Down with football!
That’s true especially if you’re a San Diego fan. Much like Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the San Diego Chargers “will they or won’t they move to LA” saga of the last year has produced way too much drama for many native San Diegans.
And so, it’s time for baseball, and not a moment too soon.
As I do annually, I am going to unfold my three part preview of the San Diego Padres. Today, I am going to put forward what I see as reasons for optimism. In part two, I will set out the Padres’ potential weaknesses. And in part three, I will lay out my prediction for how they will do in 2016.
Reasons for Optimism
- Lower Expectations
Last year, the Padres were all hype, what with all of the major acquisitions that were made. This undoubtedly put pressure on the team to perform. Many of the players they acquired didn’t really fit into the Padres’ needs.
Like so many other teams that have tried to win overnight through huge makeovers, the 2015 Padres failed. This year, it’s back to basics, and not filling in the holes with square pegs. For instance, A.J. Preller realized that Alexi Amarista wasn’t going to hack it as an everyday shortstop, so he went out and acquired Alexei Ramirez, who has tons of experience there (more on him later).
Having lower expectations will very likely take the pressure off the Padres, and give them time to gel.
2. Four of the Acquired Pieces from the 2014-15 Offseason are back.
Let’s admit it: the 2015 Padres were a flop. No one would suggest otherwise. But what we often forget is that in last offseason’s bonanza, Preller did fetch some pretty good ballplayers who contributed, and stand ready to do so again in 2016.
First is James Shields. Yes, he regressed somewhat last season, giving up 36 home runs, but he also led the team with 216 strikeouts, and had his ninth consecutive season of 200-plus innings. Such consistency is hard to come by, and with an improved defense behind him, look for Shields to bounce back this year.
Second is Matt Kemp. Yes, his outfield defense is one of the best arguments ever for the National League to embrace the designated hitter rule. And yes, he was pretty terrible in the early months of 2015: just one home run in April-May. But for the second year in a row, Kemp went on a tear in the second half with a .868 OPS and 22 home runs from June-September. He also posted 100 RBI for the third time in his carerr.
Third is Derek Norris. A bona fide major league catcher, Norris was healthy, starting a league-high 131 games. He also hit a career high 14 home runs, and his defense noticeably improved. At 27 years of age, Norris is just now entering his prime years, and he only figures to get better.
Fourth is Wil Myers. In April-May, Myers showed what he is capable of by hitting .291 with five home runs. But a recurring wrist injury wrecked havoc on his season, and Myers wound up playing just 60 games. Still just 25, Myers’ mammoth potential remains, and he enters spring training with optimism. If he can stay healthy, Myers will be a major contributor in 2016 and beyond.
3. Shortstop will be in better hands than last year.
Last year, the Padres had the worst offensive and defensive output at shortstop. And, they started the year with Jedd Gyorko at second base, which was a bust (though he improved after coming back from a mid-season demotion).
This offseason, Preller stated that getting a legitimate everyday shortstop was the team’s top on-field priority. And so, he went out and signed Ramirez, an eight-year veteran of the Chicago White Sox who can provide steady defense. While he has a low career on-base percentage of .310 (and just .285 last year), Ramirez has reached double-digits in home runs in six of his eight seasons, and in stolen bases in all but one of those years.
At 34, he has lost a step defensively, but he is nonetheless an upgrade over Amarista.
4. The outfield defense will be much improved.
Of course, it couldn’t get much worse than having Justin Upton-Wil Myers-Matt Kemp from left to right. And, Kemp is still in right field.
But now that Myers has been relegated to first base, center field will likely be manned by some combination of Melvin Upton and Travis Jankowski, both of whom are solid defenders. Left field will probably be manned by Jon Jay (with an occasional appearance by Myers to get Brett Wallace some playing time in the infield). At some point in 2016, Hunter Renfroe, a power hitter who is known to have a strong throwing arm, figures to make his major league debut and spend most of his time in left field.
5. Tyson Ross
It’s hard to believe that Tyson Ross came to the Padres in a trade for Andy Perrino and Andrew Werner—two four-A ball players. Since this deal, he has been a solid mainstay for the Padres, and this year’s opening day starter.
Don’t be fooled by his 10-12 record from last year. The defense did him no favors, and he still needs to get his walks down. But he also had a career-high 212 strikeouts, and he was very solid after a rocky April, sporting a 3.26 ERA and a .237 BAA. He turns 29 in April, and appears poised to take his game to the next level.
It’s no wonder that of all the Padres, Ross has been the most targeted by other team’s general managers. It’s equally no wonder that Preller reportedly demanded the moon in return (i.e., some combination of top prospects and major league-ready talent).