Padres Offseason Outlook, Part 2

In what follows, I will analyze where the Padres are, position by position, as they head into the offseason.

Catcher: Derek Norris did not quite perform as expected last year. Known for being a good on-base guy (.345 and .361 OBP in the two previous seasons), Norris walked only 35 times and had a .305 OBP as a Padre. He hit 14 home runs with a .250 batting average.

Then again, he remained consistent in that he continued to bash left-handed pitching (.295/.351./459), while struggling against right-handers (.678 OPS). In a lineup that is already top-heavy with right-handed hitters, that is not a good thing.

It is worth noting, however, that Norris’ defensive metrics improved over previous seasons.

The other option is Austin Hedges. While he is ready for the big time defensively, he struggled as a hitter: just .168 with three home runs in 137 at-bats. Still only 23, he has tremendous upside. If he can develop into a .250-.260 hitter, the Padres would be happy.

But given the surplus at this position and their needs elsewhere, one of them will likely be traded.

First Base: For the fourth straight season, Yonder Alonso was the primary first baseman. But while his numbers were up (including a solid, team-leading .361 OPB), Alonso was once again hit by the injury bug; his 103 games were the most since his ’12 rookie season.

He also had a .381 Slugging Percentage—you typically expect more than this from your first baseman. Given that the Padres have power elsewhere, I would be happy with Alonso. But his inability to stay on the field makes me very nervous. It is time for the Padres to look elsewhere.

One option is to play Wil Myers here.

Second Base-Third Base: I am analyzing these two positions together because they were effectively manned by three players in 2015: Corey Spangenburg, Jedd Gyorko, and Yangervis Solarte.

Spangenburg was the primary second baseman after the All-Star break, except for a spell on the disabled list. Initially thought of as a super-utility player, new manager Andy Green might want to think of playing him more regularly: he’s young (25 next March), he bats left-handed on a team with too many righties, he’s fast, and from June on, he batted .295 with a .356 OBP. And based upon his ’15 stats, if he had played every day, Spangenburg likely would have had over 30 doubles, 8-10 tripes and home runs, and 18-20 stolen bases.

In other words, Spangenburg could be the leadoff hitter the Padres so desperately need.

Even if he doesn’t win a starting job, look to see the former first-round draft pick get 300-400 at-bats in 2016.

Gyorko came back from a very slow start (just .213 April-June) to hit 16 home runs—including five in August, and six in September. While he spent most of the second half at shortstop, few people see him as a long-term option there. As with Norris, Gyorko hits much better against lefties (.803 OBP) than righties (.654 OBP).

The West Virginian and his back-loaded contract ($4 million in 2016, $6 million in 2017, $9 million in 2018 and $13 million in 2019) could be traded. Or, if Green goes with Spangenburg at second, Gyorko could move to third base. Unless they go with…

Solarte, who had a solid if unspectacular season. After supplanting Will Middlebrooks, Solarte batted .270 with a .748 OPS. He also showed a little power, hitting 33 doubles and 14 home runs.

His numbers are slightly over replacement level, and he does provide some balance to the lineup as a switch-hitter.

More than likely, one of these three serviceable players will be traded to help fill in gaps elsewhere.

Shortstop: Without a doubt, this was the Padres weakest link in 2015. Primary starter Alexi Amarista batted a pitiful .204 (.544 OPS), and backup Clint Barmes wasn’t much better (.235 and .633). These two were so bad that then-interim manager Pat Murphy went with Gyorko the last few months, even though he clearly is not the long-term answer here.

If the Padres were to hypothetically make just one trade this offseason, it should be for a new shortstop.

Left Field: In what was likely last year’s biggest offseason gamble, general manager A.J. Preller acquired Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves. For one year of Upton’s services, Preller had to give up top prospect Max Fried, and minor leaguers Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, and Mallex Smith.

Preller was surely hoping that Upton would be a key piece in getting the Padres to the playoffs. It didn’t happen. Granted, his numbers were respectable (.251/.336/.454, .790 OPS, 26 home runs, 19 stolen bases, 81 RBI, 85 runs scored). But the Padres disappointed, they are out four prospects, and now Upton is gone via free agency.

Who plays left field in 2016? One option is Wil Myers, last year’s miscast starting center fielder. Myers would clearly be more comfortable here, and assuming that he can get past his wrist injury which cost him significant playing time, he could be a budding star here.

Other options include youngsters Alex Dickerson, 25, a left-handed bat who hit .307 with 36 doubles and 12 home runs and a .877 OPS in AAA El Paso. Or, the highly-touted Hunter Renfroe, 23, who hit 21 home runs between AA and AAA. A third home-grown option is Rymer Liriano. 25 next June, Liriano had a .843 OPS, but with just 14 home runs in a hitter-friendly league. He also struck out 132 times.

If one of these options doesn’t pan out, and if the Padres think Myers is a better fit at first base, Preller could try to land a left fielder in a trade.

Center Field: A.J. Preller’s final trade of the 2014-15 offseason, for closer Craig Kimbrel, came at a very steep price: the Atlanta Braves shrewdly insisted that Melvin (formerly B.J.) Upton, Jr. and his overpriced contract be included. So the Padres are now on the hook for his remaining two years and $29 million.

At first, it seemed that Upton would be just an overpriced fourth outfielder. But after missing the first two months due to injury, Upton quietly had a decent year. While he batted just .147 in 34 June at-bats, he recovered in July, hitting .265 the rest of the way, with an .800 OPS and .342 OBP after the All-Star break.

If Upton can continue to play like he did last year, he would still be overpaid, but such numbers would be quite respectable.

In the late months of the season, then-interim manager Pat Murphy platooned Upton with the speedy Travis Jankowski. While the Padres are hoping he will emerge into an everyday leadoff hitter (he hit .335 with a .413 OBP and 32 stolen bases between AA and AAA in ’15), most scouts see him as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner. In 90 big league at-bats, he batted .211 with a .245 OBP.

Right Field: Matt Kemp was the biggest acquisition made by Preller last year. In part, this was because Kemp was once a runner-up in the MVP voting, in 2011. Since then, however, Kemp has been hammered by injuries.

While he can still swing a potent bat, he is no longer the Gold Glove-caliber center fielder he was back then. Instead, he is relegated to right field (and DH when playing in AL parks), and is considered one of, if not the worst, fielding outfielders in professional baseball.

For the second year in a row, he had a mediocre first half (just one home run in April-May, and a .186 batting average and .437 OBP in May), but an outstanding second half (22 home runs from June-September, and a .868 OBP after the All-Star break. He also reached 100 RBI for the third time in his career.

Bottom line: the Padres got Matt Kemp for his offense. They are hoping that his arthritic hips hold up for four more seasons, where the Padres are required to pay him over $60 million.

Regardless of who the starting outfield winds up being, the Padres will already be better defensively than they were last year. Offensively, it depends on who their starting left fielder is; and if it’s Myers, whether or not his fragile wrist holds up.

Starting Pitching: Coming in to 2015, this looked to be a position of strength: their big three from 2014, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy were all returning. Plus, they took a chance on the oft-injured Brandon Morrow to a low-risk, high reward contract. And then, they signed workhorse James Shields to a four-year contract.

But what was seen as a strength was quickly revealed to be a disappointment. Morrow made just five starts, and then he was done for the year. While Cashner and Kennedy were healthy, both disappointed: Cashner went 6-16 with a disappointing 4.34/1.44/.279 slash, while Kennedy went 9-15 with a mediocre 4.28/1.30/.258 slash (although to be fair, his numbers were much better after the All-Star break).

After a so-so April, Ross settled down to have a good season. While not as strong as his 2014 campaign, he still had an above-average 3.26 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 196 innings. The Padres control him through 2017, and if he can cut down on his walks (84 last year), he could move up to become one of the National League’s best.

Shields was a mild disappointment. While he went 13-7 with 216 strikeouts, and reached 200 inning for the ninth consecutive season, he also sported an uncharacteristically high 3.91 ERA, and yielded 33 home runs—both rather high considering this was his first year in the NL, which is much more pitcher-friendly than the AL.

Odrisamer Despaigne was disappointing as a spot starter/reliever. In 34 games (18 starts), he had an unacceptable 5.80 ERA.

In six late season starts, rookie Colin Rea went 2-2 with a respectable 1.26 WHIP. Lefty Robbie Erlin also made three starts, and Tommy John recoverer Casey Kelly (of the Adrian Gonzalez trade) made two as well. Each of them could challenge for a rotation spot in 2016.

Kennedy will be a free agent, but if the Padres make him a qualifying offer, it is unlikely that another team would surrender a top draft pick for him. So his chances of returning are better than 50-50.

Any one of Shields, Cashner, or Ross could be traded, given the team’s needs elsewhere. Given this possibility, they may wish to pursue a free agent pitcher. While the likes of David Price, Jordan Zimmerman and Johnny Cueto could be out of their price range, there are other options. Among them: Doug Fister, Scott Kazmir, and former Padre Chris Young.

Relief Pitching: While still potent, the Padres’ 2015 bullpen was not as strong as it has been in recent years. This was in spite of many acquisitions, including All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, and right-handers Shawn Kelly and Brendan Maurer.

Along with veteran Joaquin Benoit, all had strong seasons (though Kimbrel and Kelly had disappointing starts). Even though this was his “worst” season, Kimbrel still saved 39 of his 43 opportunities, and struck out 87 in 59.1 innings. Benoit was lights out, sporting a 2.34/0.90/.159 slash.

Left-handed Marc Rzepczinski was the only acquisition made by Preller at the July 31 deadline, and he was terrible, with an inflated 7.36 ERA and a .309 BAA.

Kevin Quackenbush, Neil Vincent, Bud Norris, Marcus Mateo, and Jon Edwards also made appearances.

Kimbrel could be traded; an elite closer, he is very sought after by other clubs. In this case, Benoit, Maurer, or Quackenbush could become the new closer.

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