” in September, but he likely won’t be in the bigs to stay until 2015 at the earliest.
Bottom line: If Grandal hits when he returns, he’s going to be the starting catcher for at least the next two years. At that point, the Padres front office will be in the driver’s seat, having two major-league-ready catchers in Grandal and Hedges. So for now, he Padres won’t be trading to upgrade this position.
First Base: For the first third of the season, Yonder Alonso was improving off of his 2012 rookie campaign: he had six home runs, and so was on pace to hit exactly 18. Not bad for a guy who supposedly doesn’t have much home run pop.
But then, he broke his hand and missed a month. Afterwards, he had only one extra base hit (a double) the remainder of the season.
He is a possible trade prospect, although the Padres would likely have to get very creative to move him. To upgrade at first, they would have to move Alonso, who would then be without a position. In that case, they would have to offer a young starting pitcher (Robbie Erlin or Burch Smith), maybe a reliever, and Alonso to a team that has those specific needs. In short, Padre fans should expect to see Alonso back with the Padres next year, which giving his natural talent as a hitter is not a bad thing.
Second Base: Though he hit some speed bumps along the way, Jedd Gyorko showed that he belongs here. He could develop into the next Jeff Kent.
He’s not going anywhere. Period.
Third Base: Chase Headley is the big question mark this offseason. While he came back down to earth from his breakout 2012 season, he still has value as a strong defensive third baseman with power who can also steal a few bases (17 in ’12).
On the one hand, they could trade him, especially if they can’t work out a long-term deal for him. The pro’s of this are that they would then receive a bushel of talent in return–perhaps a young power-hitting outfielder–their greatest need.
On the other hand, if Headley is traded, the Padres would then have to move Gyorko to third, which opens up second base–and neither Alexi Amarista nor Logan Forsythe is the answer there.
Bottom line: The Padres will make every effort to re-sign Headley. Even if he never reaches his ’12 levels again (where he topped 30 home runs and led the league in RBI), he will likely do better than his ’13 numbers.
Shortstop: The Padres clearly missed Cabrera, who served a suspension the final 50 games of ’13. From June ’12-August ’13, he led the majors with 81 stolen bases, and last year, he had a .355 OBP to go with improved defense.
He seems to have shown proper contrition for using PEDs, and is ready to move on from it. For that reason, the Padres surely want to sign him long-term. The only hangup is that his agent is Scott Boras, who is notorious for asking for the moon for his clients. But since San Diego doesn’t really have any options higher than the single-A minors, Cabrera won’t be going anywhere this offseason. Pencil him in for 2014.
Left Field: The good news is that as a Padre, Quentin has hit .269/.368/.498 with 42 doubles, 29 home runs and 90 RBI.
The bad news is that Quentin did not achieve those numbers in one full season, but in two half-seasons; he played in 86 games in ’12, 82 in ’13.
Simply put, his health is very questionable. Given that, the Padres are stuck with him. Hence, they need to pray that he is not so injury-prone, even though he just underwent his third surgical procedure on the same knee.
It looks like left field in 2014 will look just like it did the last two years: Quentin, with a cadre of fourth outfielders (Venable and Denorfia assuming they’re not traded, Blanks and/or Guzman, assuming one of them is still around, and possibly Tommy Medica) filling in.
Center field: This is another huge question mark. It appears that Plan A is for Venable to take over here unless Maybin proves that he is over his injuries.
Back in 2011, the Padres rewarded Maybin’s decent-but-not-great season with a five-year contract, which they have regretted ever since. Denorfia is not serviceable against righties and while Venable was the team MVP in 2013 (largely by default), he has yet to show that he can play every day.
Right Field: Given (a) not being able to move Quentin, and (b) Maybin’s uncertainty in CF, right field seems the most logical choice for an upgrade. While Giancarlo Stanton would be the most plum target (95 HR in three years), the Miami Marlins insist they will not trade him. While this might be a bargaining tactic, he is in high demand, so the Marlins are in the driver’s seat here; they would likely demand not one but two young starters, another prospect, and possibly Venable for Stanton.
Another possibility is Andre Ethier of the Dodgers. This would make sense for a number of reasons: while his 2012 power numbers were down, his career line is .288/.362/.470 with 141 career home runs, hitting at least 20 four times with over 30 doubles in seven consecutive seasons. Plus, the Dodgers want to move him in favor of the young and talented Yasiel Puig, which makes sense for them.
The only questions here are the following: even though the Dodgers are loaded financially, do they want to trade Ethier, a very good hitter, to a division rival? And, do the Padres have what the Dodgers are looking for?
There has been some speculation about acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels. He has power (34 HR), but he struck out over 150 times last year, and had a paltry .294 OBP. Plus his defense is a liability–imagine having both him and Quentin in your outfield!
A final option: the Padres could again go with a Venable/Denorfia platoon, and wait for Rymer Liriano to get some seasoning in AAA after recovering from Tommy John Surgery–but again, this is assuming that Maybin can play. Obviously, this is merely a fall-back position, given the Padres’ current needs and their being overstocked with starting pitchers (see below).
Starting Pitching: In a dramatic turnaround from 2013, this is the department where the Padres are now at their strongest. This is due to the emergence of Andrew Cashner as a potential ace, and Tyler Ross. At times, these two pitchers were lights out.
Even if he never returns to his 2011 numbers (21 wins, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP), Ian Kennedy is still a serviceable number three starter.
Unless he is traded, Eric Stults will probably still be around. While not as solid as he was in 2012, Stults still pitched 203.2 innings, won 11 games, and had a passable 3.93 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. They may want to consider trading him now, however, while his value is still high, and everyone is always looking to add a lefty to their rotation.
For the fifth spot, the Padres can choose from youngsters Erlin, Smith, Keyvius Sampson, Matt Wissler, Donn Roach, or Tommy John Surgery recoveries Corey Luebke, Joe Wieland, and Casey Kelly.
In other words, they’re loaded here…which makes me scratch my head at why they’re talking about adding another starter.
Bottom Line: Cashner, Ross, and Kennedy, Luebke, Wissler, Wieland and Kelly aren’t going anywhere. This means that Erlin, Smith, and Roach are the most likely to be traded. They will come in quite handy as bargaining chips for teams that need starting pitching–always a needed commodity.
Bullpen: They are set at closer (Huston Street) and set-up (Gregerson and Thayer). But should one of these be traded, Neil Vincent seems ready to step in and help out.
The only real need here is for a left-handed specialist.
Prediction: The Padres are definitely in better shape than they were last offseason, thanks in large part to the vastly improved starting rotation. And unlike the 2012 offseason, the Padres will be busy. The honeymoon period for the new ownership group is now over. The fans are hungry, and won’t put up with excusing, especially with management promising a hike in the team’s payrolls.
The front office’s two main tasks will be to sign Headley to a long-term deal and upgrade in RF (or 1B, if they can get creative). Assuming they meet these goals and depending on whom they get, I see no reason why they would finish 76-86 for a third consecutive season, and every reason for them to be serious playoff contenders.
Last year, the Padres started 19-41, but finished at 76-86. Fans were hopeful that if the front office just plugged in a few holes (i.e., adding an experienced starting pitcher or two), they could be serious contenders.
Result: in 2013, they finished 76-86 again. Given their front office’s lack of action, it’s oddly appropriate that they had the same record as the previous season.
In their defense, it’s hard to see how overpaying for a mediocre pitcher like Edwin Jackson would have helped the 2013 Padres; and in fact, it might have done just the opposite.
But 2013 is over, and on paper, the Padres saw exactly no improvement from the previous year. That’s okay if you’re a perennial 90-game winner, but not if you’re below .500.
So then, what are we to make of the Friar’s just-concluded 2013 season? Let’s take a look.
First, the injuries.
Lots of them. Chase Headley got hurt in Spring Training, and missed the first two weeks. But after a decent start, he just wasn’t the same: he batted .250 (.173 in June), and had less than half the RBI total that he had the previous season (113 vs. 50).
Casey Kelly, a top pitching prospect and the key player in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, was supposed to break camp with the team. Instead, he became the third talented young pitcher (after Corey Luebke and Joe Wieland) in a year to need season-ending reconstructive surgery on their pitching elbow. To make matters worse, Luebke and Wieland were supposed to be ready to play by mid-season. They weren’t.
In June, Jedd Gyorko got hurt and was out for a month. At this point, he was batting .286 with 8 home runs, (with a .907 OPS in May). After this, he batted only .231, albeit with some power.
One-third of the way into the season, Yonder Alonso had six home runs, and he was on pace to hit 18 (in ’12, he had 39 doubles). But then he broke a finger, missed a month, and had only one extra base hit (no home runs) the rest of the year.
For the second year in a row, Carlos Quentin played only half a season.
And let’s not forget about Cameron Maybin, Logan Forsythe, Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard, and Yasmani Grandal.
Yes, injuries do happen. Look at the Yankees: they lost the left half of their infield, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, for the better part of the season (Jeter only played 17 games). The result is that role players like Chris Denorfia and Alexi Amarista get over 400 at-bats. Nothing against those two guys–especially Denorfia–but they’re role players. By definition, role players are not regulars, and when role players play so much, you’re just not going to win.
Two of the keys to the Padres’ 2012 turnaround were Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal. While the former didn’t get called up from AAA in June, he nonetheless wound up leading the league in stolen bases. While a bit erratic, his defense was an improvement from that of his predecessor, Jason Bartlett. The latter boosted offensive production, providing a .297/.394/.469 line.
But then, Grandal tested positive for PEDs, and was subsequently suspended for the first 50 games. Sadly, when he returned he only played a month, then suffered a devastating season-ending injury that will likely keep him out of action until June 2014.
Cabrera was one of the many names listed in the Biogenesis scandal, and so accepted a 50 game suspension to close out the season.
Had these not happened, Padre fans could only wonder “What if,” as these deprived them of the speedy leadoff hitter they had long coveted, and a solid power bat their lineup desperately needs. If they had both Cabrera and Grandal, surely they would have at minimum finished above .500.
Third, Chase Headley.
Yes, there are downturns. But there is nothing quite like Headley’s disappointing 2013, coming as it did after his breakthrough (mirage?) 2012 season. Consider:
2012: 31 home runs, 115 RBI (led the league), 86 walks, 17 stolen bases, .286/.376/.498.
2013: 13 home runs, 50 RBI, 67 walks, 8 stolen bases, .250/.347/.400.
That’s quite a tumble! If the Padres are going to rebound in 2014, Headley has to rebound. Even if he doesn’t return to his ’12 numbers, 20 homers and 90 RBI would help.
On the plus side, there are also three things that went well.
First, the starting pitching was better than everyone thought it would be. This was especially true after Edinson Volquez (he of the unsightly 6.01 ERA and 1.67 WHIP) was released. After performing below his 2012 numbers, Clayton Richard was then sidelined for the season.
But Eric Stults, the only man to stay in the rotation all season long, was steady (11-13, 3.93 ERA, 1.27 WHIP). And if it weren’t for Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the rotation would have been a complete disaster. While his 10-9 record isn’t that impressive, his 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are. Cashner was especially strong down the stretch, holding a 1.48 ERA in August-September, with a spectacular one-hitter against Pittsburgh.
Ross was acquired in a seemingly minor trade early in 2013. As with Cashner, his won-loss record (3-8) isn’t nearly as impressive as his other numbers: 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and .225 BBA. What was particularly impressive about Ross was his consistency: after April, his WHIP never reached 1.20 in any single month.
The Padres also acquired veteran Ian Kennedy at the July 31 deadline. While his 4.34 ERA and 1.34 WHIP isn’t the best, they are improvements from his numbers in Arizona. Kennedy looks to be a net plus in 2014.
Lastly, two young starters, Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith gave some impressive performances. In 11 games (9 starts), Erlin went 3-3 with a 4.15 ERA. Remove one disastrous start in July against the Nationals, and the ERA goes down to 2.79. Equally impressive was his K/BB ratio of 40-15.
While Smith’s numbers are not as impressive (1-3, 6.44 ERA), he does have a very high ceiling. In one start against the division-winning Atlanta Braves, Smith pitched seven shutout innings and had 11 strikeouts.
Second, Jedd Gyorko.
Yes, his June injury hurt him. And yes, Padres coaches should be concerned that in July-August, he only walked twice, showing great impatience at the plate. That said, Gyorko led the Padres with 23 home runs and 63 RBI, including a season finale grand slam against the Giants. The talent is there, and in 2014 and beyond, Mr. Gyorko has nowhere to go but up.
Third, the bullpen.
Yes, losing left-handed specialist Joe Thatcher hurt. But the front office got this one right, as they got Kennedy in return.
Even sans Thatcher, the bullpen was terrific:
- Middle relievers Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer, and Nick Vincent combined for 53 holds, a 2.63 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. That’s a pretty impressive bunch.
- Gregerson especially impressed, in spite of a few shaky outings, holding batters to a .203 BAA.
- Closer Huston Street saved 33 games with just two blown saves, including a heartbreaker in the season finale.
Some might wonder, what about Will Venable? Doesn’t he count as a highlight?
Yes, it’s true that he hit a career-high 22 home runs, and also had 22 stolen bases. He also showed that he can hit lefties (.276 with 6 homers in 105 AB’s).
But I’m still not sold. Take out his impressive August numbers (8 homers in 109 At-bats, .367/.395/.697 (1.092 OPS), what do you have left? A .212 batting average.
Like I’ve said before, I hope Venable’s August month wasn’t like Headley’s 2012, i.e., a mirage. The Padres should hope so too, especially since they extended him for two more years at $8.5 million.
Looking back, the 2013 Padres didn’t move backwards, but neither did they move forward. As Chairman Ron Fowler put it, it’s like having a sister-kissing tie.
Or, getting a free scoop of ice cream; only, instead of getting your favorite flavor, you’re stuck with vanilla.
In other words, not bad. Could’ve been better, could’ve been worse.
But looking ahead to 2014, the Padres have far more going for them than against them. That will be the subject of another column.
But for now, it’s playoffs time. My prediction: Tigers over Dodgers in seven.