Offseason Outlook: San Diego Padres

Prepare for another offseason of short-term free agent deals from the Padres in their attempt to stop the bleeding on a perennially lousy offense.  The Friars also have more bullpen patchwork ahead than usual.

Guaranteed Contracts

Contractual Options

  • Aaron Harang, Type B SP: $5MM mutual option with a $500K buyout
  • Brad Hawpe, unranked 1B: $6MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
  • Chad Qualls, unranked RP: $6MM club option with a $1.05MM buyout

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

Talk about a lack of commitments.  The Padres owe $11MM to their starting middle infield for 2012, and nothing beyond that.  GM Jed Hoyer has a clean slate and a payroll expected to be in the $53-55MM range, the team's highest since '08.  As I showed last week, Hoyer should have $20MM+ to work with in 2012 payroll flexibility.  At a September 29th press briefing, the GM was clear about his offseason goals.  He plans to add veteran leadership, rebuild the bullpen, cut down on strikeouts, improve the bench, and add a corner outfielder.

The 2011 Padres ranked third in ERA among NL relief squads.  However, they traded Mike Adams and Qualls and Bell are free agents.  Cory Luebke will stick in the rotation, following a midseason shift.  Those four pitchers accounted for 46% of the team's relief innings and a 2.65 ERA.  The Padres will probably be looking to make multiple Qualls-type signings, snapping up decent arms on one-year deals in the $3MM range.  The team will find plenty of willing applicants, as usual given their ballpark.  

Bell probably should have been traded too.  The closer doesn't appear interested in the team's reported proposal of two years at about $14MM and has announced his intention to deny them a chance at draft picks by accepting arbitration.  I wouldn't go much higher on a contract offer, so the best move now is to offer arbitration and see if Bell still prefers to stay in San Diego on a one-year deal.  I'm not sure that's really best for him — he's 34, he's never had a multiyear deal, and his strikeout rate took a big dip this year.  He'd probably have to endure another summer of trade rumors, too.  This offseason might be his best chance for multiyear security, and his agency could probably find a team willing to guarantee three years.  

Cutting down on strikeouts and adding a corner outfielder might have to be accomplished with one player, as the Padres' infield appears set.  Corner outfield free agents with high contact rates include Juan Pierre, Endy Chavez, and Coco Crisp.

This offseason might be a good time to shop Headley.  He's a useful player but light on power, and the Padres have third base candidates coming up in the farm system.  Power pays in arbitration, so Headley's affordability adds to his trade value.  It doesn't hurt that the free agent market offers almost nothing at his position, aside from Aramis Ramirez.  This offseason is also a good time to lock up center fielder Cameron Maybin, who was worth nearly five wins above replacement this year in a breakout season.

For the second season in a row, the Padres' rotation ERA ranked fourth in the National League.  Mat Latos, Stauffer, and Luebke make for a solid front three.  Harang or a veteran of his ilk should take another spot, perhaps with Richard and Moseley battling for the last.

The cosmetic changes discussed in this post probably won't make the Padres a contender.  They haven't ranked in the upper half of the National League in runs scored since they placed eighth in 2004, the year Petco Park opened.  With Anthony Rizzo, Jedd Gyorko, James Darnell, Rymer Liriano, and others, the team has young hitters on the way.  Several of them will need to produce at the Major League level for this team to return to prominence.