The San Diego Padres face a busy offseason with some difficult decisions to make after a very disappointing year. They ended the season tied for the fifth-worst record in baseball at 71-91, and 23 games behind the National League Western Division Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. The Padres priority this off season will be offensive production from the corner outfield positions, bolstering the bench, relief pitching, a quality backup catcher and, possibly, a starting pitcher who can be an innings eater.
Jed Hoyer and the front office brass failed last year when they brought in players coming off down years in hopes they could rebound to their former selves. In particular, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu failed to balance out a lineup devoid of star slugger Adrian Gonzalez. They also acquired Jason Bartlett via trade and signed Orlando Hudson to shore up the middle infield. Both were very disappointing offensively and defensively. Hudson also missed significant time on the disabled list.
The Padres home record was atrocious at 35-46, which ranked 25th in home winning percentage. In contrast, their road record was 36-45 which ranked them tied with three other teams at 18th. PETCO Park is always going to hinder the offensive production of just about every player that plays half his games in its spacious confines and bizarre atmospheric conditions. I believe they learned a lot in 2010 when they attempted to make a push for the playoffs by acquiring the power-hitting Ryan Ludwick. That move backfired as well. I believe they hoped his exceptional average home run distance (which was actually farther than Gonzalez’), along with his tendency to pull home runs to left field, would bode well at home. It seemed to me that Ludwick hit too many fly balls in general, and was psyched out by PETCO Park.
This is an ongoing theme the front office is trying to rectify. For now, the front office is standing pat on the spacious dimensions in PETCO Park and will continue looking for specific players who fit the home-field mold. Now that they are better familiarized with the type of players who could be successful in PETCO Park, I believe they will look even harder this offseason to find those players who could “play PETCO Park into an advantage.” I am a skeptic of their philosophy, and I’m not sure they will ever gain any kind of advantage. The front office has discussed modifying the fences; however, it looks as if they will try anything they can to justify leaving them where they are for two reasons: escape admitting they were wrong and avoid spending money.
This brings me to what kind of player profiles well in PETCO Park. The Padres are on the lookout for speedy, defensive-first, line-drive contact hitters who can utilize those strengths in an attempt to better the Padres pathetic record at home. The Padres continue to preach their focus on pitching, defense and run prevention. While I do agree pitching is crucial and defense should be a huge factor when constructing the roster, I would say the opposite is more important. PETCO neutralizes pitching and puts a premium on hitting, so I believe the emphasis should be put on offensive production. The Padres will never have a problem luring free agent pitchers like Aaron Harang; although, it’s going to be nearly impossible to sign significant bats through free agency and extend our position players long term. This is why I believe the Padres should emphasize offensive production through trades for immediate help and through the draft for the future.
Jed Hoyer made a move last year to bring in Cameron Maybin, who is the type of player that fits the front office’s philosophy. While I can’t praise Maybin enough for his defense in CF this year, he only hit .231/.294/.324 at home. I’m not surprised by Maybin’s drastic home and road splits, or disappointed in Maybin in any way, as I think he was the most impressive Padre in 2011. I don’t think we can expect Hoyer to strike lightning in a bottle twice and acquire another player of Maybin’s caliber again this off season for right field, but I wouldn’t say it’s inconceivable either. The Padres internal outfield options could be the answer; however, that brings up more questions than it answers. Let’s look at the potential roster for 2012:
CL Heath Bell
SU Luke Gregerson (1st time arbitration eligible)
SU Anthony Bass
RP Joe Thatcher (first time arbitration eligible)
RP Josh Spence
RP Ernesto Frieri
RP Jeff Fulchino (first time arbitration eligible/non-tender cadidate)
I’m not convinced Bell is going to accept arbitration. I realize he’s said he would and has publically expressed a strong desire to return at discount, but I believe it could just be posturing. I won’t be shocked if he declines arbitration because this might be his last chance at a big multi-year contract. In that case, the Padres would have a lot more payroll flexibility to add a bat along with the other aforementioned needs. I would like to see them bring in at least one quality reliever via free agency and one with closing experience if Bell doesn’t return. I would go after a reliever like Chad Qualls, who’s looking to rebound from a down or injury-riddled year. In fact, I wouldn’t mind Qualls back for less than his option on a one-year deal. Jonathan Broxton comes to mind if he’s healthy; however, he’s reportedly looking for an incentive-laden contract which is something the Padres new front office no longer considers. I would also like to see Brad Brach given a chance to earn a spot in spring training.
The Padres may throw Guzman out there every day and see what he can do. He was one of the better hitters in the National League after the All-Star break. His bat is ideal for PETCO, but his glove is well below par anywhere on a baseball diamond. He can get by at first, but that doesn’t exactly scream run prevention to me, nor fit management’s philosophy all the way around. Barring a trade, he will probably play first base and get some time in left field.
They also have the prized piece of the Gonzalez trade in top prospect Rizzo. He dominated in triple-A, but developed some mechanical issues just before he made his debut. The Padres clearly prefer Rizzo at first base. He is the future, but there isn’t any reason to rush him. Given his age (22), and the fact that he missed time because of health issues, he could still use time to work out the kinks. The last thing they should do is platoon him, which I believe would hamper his development. Prospects need to play every day to develop properly. Just ask Maybin.
I’m not sure what the Padres can do about Hudson or Bartlett other than hope they do better and stay healthy. They might be inclined to deal one or both if a team would take them and absorb most of their contracts. I think Everth Cabrera and Logan Forsythe could give similar production at a fraction of the cost. I also question Hudson’s desire, which could be why he’s bounced around so often.
I could go either way on Headley. With little offense, I can’t see them trading one of their best hitters, but it might be the best time to deal him. If teams are offering a solid prospect or a head-and-shoulders upgrade, they may pull the trigger. I would trade him and throw top third base/outfield prospect James Darnell or the versatile Forsythe into the fire. I believe Headley will be gone by the deadline.
I think Hundley is a quality starting catcher when he’s on the field. I’m not sure what they can do to keep him on the field, but I would definitely look for a quality backup catcher. Luis Martinez looked solid upon promotion; although, he’s another very young and inexperienced player. I think they should add a veteran to the mix because of Hundley’s injury history and the importance of the position.
LF Kyle Blanks
CF Cameron Maybin
Barring a significant trade, Blanks should get an opportunity to play every day in left field. He could also play some first base and DH during interleague games to give his massive body a rest from the outfield.
I would like to see the Padres acquire a legitimate right fielder; although, the free-agent market is very thin. I can’t imagine too many hitters being attracted to the idea of playing half their games in PETCO accompanied by the question of whether or not the Padres are close to contention. While I believe a player such as David DeJesus is a possibility, I think gambling for a player like Grady Sizemore is more appealing. Sizemore is probably not going to have his pricey option exercised by the Indians after coming off knee surgery, even though he should be ready by spring training. I also believe a move to right field would be good for Sizemore’s legs, opposed to roaming center field. When healthy, he’s a legitimate star.
There are some attractive prospects out there who are intriguing, but are probably unrealistic. The Padres are not trading the farm for a Domonic Brown, Jason Heyward or any one player, and their respective teams aren’t ready to give up on them despite their struggles this year. Anthony Gose of the Blue Jays seems to fit the Padres philosophy, but scouts question whether or not he has enough bat for center field let alone a corner. Brett Jackson of the Cubs is an interesting prospect loaded with tools. Josh Reddick, whom the front office should be very familiar with, would be a nice fit, but he may be in the Red Sox’ plans. The player I would love to see, personally, is Peter Bourjos. He would profile better than many of these prospects because he is a right handed hitter with speed and some pop. His defense would be amazing in right field alongside Maybin, and it’s ideal to have two center fielders roaming PETCO’s cavernous outfield.
The Padres also have a few internal options. James Darnell was a possibility for next year as an outfield candidate; however, dislocating his shoulder and having surgery sets him back. Because of this injury, Darnell will miss the development he was expected to receive this year in the Arizona Fall League. Other internal options include Aaron Cunningham, Blake Tekotte and Jaff Decker. All of who are not ideal solutions. Based on the opportunities Cunningham has received since we acquired him, the Padres don’t seem very high on him as a starter. Tekotte had a solid year as a whole, but some view him as a fourth outfielder. Decker had a somewhat disappointing year and is still at least a year away.
OF Will Venable (first time arbitration eligible)
OF Chris Denorfia (second time arbitration eligible)
C Rob Johnson (first time arbitration eligible/non-tender candidate)
INF Alberto Gonzalez (second time arbitration eligible/non-tender candidate)
It’s very possible the Padres keep both Venable and Denorfia as backups. You may be able to get similar production out of Cunningham and part ways with Denorfia to save money. There isn’t really a reason to get rid of Denorfia, unless other teams are asking or management needs to save money for other acquisitions. We may see a Venable/Denorfia platoon if we can’t add a legitimate right fielder. There has been a lot of trade talk surrounding Seth Smith, and I could see Jeremy Hermida (third time arbitration eligible/non-tender candidate) back, but only as a left handed bat option off the bench.
I do like what I’ve seen from Martinez at catcher, and wouldn’t mind him as the backup. Ideally, I’d love to add a veteran like Ryan Doumit who is extremely versatile. He can catch, play first base, right field and he’s a switch hitter. I think you could find plenty of at-bats for him between those three positions, and he’d be a valuable bat off the bench.
I like Gonzalez as a backup middle infielder. He’s been great defensively and he’s had a knack for driving in runs. They could also turn to a cheaper option like Andy Parrino and get similar production. They could even use both Parrino and Gonzalez for the bench.
The rotation seems obvious to me. There has been talk of bringing Harang back, but they will probably decline the option, offer arbitration and hope he declines for the compensation pick (Type B). The Padres still have Wade LeBlanc as a sixth starter and guys like Simon Castro, Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, Robert Erlin and Juan Oramas pushing. Anthony Bass, who did very well spot starting and coming out of the bullpen, is another option. He should be in the mix next year and is currently seasoning in the Arizona Fall League. The Padres still view him as a starter, but his time in the bullpen has benefited him much like it benefited Stauffer and Luebke. If he doesn’t make the rotation, he’ll be a valuable piece of the bullpen, once again. This strategy can also limit a young pitcher’s workload and the transition to the big leagues a little easier. With our pitching depth, I wouldn’t waste any money on starting pitching.
It’s difficult to predict how successful the Padres will be in 2012. As of now, their offense is relying on a bevy of young, inexperienced players which leaves a lot of uncertainty. This is why a significant offensive upgrade should be the top priority. As always, their pitching will keep them in games and PETCO Park will keep games close. Let’s hope it’s not just another season down the drain.