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Since four consecutive winning seasons to begin the Petco Park era, including a pair of division championships, the Padres have had a losing record in eight of the last nine years—they won 90 games in 2010, but fell short of the playoffs after a late-season collapse—while playing very few meaningful games in a beautiful ballpark. Are there any reasons to believe that good times are ahead for this organization?
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Tyson Ross, SP (5.126) – $9.6MM
- Alexi Amarista, IF/OF (5.040) – $1.6MM
- Derek Norris, C (4.102) – $4.0MM
- Hector Sanchez, C (4.018) – $900K
- Carter Capps, RP (4.007) – $1.0MM
- Brett Wallace, 1B (4.003) -$1.3MM
- Wil Myers, 1B (3.104) – $4.7MM
- Brad Hand, RP (3.092) – $1.4MM
- Brandon Maurer, RP (3.089) – $1.7MM
- Christian Friedrich, RP (3.046) – $2.0MM
- Oswaldo Arcia, OF (3.020) – $1.4MM
- Yangervis Solarte, 3B (3.000) – $2.7MM
- Non-tender candidates: Amarista, Arcia, Sanchez, Wallace
Other Financial Commitments
- James Shields, SP: Owed $22MM through 2018 (traded in 2016)
- Matt Kemp, OF: Owed est. $7.5MM through 2019 (traded in 2016)
- Melvin Upton Jr., OF: Owed $11.45MM in 2017 (traded in 2016)
- Jedd Gyorko, 2B: Owed $7.5MM through 2019 (traded during 2015-16 offseason)
- Hector Olivera, OF: Owed $28.5MM through 2020 (released in 2016)
General manager A.J. Preller has spent the past year digging his team out of the hole that resulted from the Padres’ premature “win-now” approach during his first offseason on the job, while also overseeing the rebuild of a team that has had very little success drafting, signing or acquiring young talent over the past couple of decades. He was also suspended 30 days by Major League Baseball for failure to disclose player medical information in trade discussions.
The results of Preller’s rebuild, thus far, are promising. While the Padres are still paying a lot of money to several players who are no longer with the team, they have also shed the payroll of any long-term commitments and opened roster spots for younger players. Carlos Asuaje and Manuel Margot, both acquired from the Red Sox in last offseason’s Craig Kimbrel trade, should make an impact at the Major League level in 2017. The same goes for a handful of players who were picked up off the scrap heap and given an audition in 2016, including Ryan Buchter, Christian Friedrich, Brad Hand, Luis Sardinas and Ryan Schimpf.
As for how the medical information scandal affects the team during the upcoming offseason, we can only speculate. It might have very little impact, if any at all. The trades that Preller absolutely had to make, for purposes of the rebuild, have already been made. He no longer has to sell a fellow general manager on why they should take on a high-priced player no longer in the prime of his career while giving up something of value in return. In addition, the urgency to finalize a trade is much lower in the offseason than during the season, particularly one close to the trade deadline. Medical records can be reviewed more thoroughly, and teams can utilize their own medical staff to assess the players involved.
One player that Preller could have a hard time moving is catcher Derek Norris, who is expected to lose his starting job to defensive standout Austin Hedges, who also raked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League this year. Norris finished with a slash line of .186/.255/.328, which is probably the biggest reason why Preller was unable to trade him during the season. Carrying Norris as the backup catcher is still a possibility with Christian Bethancourt potentially taking on a hybrid catcher/outfielder/relief pitcher role. However, a backup catcher making $4MM per season isn’t ideal for any small-market club, even one with a payroll as open as the Padres, and there is probably enough of a market for Preller to find a match in trade talks.
Moving Norris could prove to be a challenge, but Preller should field plenty of calls from general managers interested in the team’s plethora of talented position players with multiple years of club control. Between Asuaje (2B/3B), Alex Dickerson (LF/1B), Travis Jankowski (CF/LF), Margot (CF), Wil Myers (1B/LF/RF), Hunter Renfroe (RF/LF), Schimpf (2B/3B), Yangervis Solarte (3B/2B/1B) and Cory Spangenberg (2B/3B), the Padres have nine players to fill six starting jobs (1B, 2B, 3B, CF, LF, RF).
Manager Andy Green has stated that only Myers, an NL All-Star and Gold Glove finalist in his first full season as a first baseman, and Solarte (.808 OPS in 109 games) are guaranteed lineup spots next season. While they currently form the core of the Padres’ lineup, both players would likely be in high demand if the Padres were to shop them. With three years of club control remaining for each player, the price tag would be high. On a team that appears to be at least another year or two away from contending, it wouldn’t be a surprise if any players who aren’t guaranteed to be around past 2019 are dealt.
Re-signing free agent Jon Jay, who the team has expressed interest in bringing back, would further increase the chances that one of the outfielders, most likely Dickerson or Jankowski, will be traded. However, a solid season by the 31-year-old, despite missing more than two months with a fractured forearm, should ensure that he’ll find an opportunity on a team who can give him a better shot at regular playing time.
If there is to be a new face in the Padres’ lineup in 2017, it could be at shortstop. At the least, the 23-year-old Sardinas has put himself into the mix with a strong showing—.287/.353/.417 in 120 plate appearances—after he was acquired from the Mariners last August for cash considerations. While his struggles in the big leagues during previous stints with the Rangers, Brewers and Mariners led to his stock dropping significantly since he was a highly-touted prospect a few years ago, the Padres’ sense of urgency to find a short-term and long-term answer at the position has likely decreased.
Signing Erick Aybar to a one-year deal or trading for Zack Cozart or Danny Espinosa—both are under contract for one more season—would be decent stop-gap options if the Padres aren’t sold on Sardinas. It’s also possible that the A’s would entertain offers for Marcus Semien, who hit 27 homers in 2016 and isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, with top prospect Franklin Barreto closing in on the majors. Rangers’ infielder Jurickson Profar, with whom Preller is very familiar from his Rangers days, could be another trade target who would fill the position for 2017 and beyond. The asking price on either of those players figures to be sizable, though. Bringing back free agent utilityman Adam Rosales, who enjoyed a breakout season (.814 OPS, 13 HR in 248 plate appearances) at age 33, would give the team additional coverage at shortstop, as well as a platoon option versus left-handed pitching.
While the Padres’ offense appears to be headed in the right direction, the starting rotation is full of question marks. Staff ace Tyson Ross recently underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery after making only one start in 2016 due to shoulder pain. The Padres are hoping he’ll be ready to go by the start of Spring Training. Even if he can return to health, there are no certainties to fill any of the remaining spots. A healthy Ross, who is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season, would likely become one of the top trade targets for contending teams if the Padres were to fall out of playoff contention.
Luis Perdomo, a Rule 5 pick who went from bullpen mop-up duty to the team’s best starter in the second half, should be penciled into a rotation spot. While opposing hitters had trouble against the heavy sinker that he relied on almost exclusively, he’ll likely need to utilize his secondary pitches a bit more often in year two. Christian Friedrich and Paul Clemens each showed, on occasion, why they were once considered very good prospects. They also showed why, in their late 20s, they’ve failed to establish themselves as effective big league pitchers. Still, both likely did enough to remain on the 40-man roster throughout the offseason and will get a chance to compete for spots next spring.
Jarred Cosart and Colin Rea, if he can avoid Tommy John surgery, will also compete for rotation spots, as will Cesar Vargas, who was very good in five of his seven early-season starts before being shut down with a strained flexor tendon. Michael Kelly, Dinelson Lamet and Walter Lockett, three prospects who began the season in the low minors and rose to Triple-A by season’s end, should also be in the mix.
The bullpen is in much better shape than the rotation, thanks to Brandon Maurer, who settled into the closer’s role nicely after Fernando Rodney was traded (3.09 ERA, .572 opponent’s OPS, 13 saves in last 32 appearances) and talented lefties Buchter (2.86 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 20 holds) and Hand (2.92 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 21 holds). There’s a chance that Hand could move to the rotation—2016 was his first season working exclusively as a reliever—but Maurer’s failed attempt last spring, followed by a very shaky early-season performance once he returned to the bullpen, could have an affect on that decision.
A return to health from Carter Capps, who was acquired from the Marlins in the Andrew Cashner trade, could boost this group to an elite level. Prior to an elbow injury late in the 2015 season that eventually required Tommy John surgery last March, the 26-year-old right-hander had begun to establish himself as one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game (1.16 ERA, 2.0 BB/9, 16.8 K/9 in 30 appearances). He’s expected to return early in the 2017 season, if not by Opening Day, and could push Maurer for the closer’s job at some point.
Phil Maton, a 20th-round draftee in 2015, is rising quickly through the system and could find himself in the Padres’ bullpen sometime in 2017. In 38 appearances between Low-A, High-A and Triple-A, the right-hander posted a 1.74 ERA with 1.9 BB/9 and 13.6 K/9. He’s also been quite effective in the Arizona Fall League, allowing only one run on four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts over seven innings.
As is the case with many teams, starting pitching will be the Padres’ top priority this offseason. It’s a safe bet, however, that they won’t be in the bidding for top free agent starters Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson or Ivan Nova. Instead, they’ll probably look to add at least two starting pitchers from a long list of free agents with diminished value or via the trade market, utilizing their position player depth as trade chips.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if one of Edwin Jackson or Clayton Richard returned. At times, Jackson looked like the pitcher that the Cubs signed for $52MM before the 2013 season. Other times, he resembled the pitcher they released with a year-and-a-half remaining on the deal. Richard, one of the team’s most reliable starting pitchers several years ago before injuries derailed his career, was particularly impressive with a 2.41 ERA in nine starts after the Padres picked him up late in the season. While Petco Park is not nearly as pitcher-friendly as it was during his first stint with the team, the 33-year-old lefty appears very comfortable there.
San Diego has always been a preferred choice for pitchers looking to rebuild value, although the weather and the opportunity to pitch at the top of the rotation are the Padres’ strongest selling points these days. The return of 2007 Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy would make sense, as would the signing of Jorge De La Rosa, an NL West veteran with a career 3.22 ERA at Petco Park. Both are former staff aces and, despite disappointing seasons, finished the year in good health and could be anxious to prove that they still have something left in the tank in their mid-30s.
The Padres could take a step forward in 2017 with Margot, Myers and Renfroe leading the offense and Capps, Maurer and Buchter closing the door on opponents late in the game. How much of a step forward will depend on their yet-to-be-determined starting rotation.