The rebuilding, if you want to call it that, has begun.
Last week, Padres general manager A.J. Preller surprised the baseball world yet again when he hired Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Andy Green to be their next manager. As per his usual, Preller went against conventional wisdom—many likely assumed that he would go with Ron Gardenhire, the former Minnesota Twins manager who led that team to six division crowns in 11 seasons. He has experience, is well respected, and knows how to win in a small market.
So, you would think he would be Preller’s choice to manage the Padres, right?
Nope. Instead, Preller took the less safe, unconventional route by hiring Green.
And it’s on this note that the Padres’ 2015-16 offseason begins: on pretty much the same note as it did last year.
Fans will recall that the 2014-15 offseason was anything but safe:
- they revamped their entire outfield, acquiring Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp;
- acquired catcher Derek Norris;
- traded for top closer Craig Kimbrel, and relievers Brendan Maurer and Shawn Kelley;
- traded for third baseman Will Middlebrooks;
- signed free agent starting pitcher James Shields, 32, to a four-year contract.
In doing so, they traded the future for the present, sending catcher Yasmani Grandal, outfielder Seth Smith, top prospects Joe Ross and Trea Turner, and other minor league talents like Jace Peterson and Mallex Smith packing.
The result: 74-88, a three-game deficit from 2014, Upton is likely gone, and former manager Bud Black was fired after going 32-33.
What is perhaps the biggest takeaway from the 2015 season? It is this—should Preller choose to learn it: when you are making moves, you must do it strategically.
In other words, there must be a plan to put a winning team together. The Padres needed to improve their offense from 2014. Everybody knew that. But in retrospect, there didn’t seem to be any method to Preller’s moves going in to 2015.
For instance, most teams would love to have Upton, Myers, Kemp, and Norris (Middlebrooks not so much). But all four? Put together, you have a lineup top-heavy with right-handed bats; their starting lineup in April featured only Yonder Alonso and Alexi Amarista from the left side, neither of whom inspires fear in opposing pitchers.
Meanwhile, Seth Smith, the left-handed bat whom Preller traded to Seattle, posted a .801 OPS against righties. Surely they would have loved to have him back.
The big offseason also produced the worst-defensive outfield in baseball, which doubtlessly gave their pitchers the jitters (Andrew Cashner had his worst season, Ian Kennedy was mediocre, and James Shields regressed).
There was one intangible which they probably could not have foreseen: the much-touted Myers, still only 24, missed a lot of playing time due to a bad wrist. His acquisition is potentially Preller’s best off-season move as he is loaded with talent. But if it continues to be a problem, this could be a move the Padres will regret for a very long time.
Where To Go From Here?
Here is the bottom line: if the Padres are going to improve upon their 74 wins in 2015, Preller has to trade much smarter than he did last year. You don’t just acquire a bunch of bats, stick them anywhere in the lineup, and expect to win—I mean, starting Myers in center field, playing next to Kemp, the worst outfielder in baseball? Really?
And, Preller’s going to have to do it with fewer pieces, since Turner, Ross, Matt Wisler, and other top prospects are now playing for other teams.
With that in mind, here are the Padres top needs:
First base. Since his since 2012 rookie season, Alonso failed to do two key things: stay healthy, and provide power. He has played in just 97, 84, and 103 games in the last three years, and he has not come close to the 39 doubles he hit in 2012. He is simply not dependable. One option is to play Myers here.
Shortstop. The Padres now know that Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes are not the answer here. Of course, that’s what most people were saying prior to 2015. Since there are no viable options in the minors, and because no one believes that Jedd Gyorko is the long-term answer, here, the Padres starting shortstop will likely be acquired through a trade. Options include the Cubs’ Starlin Castor or Javier Baez, the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar, or the Brewers’ Jean Segura. While none of these options is all that inspirational, they would nonetheless be an upgrade over Amarista-Barmes-Gyorko.
Left field. There is very little chance the Padres will re-sign Upton, which leaves this vital position open. Should the Padres go with Alonso (or someone else) at first, Myers could play here. Prospect Hunter Renfroe likely will not be ready to start the season here.
Starting pitching. Any of the following could be lost this offseason: Shields, Tyson Ross, Cashner (via trade), or Kennedy (via free agency). While Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin, Casey Kelly, and even reliever Brandon Maurer could challenge, it would be unwise to trust more than one from this group to be in your starting rotation. With that in mind, signing a free agent like Scott Kazmir would make a lot of sense.
Relief pitching. Kimbrel could be traded (see below), Shawn Kelly could leave as a free agent, Kevin Quackenbush regressed, and while Joaquin Benoit continued to impress (0.90 WHIP and .159 BAA in 67 games), he does turn 39 next summer. So there are questions to be answered here.
And, here are the top trading pieces:
Derek Norris or Austin Hedges. Take your pick: either the solid bat (in spite of a sub-par ’15 season) or the young rookie with strong defensive upside will likely be dealt. This is one position where the Padres are very strong.
Craig Kimbrel. Of all the 2014-15 moves Preller made, I liked this one the least. The Padres could have easily gone with Benoit as the closer last year, and this trade added a bundle to their payroll (since there Braves insisted that the overpriced Melvin Upton, Jr., be included). Surely another team will gladly take this All-Star closer; even though he had an off-year, the former Brave converted 39 of 43 save opportunities, and struck out 87 in 59.1 innings.
One of the following:
James Shields. He was the biggest free agent signing last year. At 33, his results were mixed: while he pitched 200-plus innings for the ninth consecutive season, went 13-7, and struck out 216 batters, he gave up a whopping 33 home runs, had a 3.91 ERA, and a 1.33 WHIP, even though he pitched half of his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
And oh, yeah: he has three more years left on a heavily backloaded contract. So if the Padres trade him, they will have to eat some of his salary.
Tyson Ross. Surely they don’t want to trade him. Even though he regressed a little from 2014, he still went 10-12 with 213 strikeouts in 196 innings, while compiling a 3.26 ERA. Ross has the biggest upside of all the starters, and he is controllable through the 2017 season. So it makes little sense to trade him.
On the other hand, moving him could yield a bountiful crop of talent that would plug the Padres’ needs elsewhere.
Andrew Cashner. The good news: the talent is still there, and Cashner started a career-high 31 games. The bad news: he regressed badly, going 6-16 with a 4.34/1.44/.279 slash. If the Padres trade Cashner, they are probably going to have to sell low.
So the Padres do have the pieces to trade to fill most of their holes. But will Preller be wiser than he was last offseason? This is where the hiring of Green over Gardenhire leaves fans feeling restless: he picked a man who has never managed a day in the big leagues over a proven winner, and seemed to be a perfect fit for San Diego.
Granted, Preller may see something in Green that others do not; after all, he did manage in the minors for four seasons, and had winning records. But on the surface, it leaves one wondering whether Preller has learned the right lessons—in this case, that sometimes, the conventional (i.e., safe) choice might be the best one.
Next, in part 2: a position-by-position analysis. In part 3, I will grade Preller’s previous trades, and see how they affected the Padres.