After one of the most frenetic offseasons in recent history, the Padres entered the 2015 season with elevated expectations and a wildly different roster than the one inherited by first-year GM A.J. Preller. Unfortunately for the team, Preller’s high-profile acquisitions didn’t yield a postseason run or even a winning record.
Matt Kemp, OF: $72MM through 2019 (Dodgers also owe Kemp $14MM through 2019)
- James Shields, RHP: $65MM through 2018 (including buyout of 2019 option; Shields can opt out after 2016)
- Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B/SS: $33MM through 2019 (including buyout of 2020 option)
- Melvin Upton, OF: $31.9MM through 2017
- Craig Kimbrel, RHP: $25MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 option)
- Alexi Amarista, 2B/SS/3B/OF: $1.3MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR)
- Marc Rzepczynski (5.132) – $3.0MM
- Andrew Cashner (5.126) – $7.0MM
- Cory Luebke (5.033) – $5.25MM arbitration projection; has a $7.5MM club option with a $1.75MM buyout.
- Tyson Ross (4.126) – $10.0MM
- Yonder Alonso (4.116) – $2.5MM
- Derek Norris (3.102) – $3.4MM
- Will Middlebrooks (3.057) – $1.5MM
- Brett Wallace (3.003) – $1.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: Rzepczynski, Luebke, Wallace
- Joaquin Benoit, RHP: $8MM club option with $1.5MM buyout
- Clint Barmes, SS: $2MM club option with $200K buyout
- Cory Luebke, LHP: $7.5MM club option with $1.75MM buyout
The Padres have crossed off the first item on their to-do list, and it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was an out-of-the-box move. San Diego has tabbed 38-year-old Diamondbacks third base coach Andy Green as their new manager. While he comes with some notable minor league experience, this will be Green’s first taste of manging in the Majors.
As far as the contractual options facing the Padres, Cory Luebke’s is an easy call to decline, as the lefty hasn’t thrown a pitch since 2012 due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Clint Barmes’ option is cheap, but the Padres probably consider him redundant with Alexi Amarista projected to have a bench spot. Joaquin Benoit’s option is the toughest call. Metrics like FIP call for big regression, but he’s been able to routinely outperform them by sustaining abnormal BABIP marks and strand rates. While his walk and strikeout rates have each gone in the wrong direction, his velocity and swinging strike rate look good. This boils down to a one-year, $6.5MM decision on Benoit (he has a $1.5MM buyout). That seems reasonable, and even if the Padres don’t want him at that price, they could trade him. Picking up the option and paying $1.5MM to improve the return in a trade is a better outcome than simply buying him out.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock that option presents is that it would bring the 2016 payroll higher than their Opening Day mark from 2015, and there’s quite a bit of work to do around the diamond. An elevated payroll was always the expectation, as they received $18MM in 2015 salary relief in the Matt Kemp trade and also backloaded James Shields’ contract, but the baseball ops staff probably hoped there’d be less needs around the roster. Instead, they’ve already committed $71.9MM to the 2016 payroll, plus a projected $24.4MM for Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Yonder Alonso, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks in arbitration, and then the potential Benoit option and league-minimum salaries needed to fill out the roster.
That crowded payroll is one reason that the Padres were said to be open to moving some of their more established contributors at the non-waiver trade deadline, though that never came to fruition. Many of those talks will be revisited this winter. In an odd way, the Padres’ 2015-16 offseason will be defined perhaps more so by who they subtract from the organization than by who they add. It’s unclear how much flexibility they’ll have for roster additions without eliminating some 2016 payroll concerns.
Shields, Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton represent the three largest salaries that San Diego could shop, but nearly every position on the diamond and every slot in the rotation could be subject to trade talks. That sets up a fascinating offseason but also makes the already-difficult task of attempting to outline a team’s winter nearly impossible.
Shields is a particularly tough sell, as he was more good than great in his first first year with Padres. Though his strikeout rate soared, so too did his homer-to-flyball rate, resulting in an elevated ERA and FIP. If another club is convinced the HR/FB spike is a fluke, Shields is more appealing, but $21MM annually is steep. He isn’t the quintessential “albatross” contract — he’s still a useful starter — but it’s fair to say he qualifies as the type of player that’s often moved in swaps of “bad” contracts.
One oft-floated suggestion was a swap of Pablo Sandoval with the Red Sox, though I don’t see the merit in that for San Diego unless Boston sweetens the deal with young talent. Sandoval is owed more money and was one of the game’s worst all-around performers in 2015. The Padres needn’t be that desperate to move Shields, who was useful in 2015.
Upton — Melvin, that is — possesses an undesirable contract of his own, although the older of the two Uptons did quietly enjoy a bounceback year in 2015. He didn’t reach his peak Tampa Bay production levels, but Upton slashed .259/.327/.429 and made solid contributions on the basepaths and defense. The $31.9MM he’s owed lines up reasonably well with the money remaining on the contracts of Ricky Nolasco, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza, though I’m not sure any of those pitchers’ teams would benefit from making such a deal. More realistic is that Upton will remain under contract as an overpriced fourth outfielder/platoon partner for defensive standout Travis Jankowski, which appears to be at least somewhat of a consideration.
The other significant salary the Padres could try to move is that of Kimbrel, but he, unlike Shields and Upton, would be in high demand. The Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Nationals and Cubs all stand out as plausible trade partners, and each of those clubs possesses plenty of young talent. If he’s to trade Kimbrel, Preller would have to decide if the goal is to add Major League talent to help the 2016 club or package Kimbrel with a less desirable contract (i.e. Shields, Upton) to clear salary. Trading him for prospects doesn’t align with the Padres’ recent tactics.
If the Padres are able to free up some payroll, shortstop will be their biggest priority. Ian Desmond tops the free agent market, but despite a down season, he strikes me as likely to command, at minimum, a four-year deal (five is also possible). He’s already been connected to the Padres, but an expensive free-agent miss wouldn’t look good for the front office coming off a disappointing 2015 season, and the Friars have multiple needs. If Preller is again to turn to the trade market, a highly speculative list of partners includes the Cubs (Javier Baez, Starlin Castro), Mariners (Ketel Marte, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor), Astros (Jed Lowrie), Rays (Nick Franklin), Red Sox (Deven Marrero) and possibly Twins (Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, Jorge Polanco).
There are more in-house options, at least, in the rest of the infield. Jedd Gyorko filled in at short late in the 2015 season, but he shouldn’t be asked to play there again for defensive reasons. Gyorko can handle both second base and third base, as can the younger Cory Spangenberg. The former is a righty, the latter swings from the left side, and the club also has the switch-hitting Yangervis Solarte (and disappointing Will Middlebrooks) available at the hot corner. Given the needs elsewhere, it’s possible to imagine Preller relying on this group again in 2016, though a free agent target wouldn’t be out of the question. Ben Zobrist, as we at MLBTR find ourselves saying frequently in these Offseason Outlooks, certainly makes some sense given his versatility, though his age makes him particularly risky for San Diego, given the current uncertainty permeating their roster.
The Padres quickly abandoned the idea of Wil Myers in center field and moved him to first base, but that now presents its own issues. With both Myers and Yonder Alonso figuring to be healthy in 2016, the Padres have two players for that first base spot. The best option for Myers is probably to shift to left field in place of the departing Justin Upton. That creates somewhat of a logjam, though, as top prospect Hunter Renfroe is a corner outfielder, as is former Top 100 prospect Rymer Liriano. Both are nearly MLB-ready, though Preller hasn’t shown an aversion to trading prospects.
Alonso could be a desirable trade piece for many teams — Milwaukee, Baltimore (if Chris Davis leaves), Pittsburgh, to name a few — but he’s also one of the precious few lefty bats the Padres have. And while he doesn’t hit for power, his overall offensive contributions this year were positive. There’s a case to be made that San Diego should move Alonso, go for broke, and make a run at Davis to inject some power into the lineup, but that’s a long shot.
If Alonso is moved, a left-field decision arises: trust Renfroe/Liriano or seek an outside addition. Colby Rasmus would give the Padres a much-needed left-handed bat, as would Gerardo Parra. If Preller and L.A. counterpart Andrew Friedman want to connect for another significant swap, the Dodgers have Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, who could each be moved for a bad contract. The player the Padres received from the Dodgers last winter, Matt Kemp, seems like he’ll definitively be stationed in right field, so there appears to be at least one certain spot in the lineup.
Center field, again, comes with question marks. Jankowski is a gifted defender but doesn’t project to hit much. He could be a fine fourth outfielder, but he’s probably miscast as a starter. Jankowski and Upton could platoon here, but free agents Dexter Fowler and Denard Span or a trade candidate like Jackie Bradley would help to balance out the lineup and provide better offense. Span, in particular, is an intriguing buy-low candidate, as his injury could suppress his value and make him a relative bargain. Although, that also enhances the risk of signing him. If handedness isn’t a concern, Marcell Ozuna makes sense.
Like nearly every other position on the diamond, the Padres have some trade options behind the plate. Derek Norris is slated to make $3.4MM, so moving him could free up a bit of money, and Austin Hedges represents an MLB-ready replacement. However, the team could flip the defensively gifted and well-regarded Hedges in a trade to fill another hole. Norris had his worst season at the plate in 2015, so they could be selling low, though on the other hand his throwing improved quite a bit. On a thin catching market, he’d draw interest, and Hedges is superior defensively.
The rotation offers a bit more certainty, but not much. Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner form a solid 1-2-3 atop the rotation, and young righty Colin Rea is a candidate for the back of the starting unit along with righty Odrisamer Despaigne and lefty Robbie Erlin. Ian Kennedy is set to depart as a free agent and should net the team a compensatory draft pick — I see little reason for him to accept a qualifying offer, as his durability and steady results should net him a more lucrative multi-year deal — though the team could look to retain him.
However, as previously mentioned, Shields is a definite trade candidate this winter, and the Padres fielded offers on both Ross and Cashner prior to the trade deadline. Cashner is only controlled through 2016, so it makes sense that he, in particular, could resurface in trade talks. The Cubs and Red Sox each showed interest in Ross, and the righty is the type of borderline-dominant arm that either team could pursue to bolster its rotation for at least two years, if not more via an extension. Names like Kyle Hendricks or Henry Owens could be part of a Ross trade (though not necessarily headliners), thereby giving San Diego an immediate, albeit lesser replacement. Cashner wouldn’t fetch as large of a haul, but he could bring back a big-league piece to help in a different area.
The Padres need to add at least one arm to the mix, possibly two if they move one of the current three rotation locks and don’t receive an immediate replacement in return. A lefty would help give opponents a bit of a different look, though adding quality innings should be an emphasis over pitcher handedness. One inexpensive possibility would be to try Brandon Maurer in the rotation again. The former Mariners prospect has blossomed into an excellent setup man but still deployed a three-pitch mix out of the ’pen in 2015. Obviously, an innings limit would have to be a consideration.
Moving Maurer to the rotation could create a larger hole in the bullpen, where the Padres are also set to lose the underrated Shawn Kelley and could also non-tender Rzepczynski. Kevin Quackenbush and Nick Vincent could rejoin Benoit and Kimbrel (if neither is traded). Lefty Frank Garces battled his control in both the Majors and minors after a dominant Double-A campaign in 2014, so at least one cheap lefty relief option would be a nice pickup.
No first-year GM has ever made a splash as immediate and dramatic as Preller in 2014-15. Because no one could have reasonably predicted that level of activity, the Padres dominated headlines for much of the offseason, right up until their acquisition of Kimbrel on the eve of Opening Day. San Diego again mystified the baseball world by taking the opposite course of action this summer, standing pat despite the fact that they weren’t within reasonable striking distance of a postseason berth. The expectation here is that the Padres will again be in for an exceptionally active offseason, so much so that their course of action could play a key role in a number of other clubs’ winter gameplans as well.