Last time, I discussed the reasons for optimism for the Padres as they head into the 2016 season. To recap, they are:
- no overhyped expectations
- four of their 2014-15 offseason acquisitions who contributed (Kemp, Norris, Shields, and Myers) are back
- an upgrade at shortstop in Alexei Ramirez
- the outfield defense will be much improved
- Tyson Ross, a potential star, will be anchoring the starting rotation
Today, we come to the other side: reasons for concern. And for the 2016 Padres, there are plenty.
But before we get there, we must address the white elephant in the room: why are there so many concerns?
Answer: the Padres are rebuilding, even if they’re not actually calling it that. During the offseason, they traded away their most potent chip in Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for four prospects, including center fielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra—both of whom should be in the majors by 2018 (though Margot could be up by the end of this year). And through the exodus of players like Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton, they accumulated six of the first 84 picks in the upcoming amateur draft in June.
General manager A.J. Preller also avoided surrendering any draft picks by signing Alexei Ramirez over Ian Desmond to play shortstop; the latter would have cost them a pick, while the former will not.
Preller has also been noted for his savvy at spotting international talent, and so the Padres figure to go deep later this year in the international draft. So the good news is, they will be a very exciting team to watch starting around 2018-19 when all of this young talent arrives in the big leagues.
But first, they have to play through 2016. And as they do, they must deal with the following concerns.
1. How do you replace the production of Justin Upton?
Even though 2015 was something of a down season for Upton (.251 BA, 159 strikeouts), he was still a solid run producer for the Padres (26 home runs, 81 RBI, .454 Slugging, .790 OPS). In this current pitcher’s era, those aren’t numbers you can just replace without spending mega-millions.
And so, with the light-hitting Jon Jay likely being the primary left fielder, and with no major free agent signing, it looks like Upton’s absence is going to leave a gaping hole in the lineup.
2. Can Wil Myers play a full season?
The Kemp trade might have been the most attention-grabbing trade of the last offseason, but the Myers trade was easily the most important. In Myers, Preller acquired a still-very young and talented bat who came at great cost; most notably their first-round draft pick of 2014 Trea Turner, and top pitching prospect Joe Ross (younger brother of Tyson).
But after a decent start, Myers re-injured his wrist (which also affected his 2014 sophomore season in Tampa), and played in just 60 games.
This year will be his fourth big league season, so it is remarkable that he is still just 25. The Padres are praying that he will turn it around so that he can help to make up for the loss of Upton. A full season of Myers should produce a .270-.280 average, 20-25 home runs, an .800 OPS, and maybe even more that that.
But a third season of missing large chunks of games will be painful. At worst, this trade could be the sequel of Nolan Ryan-for-Jim Fregosi (i.e., one of the worst trades in baseball history).
3. How solid is the infield?
Three-fourths of the starting infield will be different from opening day 2016. Yangervis Solarte played a reliable if unspectacular third base (.748 OPS, 33 doubles, 14 home runs); basically, he is the second-coming of Maicer Izturis. As the Padres rebuild, he will suffice for 2016, and perhaps even 2017.
But for the rest of the infield, they have a talented but oft-injured first baseman in Myers, an unproven second baseman in Cory Spangenburg, and an aging shortstop in Alexei Ramirez.
Should Myers miss lots of playing time, new manager Andy Green can rely upon Brett Wallace (.302/.374/.521 with five home runs in 95 at-bats) to fill in. But prior to 2015, Wallace proved problematic at the major league level, which is why the Houston Astros gave up on him.
At second, former first round draft pick Spangenburg gets his opportunity to show that he can play everyday. From June-September, he hit .295 with a .354 OBP as the primary starting second baseman, he hits left-handed, and he has speed. Most scouts project him as a utility player, but in 2016, the 25-year-old gets the chance to show that he can do more. If not, Jose Pirela, formerly of the Yankees, will get a chance to play.
Ramirez figures to be an upgrade over Alexi Amarista at shortstop; the only question is, how much of an upgrade? In 2015, Amarista slashed a horrid .205/.257/.287, while Ramirez slashed .249/.285/.357—and that was after a horrible April-May stretch. Fangraphs ranked him 20th among major league shortstops, and gave him a -0.5 WAR.
Ramirez has lost a step as well, as his DWar was 0.4, which ranked him 14th among starting shortstops.
It’s clear that Ramirez is a stopgap until prospect Guerra, acquired in the Kimbrel trade, is ready by late 2017 at the earliest.
4. Who plays in left and center?
Only Matt Kemp is returning from the 2015 starting outfield, which is generally good (regarding his offense), but also very bad (his defense).
But who will play in left and center?
Myers moves to first base with the departure of Yonder Alonso, though Green has indicated that Myers will make an occasional appearance in left field to give Brett Wallace some playing time. Moving Myers out of center was needed, since he was badly miscast in that role.
In his place, Green figures to use some combination of Melvin Upton, Jr. and Travis Jankowski. Upton was included in the April 2015 trade of Kimbrel from Atlanta, as the Braves could not get rid of his bad contract (5 years, $70 million) fast enough.
But with the Padres, Upton, 31, quietly had a decent year. While he will never be the star he was projected to be while with Tampa, he still hit .259/.327/.429 in 205 at-bats, including five home runs and nine stolen bases. While those aren’t flashy numbers, they beat his .198/.279/.314 that he slashed in two years in Atlanta.
Look for Upton to get at least 250 at-bats—more if he can find some of the old Tampa magic. However, most scouts see him regressing to his Atlanta numbers.
Sharing center field will be Travis Jankowski. He was stellar in AA and AAA last year, batting .335 with a .413 OBP and 32 stolen bases. After getting called up in August, he slashed .211/.245/.344, albeit in limited playing time.
While he bulked up in the off-season, he profiles as a singles hitter who can steal bases. Most scouts see him as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner. But as with Spangenburg, Jankowski will be given an opportunity to prove his critics wrong.
What the Padres are really pining for in center is the quick development of Manuel Margot, the centerpiece of the Kimbrel deal. In 2015, he split time between A and AA. In 64 games at AA, he slashed .271/.326/.419. Look for him to begin 2016 at the Padres’ AA affiliate, and advance to AAA some time in mid-season. A late-season call-up is unlikely, but not out of the question. The more realistic scenario is that he will be ready for full time big league duty in July or August of 2017.
As for left field, Jon Jay figures to be the primary starter. He bats left-handed, and has a career slash of .287/.354/.384 with good on-base skills, but little power or speed. He batted just .210 in an injury-plagued 2015 campaign.
Barring a trade, three others will likely get the chance to prove themselves in left field.
First is Jabari Blash, 26, acquired in the Rule V draft. In 116 games between AA and AAA, Blash slashed .271/.370/.576 with 123 strikeouts and 32 home runs. So he has great power potential.
Fangraphs had this to say about him: “Blash may not be the next Paul Goldschmidt, but that’s not to say he can’t be a productive big leaguer. After all, he’s already proven he’s an excellent minor leaguer; and many of the best minor leaguers also find success at the game’s highest level.”
But at 26, he should have arrived by now. And it is possible that he is a 4-A player, or the next Dave Kingman.
Next is Alex Dickerson, who turns 26 in May. He slashed .307/.374/.503 at AAA with 36 doubles, nine triples, and 14 home runs. The Pacific Coast League, however, is notoriously hitter-friendly, and it’s hard to see how those numbers translate to solid big league production. Even still, Dickerson may be given a chance to see what he can do.
Last and most intriguing is Hunter Renfroe. Now 24, Renfroe spent most of 2015 at AA San Antonio, then got called up to AAA El Paso where he hit six home runs in 90 at-bats. Collectively, he hit 20 home runs in 133 games (511 at-bats), but he also struck out 132 times.
The Padres will probably keep him at AAA until at least August to let him develop.
All of which means that left field, as with center field, are not going to see much run production in 2016. But this is what it means to rebuild: you get worse before you get better.
5. How do you replace Ian Kennedy?
From initial appearances, Ian Kennedy did not have a good 2015, and the Kansas City Royals overpaid for his services this off-season (five years, $70 million).
But a closer look reveals more: a fly-ball pitcher, Kennedy clearly suffered from the Padres porous outfield defense, and so figures to benefit from Kansas City’s air-tight outfield trio. It’s also worth noting that after a slow start, Kennedy posted 2.63 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP from June-August.
And, he rarely gets injured. Such commodities are hard to come by in major league baseball. But while the Royals likely overpaid, and while they will get a high draft pick as compensation, losing Kennedy will hurt the 2016 Padres.
At the top of the rotation, they will have Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner. All of them figure to be anywhere from serviceable to great.
But after those three, what? Unless a trade is made, you can choose between the oft-injured Brandon Morrow, unproven lefty starters Drew Pomeranz and Robbie Erlin, and rookie Colin Rea.
Bottom line: It would be one thing if Green had to choose from among that group to fill just one starting slot. But with Kennedy’s departure, he has to fill two.
6. Who is in the much-weakened bullpen?
For the last decade, one of the Padres strengths has always been a good bullpen. 2015 was no exception, as it was headed by the rock-solid Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit. But when 2015 didn’t pan out, and since those two were among Preller’s best trading chips, both were dealt away for prospects.
So, where does that leave the bullpen in 2016? That was one of the questions Preller needed to answer this offseason. He signed some free agents in Fernando Rodney and Carlos Villanueva, and more recently the left-hander Matt Thornton.
Rodney is a gamble. He turns 39 later this month, and he can either be very good (48 saves, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 2012 with Tampa), but more likely very bad (from 2007-2011, his ERA was always over 4.00, and his WHIP always above 1.30).
Villanueva, 32, figures to be the seventh or eighth inning go-to guy. In 61 innings with St. Louis, he sported a 2.95/1.16/.223 slash.
Also in the mix are Kevin Quackenbush, Jon Edwards, Drew Pomeranz, and Leonel Campos. Look for Quackenbush or Edwards to get shots at closing if Rodney falters.
Since they needed to restructure after the disastrous 2015 season, Preller had to deal Kimbrel and Benoit—unnecessary luxuries for a team on the mend. While he did the right thing by trading them away, that doesn’t mean that the Padres won’t feel their absence.
They certainly will.
2014-2015 was the offseason Padre fans had been waiting for, but had often wondered would ever happen again. In unloading a number of prospects, they revamped their once-sorry outfield, put a 2014 All-Star behind home plate, and added a 26-year-old third baseman with tremendous (albeit untapped) upside.
But while a number of solid prospects were traded, general manager A.J. Preller accomplished all of these moves without having to move the following: their top three starting pitchers Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy, and their top three prospects Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges, and Hunter Renfroe.
However, there is a potentially huge down-side: they traded away many of their top-name prospects. And while it’s great that they have a surging new offense, some might wonder just how necessary some of these deals were.
Let’s take a look at each of these deals, and where that leaves the Padres now:
If memory serves, this is the first trade the Padres have made with the Dodgers since 2006, when they traded a declining Greg Maddux to LA mid-season.
Only this time, they were on the receiving end of talent. In receiving former All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp, the Padres surrendered catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland, and a prospect.
Only Grandal figures to start for the Dodgers next year, and while he has tremendous upside, he has yet to prove himself as a consistent performer at the big league level.
Wieland, 24, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery. In August 2014, he pitched in the majors for the first time in over two years.
San Diego also received backup catcher Tim Federowicz in the deal.
Kemp, 30, slashed .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs, 38 doubles and 89 RBI. He figures to play in right field, and hit either third or fourth in the batting order.
The only concerns here stem from Kemp’s health: in 2012-13, he missed significant playing time, and his defensive prowess isn’t what it once was. He will probably have to be spelled at least once every 8-10 games, and be removed late in games for defensive purposes.
Also, there were concerns about his being difficult in the clubhouse. Even still, this move boosts the Padres offense considerably, which is why the deal was made.
And as an added bonus, Kemp is going to be pumped whenever he trades his former team, which happens to be in the same division. Los Angeles could live to regret this team for a very long time.
This was likely the most surprising move, as not too many people even realized that Myers might be available from Tampa Bay.
But to the Padres’ benefit, he was.
It says a lot that as he was climbing his way through the Kansas City Royals farm system, he was touted as possibly the next George Brett–that’s quite a compliment. In 2012, his final full season in the minors, he smashed 37 home runs with 109 RBI, with a .987 OPS at the age of 21.
Before the 2013 season, he was the centerpiece of a trade for starter James Shields, a move that surprised many in the industry, given Myers’ immense talent. That year, he vindicated Tampa Bay’s confidence in him when, after being called up in June, he went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Myers had a difficult sophomore season, that was shortened by injuries. Even still, there is little question that the talent remains.
Still just 24, the Padres had to surrender some of their more talented prospects in starter Joe Ross and 2014 first round pick Trey Turner, as well as catcher Rene Rivera. This talented young hitter is now Padre property, controllable through the 2019 season.
He will probably play in center field for them, with the possibility of being the leadoff hitter.
Still, there are concerns:
- His defense will be a downgrade from the light-hitting Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.
- His skill-set is not typically what you would consider in a leadoff hitter. This might put unneeded pressure on him.
- Consider that for all of his talent, you have to wonder why, at the age of 24, he has already been traded twice. This is mere speculation at this point, but could it be that he has attitude problems which make him a difficult teammate?
- Turner and Ross are very talented, and losing them to Washington (the third partner in this 3-team swap) could end up haunting them down the road.
Time will tell if the Padres made the right move. A lot will depend upon whether Myers can tap his amazing potential, and not make fans rue the day they traded Turner and Ross.
On the one hand, this may be the best trade the Padres made. On the other hand, it could be the worst.
It could be the best because of all the three outfield acquisitions, he is both the healthiest and most established. At age 27, he has already hit 164 career home runs, hitting 20 four different times, with a solid career slash of .274/.354/.476, and two Silver Slugger awards.
So then, why might it be the worst trade? Because he could just be a one-year rental: after 2015, Upton becomes a free agent. If he plays true to form, Upton will get a lot of money next offseason from a big-market club. Sure, the Padres can make a run at him, but given that most big hitters would prefer not to play half their games at Petco Park, I wouldn’t bet on it.
In exchange for Upton, the Atlanta Braves received left-handed pitching prospect Max Fried, who missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, AAA infielder Jace Peterson, and lower level prospects Mallex Smith and Dustin Peterson. This is a pretty talented bunch to surrender for one year of Justin Upton.
If it had been me (and yes, I know it wasn’t), I don’t know that I would have made this trade. I would have preferred that they kept Seth Smith, a left-handed bat who is cheaper, who was signed to a two-year extension, and handles his bat very well.
Of course, the prospects sent to Atlanta could fizzle (returning from rotator cuff surgery is hard so Fried could be out for a while, and Jace Peterson was not impressive in a mid-season call-up), and Upton could have a career year and lead San Diego to their first World Series championship. There are so many intangibles on this trade, but given what they gave up, my grade for Preller is…
Grade: B- (A in the short term, C- in the long term).
Like the Myers trade, this was something of a surprise. Since Norris is not known for his defensive skills, Preller obviously only had one thing in mind when he acquired him: offense.
Norris made the All-Star team for the first time last year, hitting 10 home runs to go with a .270/.361/.403 slash. But when you look a little deeper, there is reason for concern:
- Most of the damage he did was against lefties (.863 OPS, vs. .699 against righties).
- He slumped badly in the second half (8 home runs, .879 OPS in the first half, vs. 2 and .638 in the second half).
Also, the Padres surrendered some very solid pitching prospects for him: Jesse Hahn, 25, who went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for the Padres, and reliever R.J. Alvarez, who flashed a 1.13 ERA in ten late-season appearances.
But since the Padres are stocked pitching-wise (again, they still have their top three starters, closer Joaquin Benoit, up-and-comer Kevin Quackenbush and others), Preller obviously figured the trade was worth it.
And don’t forget, as the former longtime assistant G.M. of the Texas Rangers, Preller got to see plenty of Norris when they played against the A’s, and so has an inkling of what he is capable of doing as he matures. He’s still just 26, and figures to only get better offensively.
This trade will either be remembered as either a huge steal or largely insignificant. Hence, it was worth the risk of trading away career backup catcher Ryan Hanigan.
A star in the minor leagues, Middlebrooks had a promising rookie season in 2012. He hit 15 home runs with 54 RBI, a .288 batting average, and .835 OPS in 75 games.
Since then, he has struggled mightily. In his sophomore campaign, he regressed to .227 with just a .271 OBP. Last year, he batted only .191 in 63 games.
At 26, what will Middlebrooks do? Will he continue his downward trend? Or, will he find his untapped potential in the lower pressure environment of San Diego?
Either way, this deal was worthwhile, given (a) the small price, and (b) the fact that Yongervis Solarte is waiting in the wings, should Middlebrooks fail.
On the whole, this is a vastly improved Padres baseball team. For the first time in nearly a decade, this team is relevant in terms of high expectations.
Yes, they are heavily right-handed, but first baseman Yonder Alonso’s health is improving. With the added hefty bats, the pressure on him to perform is diminished, and if he can remain injury-free, he can provide the left-handed extra base power the team was always hoping for.
Also, Alexi Amarista figures to see the bulk of the starts at shortstop (barring another trade), and Will Venable will get in some spot starts as the fourth outfielder.
It is true, however, that another dependable left-handed bat would bring some needed balance.
Yes, the outfield defense will take a hit. But if you want to contend, you need offense, an area where the Padres were sorely lacking.
No longer will manager Bud Black be depending upon Venable and Maybin to provide production that they simply are not capable of providing; now, their most likely role will be in providing late inning defense, spot starts, and/or pinch running, which they’re best suited for anyway.
All told, the 2015 San Diego Padres will be a contender. Yes, some of these moves are risky. But all trades are. Yes, they have depleted their farm system.
But don’t forget that a prospect merely means that a player has potential. They don’t always work out.
Remember the names of the two prospects the Padres sent to Chicago to obtain Carlos Quentin (keeping in mind how good he was then)? Neither do I.
Remember the four prospects the Padres acquired for Jake Peavy? There’s Clayton Richard who was mediocre at best, and…who?
Remember the three prospects the Padres got for Adrian Gonzalez just four years ago? Only one of them, Casey Kelly, is still on their roster, and he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Remember the package the Padres procured from the Reds for pitcher Mat Latos? Three years later, only one of them, Alonso, is still on the team, and unless there is substantial improvement, he may be hanging by a thread.
Lesson: Unless his name is Ken Griffey Jr. or Chipper Jones (i.e., can’t miss), prospects are for trading. With a good scouting system, the farm clubs will replentish themselves in almost no time at all. Preller knows this. He cashed them in, and now, the San Diego Padres are a team to be reckoned with.
This was a foregone conclusion, given how the Padres have overhauled their outfield this offseason. I’m sorry to see him go; I was hoping that perhaps the team could train him to play first base, or else move Matt Kemp there, and so keep Smith’s left-handed bat in the lineup.
You can read the story here.
Update (Wed. Dec. 31, 11:50 AM/CST): Jeff Sanders of the Union-Tribune on why trading Smith makes financial sense for the Padres.
December 11, 2014 is going to go down as one of the most memorable days in Padre history.
Bucking a trend that has gone on for a number of years, they acquired a big-name, high-priced impact player in Matt Kemp.
Any Padre fan knows that this is huge. Just four-to-five years ago, they traded away two of the best ball players in their history in Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy. This was very disheartening to fans, and it communicated the message that then-owner John Moores was not at all interested in winning.
And last offseason, when fans were pining for a big bat to add some much-needed offense, the best that then-GM Josh Byrnes could come up with was Seth Smith–not a bad player to be sure, but certainly not the impact bat that many were hoping for.
All of that has now changed. With the addition of Kemp, the Padres have added a marquee player via a rare trade with their intra-division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Why It’s a Good Deal
On the whole, this is a very good trade for the Padres. They have received a solid hitter who as recently as 2011 finished second in the NL MVP vote (and for those who don’t remember, it was a close, controversial vote–many believed he should have won it). After missing large chunks of playing time in 2012-13, Kemp rebounded nicely in 2014, slashing .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI (and an eye-popping .971 OPS in the second half).
Kemp is also 30 years old, and is locked into a contract for the next five years at $107 million. But on that, the news is still good for the Padres: as part of the deal, the Dodgers agreed to contribute $32 million to help pay for Kemp’s large contract.
Lastly, it’s a good deal because of what Padres GM A.J. Preller didn’t have to give up: he didn’t have to trade away his best bargaining chips in one of his three solid starting pitchers Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, or Ian Kennedy.
He also gave away just one established major leaguer in Yasmani Grandal, whose Padre tenure was colored by a 50-game PED suspension and a serious knee injury in July 2013. Grandal batted just .225 last year, though that seems to be in part due to his earlier-than-expected return from his injury.
San Diego also gave up 25-year-old Joe Wieland, who had missed nearly two years of baseball due to Tommy John surgery. Wieland figured to compete with three or four others for one of two starting spots in 2015, so his loss is not immediately felt.
They also gave up prospect Zach Eflin, whom the Dodgers apparently want to send to Philadelphia to complete their trade for Jimmy Rollins.
An additional plus: adding Kemp to their outfield takes some of the pressure off of minor league youngsters Rymer Liriano (who struggled mightily in a late season call-up) and Hunter Renfroe. There is not as much of a rush now for them to hurry up and get to the big leagues; both can take their time to hone their skills a little more at AAA.
So to sum up: the Padres got All-Star slugger Matt Kemp for a talented but injury-prone hitter and two minor league pitchers who have yet to establish themselves at the big league level.
A final note: if the tweets are to be believed, the Dodgers wanted top prospect Matt Wisler to be included in the deal, but Preller said no. Kudos to him for that.
Some Legitimate Concerns
You’ll notice I said in the opening sentence that today will be remembered as “one of the most memorable days in Padre history.” Not the greatest…at least not yet. For now, just the most memorable. That’s because it takes a few years to determine whether or not a trade was worth it. This one will be no exception.
There are at least three reasons for concern.
First is Kemp’s health. Sure, he played in 150 games last year. But in 2012-13, he missed over 170 games, when he was aged 27-28 (he turned 30 in September). Suffice to say, if Kemp’s ’14 season had likewise been injury-plagued, there would have been no way the Padres would have been interested in him. So Kemp’s health is a cause for concern. This is why manager Bud Black will routinely have to give him a day off.
Second is Kemp’s defense. Just three years ago, he was a Gold Glove center fielder. But in the last few years, his range has slipped somewhat, which means he is now best suited as a corner outfielder. He’ll never be the Gold Glover he once was, but surely his bat will more than make up for that.
Third is Grandal. Despite his problems, I like him. He’s young (26), a catcher, has a great batting eye, and is controllable for four more years. Yes, he’s only one player, but given these dynamics, that’s a lot to for a small market team like the Padres to give up.
He also has great hitting ability, despite his lackluster .225 average in ’14. Scouts believe that his ’13 injury affected his play last year, and Dennis Lin recently wrote in the Union-Tribune that of all the players in baseball, Grandal is among the most poised to have a breakout season in 2015. So losing him is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if he continues to develop as a hitter.
All In All…
In spite of all this, trading for Matt Kemp was the right thing to do. It sends the right signal to fans at the right time:
It screams, “We want to win!”
Yes, he’s a lot of money, but again, the big-buck Dodgers will be paying nearly 30% of his salary.
Yes, they surrendered the talented Grandal, and yes, I would have preferred that they have given up Rene Rivera or top prospect Austin Hedges. But someone of Kemp’s stature is always going to come at a price. And to repeat, he was the only established major leaguer the Padres had to give up.
Yes, injuries are a concern. But that’s why Kemp will get rested more, and he’ll see some games at DH when they’re in an AL ballpark.
Yes, his defense is a concern. But the Padres knew that; they’re not getting him for his glove, but for his bat.
And yes, Matt Kemp by himself cannot save the Padres. But no one has ever said that he could! Indeed, Preller was always clear about his plans to add at least one more big bat–hopefully a proven first or third baseman.
So yes, December 11, 2014 will be a day that’s remembered for a long time in Padre-land. But five years from now, will it be remembered fondly, or with disgust? Only time will tell; that’s how trades are.
But I believe it’s going to be remembered as one of the best days in Padre history, for the reasons mentioned above.
June 23, 2014
A note to my readers: I realize it has been some time since I contributed here. After a prolonged work search, I recently moved a long distance (from Florida to North Dakota), and have been getting adjusted to my new calling up here. But all is well and good.
And now, for the big news: The Padres have fired Josh Byrnes. The baseball commentariat is atwitter, with Jon Heyman suggesting it was a bad move. His reasoning? Byrnes is a “good baseball man,” and that nobody should be surprised that the Padres are this bad (see the full article here).
Granted, Byrnes did make some good moves: he got Tyson Ross for two 4-A players and outfielder Seth Smith (thus far the team’s MVP) from the A’s for reliever Luke Gregerson.
But he also made a number of costly moves that have set the team back:
- He extended sophomore second baseman Jedd Gyorko for five years; Gyorko has batted a pitiful .162 this year.
- In 2012, Byrnes extended Carlos Quentin through 2015, guaranteeing him $26 million. Quentin has missed over 40% of his team’s games since then, and this year, he is batting .192.
- He put $8 million on Josh Johnson. While this was a low-risk/high reward deal, it is clear that the Padre’s biggest need coming into 2014 was for a premium bat. Aside from Smith, this is basically the same team that entered this season with consecutive 76-86 seasons.
But Byrnes’ biggest faux pas was the risky trade he made shortly after he became general manager: he traded up-and-coming starter Mat Latos to Cincinnati for four players, two of whom are no longer with the team. The other two, catcher Yasmani Grandal and first baseman Yonder Alonso, have played terribly this year: Grandal has batted .191 with a .281 OBP, and so lost the starting job to Rene Rivera, and Alonso just went on the disabled list after batting .210 in 229 at-bats. Even though Latos missed the first two months of the season, this deal is looking to be a steal for the Reds.
Coming into the season, the Padres had an outside chance of contending; assuming that their solid pitching remained solid (it generally has), and that their average hitters hit at their normal levels. They have not; in fact, the team has collectively batted .215 with a .275 OBP. That is pitiful.
Bottom line: a “good baseball guy” doesn’t put that kind of team on the field. Period.
Going forward, the Padres do have some intriguing options. One is to bring back former GM Kevin Towers. Towers was in San Diego 1995-2009, which included four playoff appearances and one World Series. He currently serves in the same capacity for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that team recently named Tony LaRussa its president, with the intent that he will clean house. Another option is Omar Minaya, who already works for the Padres and was previously general manager for the New York Mets (2005-2010).
At the end of the day, a move needed to be made. The Padres are 32-43, and as those who are paying attention know, they should have been better than this. Yes, their payroll as last in the division, but management increased it over 20% this offseason from 2013, when they finished 76-86. So surely they should be playing better than they are now.
And yes, injuries have hurt them. But this excuse is only going to go so far when the team batting average is .215.
It’s difficult to blame manager Bud Black; he was dealt a bad hand of players to begin with, and the one responsible for dealing him that bad hand was Josh Byrnes.
You’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
Just three years ago, he was an up-and-coming left-handed starter coming off his first full major league season. In his rookie season, 2011, he pitched 139.2 innings (17 starts in 46 appearances) with 154 strikeouts, and a 3.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and .209 BAA. He was 26 years old, and had nowhere to go but up.
In 2012, Luebke was named the number two starter in an otherwise lackluster rotation. Through five starts, he was 3-1 with a 2.61/1.16/.233 line. Should he have kept those numbers consistent, there is little doubt that he would have made the All-Star team, and been a centerpiece which the Padres could have built around.
But then, it all came to a screeching halt. It was revealed that he was going to need elbow reconstruction (i.e., Tommy John) surgery. Given that 12-18 months are needed for a full recovery, this meant that Luebke was done for 2012, but would have a decent chance of returning in the middle of 2013. And if you know anything about the San Diego rotation last year, you know they could have used him.
It didn’t happen. Three times, the Padres had to shut him down because his arm didn’t feel just right.
At any rate, the expectation for 2014 was that he would be a candidate for the rotation; or at the very least, he would fill a similar roll that he did in ’11: long relief with a chance to start whenever a member of the rotation went on the Disabled List.
But as fans know, it wasn’t to be: earlier this week, it was made known that Luebke is again going to have to go under the knife for the same surgery. This means that he might be ready for the 2015 season, when he will be turning 30 years old.
So it bears repeating: you’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
What This Means for the Padres
This news means that the Padres are once again going to be without a pitcher who has tremendous potential. No matter how much pitching a team has, losing a player like this is painful.
What remains unchanged, however, is that the rotation is stronger than it was a year ago. Andrew Cashner (who is also a a Tommy John recoverer) made tremendous strides last year, and figures to be the ace. Rounding out the rotation will likely be free agent signee Josh Johnson, Tyson Ross (who pitched far better than his 3-8 record indicates), Ian Kennedy (just three years removed from a 21-game-win season), and lefty Eric Stults.
Luebke’s absence does not change any of that. What it does do, however, is give those under him a clearer path to the big leagues should any of the starting five break down, and Cashner and Johnson do have injury histories. Those who are now in line to jump in in such a scenario include Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, who, while inconsistent, showed flashes of brilliance in stints with the Padres; youngsters Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach and Matt Wisler; and Tommy John recoveries Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly.
On the whole, the Padres are still a much better team than they were last year. If they catch a few breaks, they may challenge for the wild card. But now, they will have to do it without Corey Luebke, a piece they had been counting on.
Logan Forsythe is no longer a Padre.
Along with four others, the infielder was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for left-handed reliever Alex Torres and minor league hurler Jesse Hahn.
I’ll get to Torres and Hahn in a moment. But first, let’s talk about Forsythe. In 2012, he looked like he had arrived: in 315 at-bats, he batted a .273/.343./.390 split, with an OPS of .733, and eight stolen bases. And this was after he missed the first two months of the season with a foot injury.
It looked like he was on the way. In spring training 2013, he was projected to possibly be a “super utility” player, getting substantial time at second base by giving rookie Jedd Gyorko an occasional breather, doing the same for third baseman Chase Headley, make spot starts in the corner outfield spots, and possibly challenge Everth Cabrera to be the starting shortstop.
But then, three things happened: first, Forsythe developed plantar fasciitis, a major foot ailment which kept him out until June. Second, Cabrera took such full advantage of Forsythe’s absence, he outright won the everyday shortstop job by playing exceptional offense and defense.
When he was finally able to play, Forsythe did begin with a bang: in his first at-bat of the season, he hit a home run, temporarily making fans forget about Gyorko, who ironically enough went on the disabled list that same day.
After that first at-bat, though, the third thing happened: Forsythe’s bat went south: .214/.281/.332 with a .613 OBP in 220 at-bats.
While Forsythe did show some versatility, his lack of hitting made him expendable. With their recent acquisition of Ryan Jackson, the Padres now had three potential utility infielders, with Alexi Amarista still being in the picture. So one of them had to go, and that one was Forsythe.
In return, the Friars acquired the left-handed reliever they were seeking in Torres. He was impressive last year, throwing 58 innings in 39 games with 62 strikeouts and a miniscule 1.71 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Opponents batted just .159 against him, including .171 against left-handed batters.
While Hahn has talent, he is 24, has a history of injuries, and has not pitched above single-A ball. So perhaps the Padres will find they have a diamond in the rough with him. But with Hahn and the earlier addition of Joaquin Benoit, the Padres’ bullpen is now set, looking stronger even than last year’s stellar core of relievers.
All in all, this is a good trade for both teams, especially if Forsythe can break free of his history of injuries. I had high hopes for him as a Padre, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him good.
A footnote: Among those traded to Tampa Bay was Bruce Boxberger, he of the infamous Mat Latos trade. Since the Padres released Edison Volquez last summer, they now have only two players left to show for that swap: first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.