As we continue working our way through the major needs of non-contenders with the offseason in sight, we’ll turn our attention to the Padres. San Diego entered the year with big expectations after a volatile winter under new GM A.J. Preller. Things haven’t worked out as planned, but the Friars nevertheless stood pat at the trade deadline. San Diego is as unpredictable as any organization in baseball right now, but here are a few areas the team might look to address:
1. Get the talent pipeline flowing. Preller came to San Diego with a reputation as a hard-working, discerning evaluator of talent who could dig up young players at good values. President/CEO Mike Dee explained the premise before the season: “But [Preller] said you don’t have to choose between one or the other. You can have both. You can have a strong pursuit of amateur and international talent and still add impact players. … I’m excited to see the second half of what he’s known for [in the international market].”
One year into Preller’s tenure, the club’s farm is lagging — even as the team struggles at the major league level. As things stand, the organization has just one top-100 prospect (Hunter Renfroe, #76 per MLB.com). The Padres didn’t have a first-round draft pick last year after sacrificing their first two choices in the James Shields signing and the Craig Kimbrel trade. And while the organization says it’s happy with its haul of July 2 prospects, it didn’t land Yoan Moncada, Yadier Alvarez, or any of the other most-hyped Latin American players on this year’s international market.
We’ve already seen Preller trade away a good portion of the upper-level talent he inherited. Now, he’ll need to show that he can successfully re-fill the system. The team appears to be headed for a top-ten draft pick, and can use qualifying offers to Justin Upton and (potentially) Ian Kennedy to add more selections and spending capacity. That’s a nice start, but more creative measures — such as trading a player like Kimbrel, searching the trade market for competitive balance picks and international signing pools, and/or looking for the next Touki Toussaint deal — may be needed.
2. Sort out the middle infield. Dating from the start of the 2011 season, the Padres rank dead last in major league baseball in middle infielder fWAR. The bulk of the positive wins above replacement from that stretch date to 2013, when Jedd Gyorko and Everth Cabrera both had solid campaigns. Other than that, San Diego has received basically replacement-level production from both the second base and shortstop positions for the last five years.
The organization is currently batting around some less-than-optimal possibilities as the offseason looms. Gyorko has looked re-born at the plate in recent months, and the team seems pleased with the initial returns on an experimental move to shortstop. But it would be brave to go into a full season on the assumption he’ll hold down that position, especially given the failed effort to use Wil Myers in center field this year. San Diego currently has the league’s worst defense, by measure of UZR/150 innings, and asking Gyorko (never a highly-regarded defender elsewhere in the infield) to step in at short seems a tall order.
That’s all the more true given that the organization isn’t exactly overflowing with talent elsewhere in the infield. Other players in the mix at second and third are Cory Spangenberg, Yangervis Solarte, and Will Middlebrooks. While some combination of that group should passably hold down those positions, it looks like a stretch for it to cover the four-through-six slots in a contending infield.
With this year’s Clint Barmes–Alexi Amarista pairing having fallen flat, and Trea Turner dealt away, an outside shortstop addition may well be necessary if expectations are to contend. San Diego can look to a trade market with several promising possibilities or pursue a group of free agents that includes some interesting-but-aging veterans who could be had on short-term deals.
3. Balance the lineup. Improving on the defensive side is one way that San Diego can add balance and situational flexibility to its roster, but even more pressing may be the need for left-right balance in the lineup. Aside from the switch-hitting Solarte, who has fairly even platoon splits over his two big league seasons, the team has a dearth of left-handed bats amongst its regulars.
There are some lefties in the mix, of course, but all appear to be part-time options at this stage. Spangenberg hits from the left side, as do Amarista and rookie Travis Jankowski — who could conceivably split time with Melvin Upton in center next year. Outfielder Alex Dickerson may get a long look to make the team as a fourth outfielder this spring, and Brett Wallace could be brought back after a surprising run (with a sample-size warning in full effect). There’s Yonder Alonso, but he’s yet to impress consistently and is out again with another injury. He may be displaced at first by Myers. Top youngsters Renfroe and Austin Hedges are righties, so it isn’t as if there is a big, left-handed bat waiting in the wings.
What can be done? As things stand, there isn’t a lot of room to spend: San Diego already has $75MM on the books, and that’s before acting on a $8MM option over Joaquin Benoit and paying arb raises to Myers, Alonso, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Derek Norris. While some budget bench signings are possible, the trade route looks more promising if the Padres look to add an everyday left-handed hitter or two.