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The Padres’ were in full rebuild mode by mid-2016, having dealt away any veteran players with value by that year’s trade deadline. Immediate help was not on the way. In fact, it was nowhere close if it even existed. General manager A.J. Preller was going to have his opportunity to build his team from the ground up. Two-and-a-half years later, the Padres have, arguably, the best farm system in baseball and are looking to become legitimate playoff contenders in the next year or two.
Preller is now tasked with putting together a Major League roster that can at least break .500 in 2019 while staying in contention past July 31st. That would be a major step forward for a franchise that has not had a winning season since 2010. The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies, who improved by 14 games from the previous season and didn’t fall out of the pennant race until mid-September, would be a good comparison for what success would look like at the minimum. Matching what the Atlanta Braves did—an 18-game improvement and division championship—would be quite a bit more challenging and represents something like the best-case scenario. Preller’s offseason, which should be very eventful, will have a major effect on whether the team can become a perennial playoff contender and how quickly they can get there.
- Eric Hosmer, 1B: $119MM through 2025 (can opt out after 2022)
- Wil Myers, INF/OF: $64MM through 2022 (includes $1MM buyout of $20MM club option for 2023)
- Clayton Richard, LHP: $3MM through 2019
- Craig Stammen, RHP: $2.25MM through 2019
- Kazuhisa Makita, RHP: $1.9MM through 2019
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected salary via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Kirby Yates (4.021) – $3.0MM
- Cory Spangenberg (4.004) – $2.3MM
- Austin Hedges (2.166) – $1.8MM
- Travis Jankowski (2.169) – $1.4MM
- Bryan Mitchell (3.049) – $1.2MM
- Robbie Erlin (4.078) – $1.1MM
- Greg Garcia (3.083) – $900K
- Non-tender candidates: Spangenberg, Mitchell, Garcia
With the waves of young and inexpensive talent expected to arrive in San Diego over the next few seasons, the Padres should have the ability to add multiple impact players with high price tags in preparation for their next playoff run. Eric Hosmer, signed last offseason, was the first significant piece. Adding a frontline starting pitcher and either a third baseman or shortstop prior to the 2020 season would appear to be the next big priorities. It’s possible that they will check one or both off of the list as early as the current offseason.
Preller’s first line of business, however, could be to determine how to best sort out the crowded outfield situation. With only Wil Myers guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster — barring a trade, at least — and everyone else having Minor League options, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. But, assuming that Myers’ third base experiment is over, the Padres have six outfielders and not one of them belongs in Triple-A.
It could take some creativity on Preller’s part, but Myers is certainly a trade candidate. Although he’s due to make just $3MM in 2019, he’ll make $20MM annually over the next three seasons. That normally wouldn’t be a lot for a former Rookie of the Year who averaged 29 homers and 24 stolen bases in his ages 25-26 seasons, can play multiple positions and is still only 27 years old. But he’s been injury-plagued throughout his career and his overall numbers have been underwhelming for a player who fits best at a corner outfield spot.
Hunter Renfroe (.805 OPS, 15.5 AB/HR) and Franmil Reyes (.838 OPS, 16.3 AB/HR) were each particularly impressive in 2018, making them attractive trade targets for a team hoping to add some legitimate right-handed power to their lineup. Travis Jankowski could be a useful reserve and should draw some interest. Manuel Margot and Franchy Cordero, on the other hand, are much less likely to be traded. Margot’s value is down after he struggled in 2018 and he’s too talented for the Padres to sell low on him. The left-handed hitting Cordero missed most of last season due to an elbow injury, keeping him somewhat of an unknown commodity. But, in any case, the Padres will want to hold on to a 24-year-old with 30 home run and 30 stolen base potential.
Hosmer was a disappointment in his first season with the club, but maybe it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. After a solid rookie season in 2011, he had his worst season as a pro in 2012. He bounced back in 2013 before struggling again in 2014. He had a very good 2015 season, which ended with a World Series championship. His numbers dipped slightly in 2016 and then he was at his best in 2017 (.882 OPS, 25 HR). Not that the Padres were expecting eight years of the 2017 version, but it’s safe to say that he wasn’t nearly as productive as they had hoped in his debut. It’s probable that he’ll continue to be up and down as he was with the Royals while delivering a couple of higher-output seasons somewhere in between.
Other than Hosmer at first base, catcher Austin Hedges is the only other position player who is all but assured to be in the Padres’ Opening Day starting lineup. Acquiring the best catching prospect in baseball, Francisco Mejia, last July has done nothing to change that. Hedges’ defense and leadership ability are much too valuable for a team that will continue to rely so much on young pitching. If the Padres believe that the 23-year-old Mejia is ready for the Majors in 2019, it could make sense to pair him with Hedges, who could be a strong mentor despite his age (26) and lack of MLB experience (2.166 days). Both players have a long ways to go to prove themselves offensively at the MLB level, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the duo could combine for over 25 homers per season. Of course, Mejia could also be a valuable trade chip and could headline a major deal this offseason. He could also spend some more time in Triple-A. In either of those cases, the Padres would have to bring in a veteran backup to give Hedges an occasional day off. Free agent A.J. Ellis was terrific in that role last season.
While Reyes made plenty of noise during his rookie season, his contributions were somewhat of a surprise. Luis Urias’ debut in late August, however, marked the arrival of one of the organization’s highest-profile prospects. The 21-year-old had a handful of big games, but didn’t have much time to establish himself before a season-ending hamstring injury. Expected to be the team’s second baseman for years to come once he arrived in the Majors, Urias could temporarily slide over to shortstop depending on how things go this offseason.
With top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. closing in on the Majors, the expectation is that the Padres will either add a stop-gap or long-term solution at shortstop or third base. If shortstop is not addressed, Urias could play there until Tatis is ready to step in. If the Padres add a long-term solution at the position, Urias would stay at second base and Tatis would prepare to be the team’s third baseman of the near future. Other players who could figure into the mix in some way or another are Christian Villanueva, who crushed left-handed pitching in 2018 (1.118 OPS, 14 HR) but was awful versus right-handers, Carlos Asuaje, Jose Pirela and Cory Spangenberg. The latter trio is on the bubble to remain on the 40-man roster.
Free agent targets at third base could include another former Royals star, Mike Moustakas, or veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, Josh Harrison and Jed Lowrie. Only the 30-year-old Moustakas would appear to fit the team as a potential long-term solution if the Padres were willing to offer him a contract for at least three or four years. A run at Donaldson, whether on a pillow contract or multi-year deal, could be an interesting high-upside possibility if the Padres decide to make a push.
With multiple big-market teams expected to be involved in the bidding, Manny Machado is probably a long shot. But if last offseason was any indication, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Padres got involved on some level. As was the case with Hosmer, they could make a competitive offer early on and then wait for him to circle back if he doesn’t receive a better one. Unless Machado’s stock has dropped dramatically, though, that is not likely to happen.
Of the free agent shortstops, none other than Machado would be expected to sign for more than one or two seasons. Freddy Galvis, who the team raved about during his lone season in San Diego, could return on an affordable multi-year deal with the expectation that he’d move into a utility role once Tatis reached the Majors. Alcides Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jose Iglesias and Jordy Mercer are stop-gap options who would likely cost much less than the $6.8MM that Galvis earned in 2018.
If the Padres are to make a splash this offseason, it would most likely come via trade. Their farm system is good enough to get most any player that is available. Would Cleveland trade Jose Ramirez? Probably not this offseason. Even if they end up trading one of their best pitchers, the Indians are still the class of the AL Central. Eugenio Suarez would be a great fit at the hot corner, but the Reds are also looking to take the next step forward in their rebuild and wouldn’t want to trade one of their best hitters unless the return was not only compelling, but including some quality MLB assets. A three-team scenario involving Miguel Andujar of the Yankees is perhaps not unimaginable. (It’d be complicated, but so was the swap that brought Myers to San Diego.)
One very controversial option would be a buy-low acquisition of Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who will miss the first month of the season while serving out a 40-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. Last month’s release of lefty reliever Jose Torres, however, could be an indication that the Padres aren’t interested in a player with that kind of baggage. After a strong rookie season in 2017 (4.21 ERA, 8.3 K/9 in 62 appearances), Torres spent 2018 on the Restricted list while serving a 100-game suspension under the MLB/MLBPA joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy. Instead of reinstating him after the season, he was designated for assignment and subsequently released.
Mariners shortstop Jean Segura and third baseman Kyle Seager could be available and either would seem to fit the Padres’ need on the left side of the diamond. Segura’s price tag would be high—not a problem if the Padres like him enough to take on his almost $15MM per year salary for his ages 29-32 seasons—and Seager is still owed around $60MM through 2021 and coming off of a bad season. Using the Myers contract to facilitate a deal is at least an interesting possibility to contemplate. J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, and Jurickson Profar probably aren’t the huge difference-makers that the Padres are looking for, but they might be likelier to be available in a trade.
Stay tuned. Things could get very interesting if Preller is focused on the trade market to upgrade his lineup.
Despite having a wealth of pitching prospects who are set to reach the Majors sometime in the next year or two, the starting rotation is clearly the weakest link on this roster. Adding a frontline starter to pair with veteran workhorse Clayton Richard would take a great deal of weight off of the young pitchers who are still getting their feet wet or who will be debuting in 2019. Joey Lucchesi was impressive as a rookie, posting a 4.08 ERA, 3.0 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9 in 26 starts. After a rough stretch to begin his MLB career, Eric Lauer had a 3.16 ERA over his last 16 starts. That lefty duo should have a leg up on the competition, while Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Nix and Luis Perdomo are among the arms who could compete for one of the last rotation spots. Brett Kennedy, Walker Lockett and Colin Rea will also be in the mix if they’re still on the 40-man roster when Spring Training begins.
Mitchell pitched so poorly in 2018 that he was demoted to the bullpen after seven starts before spending three months on the disabled list. He probably saved his roster spot in September with a 2.19 ERA in four starts, including 8.2 shutout innings in his final appearance. That type of performance was likely closer to what Preller had in mind when he took on Chase Headley’s $13MM salary in order to acquire Mitchell from the Yankees last offseason. It’s unlikely that Preller would want to give up on him so soon after making such a big investment.
A wildcard for the rotation will be Matt Strahm, who now has two very good seasons under his belt as a relief pitcher. With the growing importance of the multi-inning setup man role, the 27-year-old might have already found his niche. But it would be worth stretching him out this spring and giving him a decent chance to prove that he can be an effective starting pitcher.
The next wave of prospects, while unlikely to make an impact in April or May, could make things interesting at some point during the season. After sitting out the 2017 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Chris Paddack returned to health and quickly proved to be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He only has seven Double-A starts under his belt, but he’s not that far away. In 177.2 career innings in the Minors, the 22-year-old has a 1.82 ERA with an unfathomable 20 walks and 230 strikeouts. Logan Allen, the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, and former 1st Round pick Cal Quantrill should also reach San Diego in 2019. They won’t be the only potential reinforcements during the season. Dinelson Lamet, one of the few bright spots from the 2017 season, is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be back in the second half.
While there are several free agent starting pitchers who could help in the short-term, including former Padres Trevor Cahill and Tyson Ross, and a few others who could make sense on a multi-year deal — Gio Gonzalez, for instance — the expectation is that the Padres will set their sights very high in their pursuit of a frontline starter who can anchor their rotation for several years. Noah Syndergaard would be quite a catch, but he’s also the kind of superstar acquisition that would take multiple elite prospects to get (if the Mets are even interested in that kind of package). Would giving up Paddack, Tatis and more in a deal for three years of Syndergaard be worth it? With how often pitchers get hurt, that could turn out to be a disaster. Corey Kluber, a 4th Round pick of the Padres back in 2007, and Danny Duffy could also be on their wish list. A Zack Greinke acquisition wouldn’t cost much in terms of prospect talent if there were willing to take on a big chunk of the $95.5MM that he’s still owed through 2021.
There are also quite a few pitchers with two years of control who might be had via trade, including Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, James Paxton and a rebound candidate in Julio Teheran. Preller would surely be somewhat more hesitant to give big pieces for that length of control, though of course less years also means a lower price tag (though each of these hurlers also earns at a manageable rate of pay). A pitcher of that ilk could help carry the team until another crop of pitching prospects — Michel Baez, Anderson Espinoza, MacKenzie Gore and Adrian Morejon are a big reason why their farm system is so widely-respected — is ready to step in.
Regardless of how much they can upgrade their rotation, they can always opt to lean a bit more on their bullpen if necessary. Teams like the A’s and Brewers proved in 2018 that you don’t need starting pitchers who can consistently work deep into games if the bullpen can consistently pick up the slack. It’s no surprise that the Padres’ bullpen was very good in 2018. Despite having ten sub-.500 seasons since the move to Petco Park in 2004, they’ve never cracked the 100-loss barrier. And that’s mostly due to a solid bullpen that keeps things from going completely off of the rails. Even without Brad Hand, who was traded to Cleveland in July, they are still in decent shape with closer Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, Strahm (if he isn’t in the rotation), and a long list of hard-throwing pitchers with late-inning potential.
Strahm isn’t as dominant as Brewers’ bullpen star Josh Hader, but the left-hander proved that he can be very good in a similar high-leverage, multi-inning role. Jose Castillo and Robert Stock both passed their rookie auditions with flying colors, as did Trey Wingenter, though in a much smaller sample size. Stock and Wingenter each hit 100 MPH on multiple occasions and they aren’t the the only Padres’ pitchers who can bring that kind of heat. Former Rule 5 pick Miguel Diaz, 19-year-old Andres Munoz and Gerardo Reyes, all capable of hitting triple digits, could spend time in the Majors during the upcoming season.
There appears to be plenty of good relief options, but they’ve had so much success resurrecting careers that it would be a surprise if they didn’t add at least one veteran bounce-back candidate with late-inning experience. Former Nationals closer Drew Storen, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, is one of several relievers who will be looking for a chance to rebuild value in a pitcher-friendly atmosphere.