Padres 2015 Season Preview, Part Three

In the first part of my 2015 Padres season preview, I examined the positive signs: improved offense, signing James Shields, etc.

In part two, I looked at the warning signs: a potentially porous outfield defense, a right-handed heavy lineup, shortstop as a potential weak link, among others.

Today, we will look at the one word that will determine whether or not the Padres will make it to the playoffs and beyond: intangibles.

Nothing new here. Regardless of the season, this is always the case for the Padres. Though I’m in the minority, I still maintain that if all of the various intangibles had gone their way last season, they could have been in a position to make some noise.

Of course, that didn’t happen: nobody could have predicted that Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Will Venable, and everyone else for that matter would be batting below .200 so close to the All-Star break. Even worse, who would have thought that they would bat .140 as a team in the month of June, setting an ignominious major league record for the worst month-long team batting average ever.

That being said, the team is in a much better position this year than last year, thanks to new general manager A.J. Preller’s many blockbuster deals: in moving over a dozen of their best minor league prospects (and very little in terms of established major leaguers), the Padres acquired…

  • a brand-new starting outfield Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers;
  • catcher Derek Norris;
  • third baseman Will Middlebrooks;
  • veteran starting pitcher James Shields to buttress an already talented rotation featuring Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, as well as the newly acquired fifth starter, Brandon Morrow;
  • three new hard-throwing relievers, including top closer Craig Kimbrel.

Clearly, this is a much better team than the 2014 edition, especially offensively. However, as always, there is one word that will determine the extent of the Padres 2015 success: intangibles.

Of course, this year there is far greater margin for error than in past seasons. In 2014 and 2013, every intangible facing the Padres had to break their way for them to be truly competitive. This year, they only need most of them to go their way.

Following are the eight intangibles that will make-or-break the Padres 2015 season:

1. Can they finally get a full season out of Cashner? I have already written countless times about Cashner’s talent. But for all the potential that he has, he has yet to play a full major league season. One can hardly blame him for his 2012 season, in which he pitched a mere 46.1 innings (mostly in relief); he was just one year removed from rotator cuff surgery. In 2013, he pitched 175 innings (31 games, 26 starts), largely because of an offseason hunting accident.

But in what turned out to be one of my worst predictions ever, 2014 was supposed to be his big breakthrough season, where he was supposed to have joined the ranks of Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright as the league’s elite pitchers.

He didn’t.

Instead, he missed significant time with a sore shoulder. When he did pitch, he was very good, posting a triple-slash of 2.55/1.13/.235. Just imagine those numbers over a full season. Until Cashner can do this, he will remain under the category of prospecting-slowly-becoming-suspect.

2. Will Tyson Ross move into the upper echelon of baseball’s best starting pitchers? Ross is good, and he is on the threshold of being very good. Last year, he just missed fanning 200 batters and logging 200 innings. If he can do that this year, the Padres’ chances improve dramatically.

3. How will Kemp’s arthritic hips hold up? No one questions whether or not Kemp is a good hitter. The only question is, can he remain injury-free for an extended period of time?

Of course, the Padres plan to rest Kemp intermittently throughout the season, and DH him when they play in American League parks.

But will that be enough? While he didn’t break down last year, he did in the two previous seasons. And now, the Padres have him for the next five years, in part because…

4. Yasmani Grandal is now a Dodger. While general manager A.J. Preller acquired an established bat in Kemp, he may have traded a player on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Fox Sports recently documented Grandal’s offensive talent, which was generally masked by playing in cavernous Petco Park. It is potentially scary, now having Grandal as a potential intra-division rival for at least the next four years, especially given that he is a switch-hitter, and the Padres are right-handed heavy.

For all of Preller’s terrific offseason moves, could Grandal be the one they let get away?

5. Can their first, second, and third basemen revitalize their careers? This is a big one. If at least two of the three (Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, and Middlebrooks) can reach something even close to their potential after injury and slump-riddled 2014 seasons, the Padres will be far more likely to reach the postseason. If all three can, watch out! But if just one, or even none do so, it could be another long season.

6. Is the defense that bad? Apparently so; and this doesn’t just include the outfield, but also behind the plate. Like I mentioned in part two of my 2015 preview series, it may only be a matter of time before Myers is moved to first base, and Will Venable and the newly acquired Melvin Upton share time in center field. As for catcher, the Padres will miss Rene Rivera and Grandal, who was an excellent pitch-framer (in spite of other defensive liabilities). While the Padres offense is definitely improved, how much has it cost them defensively?

7. Are Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes enough at shortstop? You certainly can’t expect much from them in the way of offense. But while Amarista more than held his own in 71 starts at short last year (with just six errors), and while Barmes’ reputation as a defender is solid if not spectacular, both really are better suited as utility infielders. If they don’t make it, expect Preller to make another trade.

But this leads to the final intangible…

8. Do they have the chemistry? The 1997 Florida Marlins did. The 2012 Toronto Blue Jays didn’t.

What do those two teams have in common? Like the 2015 Padres, both clubs were vastly revamped from previous seasons. The former team won it all; the latter team belly-flopped.

Much will depend upon how well the newly acquired pieces play together. Having a solid manager in Bud Black will help, though, much as the legendary Jim Leyland guided the ’97 Marlins.

Bottom line: As David Golebiewski (see link, above) put it, “The new guys better plate lots of runs, because they sure won’t be preventing them.” Both are likely to be the case. But will they plate more than they yield?

Of all the intangibles, this is likely the most important for the 2015 Padres. But in my estimation, if at least five of the above eight break in the Padres’ favor, they will be in the post-season.

Final prediction: the 2015 Padres go 86-76, good enough for a wild-card. How they will do after that is anyone’s guess.

Play ball!

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