Justin Upton Moves On, Signs with Tigers

We knew it was coming, but now that Justin Upton has signed a six-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, one of the boldest moves by A.J. Preller last year has proven to be largely a failure.

For one year of Upton, the Padres got 26 home runs, 81 RBI, a .790 OPS, and a nice 4.4 WAR—not bad, considering his batting average, OPS, and RBI were down compared to his regular numbers.

But why do I call it a failure? For two reasons. First, to get him, they traded away top pitching prospect Max Fried, outfield prospect Mallex Smith (who hit .307 with a .376 OBP and 57 stolen bases between AA and AAA last year), infielder Jace Peterson, and minor leaguer Dustin Peterson.

If Fried can overcome his Tommy John Surgery, if Smith continues on his current trajectory, and if Jace Peterson builds on his decent 2015 rookie season, then the Braves will have some very solid building blocks for their current rebuilding project: a potential frontline left-handed starting pitcher, a speedy leadoff center fielder, and a pretty good second baseman—the first two of which are major needs for the Padres.

And the Padres? What do they have to show for it? One year of Justin Upton and a compensatory draft pick this June.

Second, Preller’s clear intent in trading for one year of Upton was to win it all last year. The Padres didn’t even finish at .500, going 74-88.

What Now?

So the question is, what now? Where do the Padres go from here?

Answer: they rebuild. Prior to Upton’s departure, they had five of the first 100 picks in the June amateur draft. Now, they have six.

Oh yeah, they also need a left fielder; preferably one who hits left-handed, provides some balance to a righty-dominant lineup, and holds down the fort until prospect Hunter Renfroe is ready—likely in the second half of 2016. Since the front office is apparently trying to trade rookie Travis Jankowski and newcomer Jon Jay is being viewed as sharing time in center field with Melvin Upton, Jr., they will need someone else to pencil in at left field.

There are a few in-house options:

  • they could bring up Renfroe to start the season. This is a possibility, though highly unlikely unless he wows new manager Andy Green at spring training.
  • Rookie Alex Dickerson is another possibility. He bats left-handed, an obvious plus, although it’s hard to see if the Padres view him as an everyday player; he will be 26 in May. But he will probably get a shot. He hit .307/.374/.503 with 36 doubles and 12 home runs at AAA in 2015.
  • Rymer Liriano could get a second chance. While he was terrible during his extended 2014 audition, the talent is still there: he slashed .292/.383/.460 with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases at AAA, though he also had 132 strikeouts.
  • They could pick a free agent bounce-back candidate like Delmon Young, Matt Joyce, or Dominic Brown.

Which ever route they choose, one thing is certain: left field will not be the same without Justin Upton. He will be missed.

Ian Kennedy Signs with Royals

It’s official: Ian Kennedy is no longer a Padre. He just signed a five-year, $70 million deal to join the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals.

Short term, this is very bad news for the Padres, as they have lost a reliable (though not necessarily stellar) arm. Since they also have James Shields on the trading block, and he could be gone some time in 2016, this looks to be a long season.

Long term, this could be a good thing: they now have five of the top 100 picks in the upcoming June draft. Once Justin Upton signs somewhere else, that number will go up to six.

As I’ve been saying, this looks like a rebuild without actually calling it that; if it was, fans would be apoplectic. Their rotation for 2016 figures to be Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and some combination of Brandon Morrow (assuming he’s healthy), Robbie Erlin, Drew Pomeranz, and Brandon Maurer–the latter two might be better suited for the bullpen, but at least Maurer has been promised a shot at the starting five. They could also sign, say, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Aaron Harang, Mat Latos or some other free agent, or make a trade.

Bottom Line: With the loss of Kennedy, the starting rotation needs an upgrade; you can live with one of the in-house options in your starting rotation, but you can’t live with two, especially when Maurer is needed more in the bullpen.

Now, here’s the good news: starting with the return on the Craig Kimbrel trade, and now with a promising draft ahead in June, the Padres are well on their way to having a well-stocked farm system, and being contenders in 3-4 years.

That said, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Padres to Sign Fernando Rodney

Off and on, off and on.

That’s how the Padres’ off-season has been so far. After a quick flurry of trades earlier on when they sent Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Joaquin Benoit, and Craig Kimbrel packing, there was silence.

The team’s top questions, including who will play shortstop and who will be in the bullpen remained unanswered since the season ended nearly three months ago.

But as Padre fans have learned, there’s always something going on beneath the surface with A.J. Preller:

And today, it is being reported that they are close to signing Fernando Rodney, purportedly to be their closer.

Rodney, 39, has had an up-and-down career, mostly with the Detroit Tigers. In 700 career games, he is 37-55 with a 3.71 ERA, 685 strikeouts in 700.1 innings, 236 saves, and a 1.36 WHIP. His best season was 2012 with Tampa Bay, when he saved 48 games and sported a 0.60 ERA and 0.77 WHIP.

Last season, he split time between the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs. With Seattle, he posted a 5.68 ERA in 50.2 innings. However, Rodney finished well with the Cubs, surrendering only one earned run in 12 innings (14 outings).

Barring any last-minute changes, it looks like holdover Kevin Quackenbush (4.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 57 games) will be the seventh inning specialist, Villanueva will be the eighth inning go-to guy, with Rodney the favorite to close.

Since Rodney is inconsistent, we shall see how long this will last. I still think Quackenbush might be a potential closer, and so this will be a make-or-break year for him.

Another possibility is that Brandon Maurer flops in his audition to be a starter and is quickly returned to the bullpen, where he did very well last season (3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 51 innings).

Either way, the bullpen picture, which had been clouded by the trades of Benoit and Kimbrel, is getting clearer.

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In other news, the Padres have avoided arbitration with Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, and Derek Norris, signing them all to one-year contracts. They will earn $9.625 million, $7.15 million, $1.35 million, and $2.925 million, respectively.

Padres Sign Alexei Ramirez to One-Year Contract

The search is over.

The shortstop search, that is. The Padres have signed longtime Chicago White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez to a one-year contract.

Ramirez, 34, is a two-time Silver Slugger and one-time All-Star who will be the Padres starting shortstop. He brings with him a career .273/.310/.399 triple-slash. In six of his eight seasons, he has had double-digits in home runs, and he has reach double-digits in stolen bases in all but one if his seasons. Defensively, he has been considered solid, but not exactly flashy: over 20 errors only three times in eight seasons. Last July, he was rated the best defensive player of the month.

Last season, he had a career-low .249/.285/.357 slash, and his dWAR was 0.3. However, those numbers would have been lower if not for a solid second half of .277/.325/.432.

What This Means

Ramirez represents a modest upgrade over last year’s Alexi Amarista-Clint Barmes-Jedd Gyorko combination–by almost any standard, the Padres shortstops were the major’s worst performers at that key position in all Major League Baseball in 2015.

Much of the speculation this off-season was that the Padres would sign Ian Desmond, four years younger than Ramirez with better offensive numbers. But as I stated in a previous post, his risks are too great, and he would have commanded a higher salary and more guaranteed seasons, which you really don’t want to give to a player with 180-plus strikeouts in each of the last two seasons.

With this signing, A.J. Preller reveals what I have suspected for a while: he is rebuilding the Padres without using that dreaded “R” word. Think about it: next year’s starters at first and second base, Wil Myers and Cory Spangenburg, will both be 25. Catcher Derek Norris (unless he gets traded) will be 27, and he has 23-year-old Austin Hedges waiting in the wings. Yangervis Solarte, at third base, will be 29.

In the starting rotation, not only is James Shields on the trading block; it looks like they are not going to re-sign Ian Kennedy. Had they signed Desmond, the Padres would have surrendered their second-round draft pick, but they did not have to make that concession with Ramirez since Chicago did not give him a qualifying offer. Remember also that they will get another draft pick with Justin Upton signs elsewhere.

What does all of this mean? 

As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted in a January 8 tweet, if the Padres play their cards right, they will get six of the top 100 draft picks in the upcoming June draft.

Meanwhile, Ramirez will hold down the shortstop position until youngster Javier Guerra, a nineteen-year-old prodigy acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade, is ready to take over. Other possibilities are Jose Rondon and Ruddy Giron, also at least a few years away from being major-league ready.

So here’s the bottom line: 2016 is going to be a rough year. Things are going to get worse before they get better. But once those draft picks develop, the 2018-2019 Padres will be a force to be reckoned with.

But first, the rebuild.

Welcome aboard, Alexei.