The Off-Season So Far

Last offseason, the Padres front office gave its fans almost no reason to get excited about the 2013 season…unless you’re counting Jason Marquis.

So, how are they doing this offseason? 

On the whole, much better, but I also expected more. 

First, they signed free agent pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal. Given his past history with injuries, the club added an option of $4 for 2015 should Johnson make 8 or fewer starts. 

Granted, his numbers in Toronto last year were bad: 2-8, 6.20 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, .305 BAA. It doesn’t get much worse than that. 

But prior to last season, he was decent at worst, and on the threshold of greatness at best: from 2008-2011, Johnson was 36-13 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, including a league-leading 2.30 ERA in 2010. Suffice to say, when Johnson is good, he can be dominating. So given his recent past, the Padres did themselves a favor here. 

I will admit to having been skeptical about why they should spend such precious resources on a starting pitcher when they already have so many. But then, I recalled the Atlanta Braves in the early 90s. Back then, they already had Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery (who was pretty good at that point). But as if they didn’t already have a stellar staff, they went out and signed Greg Maddux, one of the two or three greatest pitchers of the last two decades. They were unstoppable. Granted, Johnson isn’t Maddux and the ’13 Padres starting rotation isn’t the ’92 Braves starting rotation. Even still, the same principle applies: you can never have too much pitching.

Second, they made a few minor trades. In one, right-handed reliever Brad Brach was traded to Baltimore for minor league pitcher Devin Jones, who figures to start in AA. 

In another move, they traded OF Jaff Decker and reliever Miles Mikolas to Pittsburgh for 1B/OF Alex Dickerson. This move could have long-term implications: not only were Decker and Mikolas expendable, but Dickerson is a left-handed power hitter who batted .288 with 16 homers  at AA. Either a corner OF or first baseman, he could make an impact in the future. Keep an eye on him.

Third, last night they acquired Seth Smith from the Oakland A’s for Luke Gregerson. 

What to make of this? I am mildly disappointed. I don’t think this is a terrible move, as Gregerson’s role is just to work one inning per game. Neil Vincent should do just fine as the 8th inning set-up man. But while the Padres needed another left-handed bat, I’m underwhelmed by Smith. Yes, he has a career .279/.357/.487 (.844 OPS) against right-handed pitching. But the bulk of that action came with the Colorado Rockies, whom he played for 2007-2011 in their rarified air. During his last two seasons in Oakland, his stats came back down to earth, literally and figuratively. at .246/.331/.406. He will certainly see playing time in left field to cover Carlos Quentin’s inevitable prolonged absences, and he could platoon in right field with Chris Denorfia if Cameron Maybin’s injuries persist (with Venable switching to center, assuming he is not traded). But aside from that, he’s a decent left-handed bat off the bench, but not much more than that. 

So again, it’s an okay move. It’s not going to be a steal like last year’s Tyson Ross for Andy Perrino and Andrew Werner trade. Nor did Oakland GM Billy Beane exactly get his revenge for allowing that shameful (from his perspective) deal to go through. 

At this moment, the Padres front office has achieved most of their goals: they have acquired a starting pitcher, beefed up their minor league talent, and added a left-handed bat. All that is left is to add a left-handed reliever, which shouldn’t be too hard. They may or may not trade Chase Headley. But if they do, then they should add a promising young second baseman as part of the mix, so that Jedd Gyorko can move over to third base.

In sum, do these moves improve the Padres? Yes, in the case of Johnson, but only slightly so in the case of Smith.

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