If the Padres did as well with the rest of their team as they have historically done with their pen…

One Trick Pony
by Hugh Rothman
The San Diego Padres have not done many things very well over the years, which is one reason why they have a grand total of zero championships. They don’t have a long history of great starting pitchers, like the Dodgers, or historic outfielders, like the Yankees. They don’t even have a legacy of futility, like the Chicago Cubs. Instead, the Padres have been generally just plain bad, but not historically bad. They’ve just been bad and forgettable.
However, there is one particular aspect of the game that the Padres have been surprisingly adept at throughout their history: The bullpen. In their history, The Padres have had two players who fully represented the Padres during their careers and either are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, or will be shortly. One of those players of course is Tony Gwynn; he is the greatest Padre player ever and second place isn’t close. The other player was one of the greatest closers of all time: Trevor Hoffman.
Hoffman accumulated over 600 saves, most of them for the Padres and only one other reliever has more saves than him (Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time). Hoffman had many fine years and was incredibly consistent but, he wasn’t the only notable reliever in the Padres history. Hall-of-Famers Rollie Fingers and Rich Gossage both were closers for the Padres at some point during their careers. Mark Davis won a Cy Young award while closing for the team in 1989. Other notable relievers include Lance McCullers, Mike Adams, Cla Meredith, Heath Bell, Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, and Scott Linebrink, all of whom enjoyed their very best years toeing the rubber in the late innings for the Friar Faithful.
Again, the Padres have not done many things well over the years, but… historically, they have enjoyed consistent success from their bullpen. At this time, the bullpen remains the ONLY piece of the game that the team has managed to excel at. Over the last 15 years or so, much of this credit must go to their pitching coach Darren Balsley, but the Padre managers over that time, Bruce Bochy and Bud Black, may also share in the credit too. Both of those managers, with Balsley’s help, showed great acumen in developing a bullpen and retooling that bullpen year after year.
And even with new manager Andy Green, 2016 has been more of the same on this front. The year began with the venerable Fernando Rodney as their closer. Rodney, who is now 39 years old, was signed as a one year free agent stopgap and future trading piece. The previous years of 2014 and 2015 were hardly banner years for Rodney, but Balsley did his usual tinkering and voila! Rodney was a perfect 17 for 17 in save opportunities with a 0.87 WHIP (walks plus hits over innings pitched) and a ridiculously microscopic ERA of 0.31. The result was a third All-Star Team appearance for Rodney, as well as a long line of suitors for his services. The Miami Marlins were the ones who offered the most, a pretty good minor league pitcher that the Padres coveted, and poof, Rodney was gone, and so was the magic bullpen fairy dust: Rodney has a 6.30 ERA in Miami. Probably not a coincidence: The Padres are just really good at this bullpen thing!
With Rodney summarily jettisoned, the closer role fell to youngster Brandon Maurer, who had been acquired from the Seattle Mariners a year earlier. Maurer had been a starter for Seattle, with poor results mostly due to his inability to control his pitches effectively. The Padres put an end to that experiment and dispatched him to the bullpen, where he has had far greater success. This year, Maurer has looked dynamite at times, but his wobbly moments have put a crimp in his overall numbers. Currently, Maurer has a 4.50 ERA, which is subpar for a reliever, but he does have more strikeouts than innings pitched, and his WHIP is a steady 1.25. The bugaboo for Maurer has been the 7 homers he has given up. If he can get that down to a reasonable level, Maurer will add mightily to his career total of 10 saves. There is tremendous potential here, since Maurer is only 25 years old, has a 95+ mph fastball, and has good ol’ Darren Balsley to help him through any struggles. Expect Maurer to be the Padres closer for the next few years.
Unless  that closer is Ryan Buchter, of course. Huh? Who is that? Don’t worry… no one could have been expected to know who this guy was. Before 2016, Ryan Buchter’s major league career consisted of one inning pitched for the Atlanta Braves in 2014. His most notable achievement is that he could throw with his left hand. However, as of today, Buchter now has 60 innings to his credit and with 74 strikeouts, only 4 homers allowed, and a 1.03 WHIP to go along with his 3.00 ERA, Buchter is at this moment the Padres best reliever (now that Rodney has departed). Credit the Padres for spinning straw into gold with Buchter, and this guy ain’t no Rumplestiltskin (he’s 6’4’’ 250 lbs). He’s also 29 years old so credit is due to Buchter for not giving up on his dreams, and the Padres are grateful. He will be an important piece of the bullpen puzzle for several years to come.
Bullpen graybeard Kevin Quackenbush is now the senior member of the Padres relief corp (in time served with the big club). “Quack” was once considered possibly, sort of, the closer of the future for the Padres, but he never had the big time stuff needed to fill the role. Now 27 years old, Quackenbush comfortably fills a low leverage relief role. Someone has to pitch in that role and Quackenbush fits the bill (ugh, sorry). His numbers won’t move dramatically one way or the other from this point on. Expect an ERA in the high 3.00s, with too many homers allowed to ever make the team comfortable, but generally solid and unassuming stats for several more years, until he gets too expensive. At which point, the team will move on to the next Quackenbush, whoever that may be.
Yet another shrewd bullpen move made by the Padres was to acquire lefty reliever Brad Hand for pretty much nothing. Hand was, like many successful relievers, an unsuccessful starter – in Hand’s case, for the Miami Marlins. However, as a reliever, Hand has turned in a career year for the Friars. In his 74 innings for the club, Hand has 98 strikeouts, which is terrific, as is his 2.99 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. If Hand, like most of the relief corp for the team, can limit his homers allowed rate, he could go from very good to dominant in a big hurry. Hand is only 26 years old and has just as much promise as Buchter and Maurer. If the Padres decided to make Hand the closer, the team wouldn’t miss a beat.
There are other relievers toiling for this team: Carlos Villanueva for one, but the less said of him, the better. He won’t be around in 2017 to worry about anyway. Jose Dominguez is 25 years old but his stuff is not very scintillating, as shown by his pitiful strikeout rate. Perhaps the only other pitcher in the bullpen worth mentioning is star-crossed Brandon Morrow, whose nickname could simply be “ouch”. Tiffany lamps have more durability than Morrow as a starter. The Padres finally (and wisely) decided to convert Morrow to a reliever, which should help him with his durability issues. If Morrow can hold up, he could become a dynamite reliever. His stuff is off-the-charts dominating. He’s always been a really good pitcher, when he can pitch, which hasn’t been very often. Sticking him in the pen might be the best way for a team to get value from this guy, and as long as you don’t put any undue stress on his arm, or any part of his body, or breathe on him too heavily, Morrow could really deliver. He is still only 31 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to contribute.
So what do the Padres have in the bullpen for the future? Maurer is nominally the closer and shouldn’t embarrass himself in the role, but Buchter and Hand are quite possibly better relievers than Maurer. Morrow could be the best of all of them, if nothing goes “sproing”, and Quackenbush is solid, dependable, mediocre, but cheap. In fact, all of these guys are really cheap and will be for a few more years. If any of them break down or lose their effectiveness, the Padres have shown the ability to find good or even excellent relievers from the trash heaps of discarded players from other teams. The Padres immediate future isn’t particularly rosy at the moment, but their bullpen looks as solid as ever. It’s the one thing they do really, really well.

Can the Padres starting rotation rebound from a disappointing 2015 or will A.J. Preller need to find new employment?

The 2016 Padres Starting Pitchers –  The Big 3 have a 4th
By Hugh Rothman
Petco Park, the Padres current shiny home field opened in 2004. The place was a jewel, especially when compared to their previous home park, Qualcomm Stadium, which was previously the only home the organization had ever known. Qualcomm Stadium was a football stadium which graced the Padres with a shoehorned baseball diamond for home games. The sight lines were not designed for baseball and thus were quite substandard. The view was nonexistent which was beneficial, since the only thing to see beyond the stadium was the massive parking lot, which surrounded the stadium on all sides. The place had all the charm of Ted Cruz. Petco Park however, was a revelation! Tall downtown buildings glistened beyond the outfield fences. The old Western Metal Supply building had been left intact and was incorporated into left field, which was just one of the many charming aspects of the new ballpark. Stunning views of the bay and the Coronado Bridge were commonplace throughout the many nooks and crannies of the gorgeous structure.
Petco Park also has another cool feature: It is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of baseball history. No other ballpark in baseball history, whether modern or olden times has suppressed offense as much as Petco Park. The park dimensions are not overly huge like in the old Astrodome, nor is the foul ball area massive, like in Oakland Alameda coliseum. There are no wind-tunnel effects keeping the ball in the ballpark, like there are sometimes in Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing in. What makes Petco Park unique is the heavy, salty air that has the effect of turning deep fly balls into long outs. Phil Nevin can attest to this, which he famously did, glaring at then General Manager Kevin Towers when one of Nevin’s many long fly balls hit in his home park landed in the glove of a waiting outfielder rather than over the fence.
So, over the years, since the Padres have moved into their new digs, the team’s hitting has always looked rather anemic, while the pitching has generally appeared solid. Fly ball pitchers especially love pitching at Petco Park since many more of those fly balls stay in the park for outs, rather than over the fence for homers. In general, Padre hitters appear less valuable, while their pitchers appear more valuable than they are in reality.
2014: Looking Good
The 2014 exacerbated this viewpoint more than ever. The hitters had a historically awful season, but the pitching staff contributed championship-level caliber performances. Petco Park depressed offense by 10% overall that season, so this dichotomy was even more pronounced. However, pure numbers are still numbers and the Padre pitchers gave up just 577 runs in 2014. That is an excellent result; it was 2nd in the league and would have been enough to propel the Padres to a championship if their hitting had been just ok. Tyson Ross in particular had an excellent season, pitching 195 innings with an ERA of 2.81, winning 13 games. Andrew Cashner also pitched well when healthy, contributing 123 innings of 2.55 ERA performance. These are ace-worthy pitching efforts, from not just one but two of the team’s starting pitchers. But there was more: Ian Kennedy led the team with 201 innings and the innings were of decent quality, resulting in a 3.63 ERA. Jesse Hahn and Odrisamer Despaigne also chipped in some solid work, keeping their ERAs in the 3.00s. Even Eric Stults, a Jamie Moyer wannabe, wasn’t terrible and was third on the team with 176 innings.
When A.J. Preller came to town, the pitching staff looked pretty decent. Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner were still around, and when Preller managed to land James “Big Game” Shields to the mix, things looked very promising indeed for 2015. Alas, the 2015 pitching staff surrendered 731 runs, a full 154 runs more than the team had surrendered in 2014. This development more than offset the improvement the team made in the offense in 2015, resulting in an even worse record for the team in 2015 than in 2014.
So… what in the hell happened???
2015: Homers, Homers, Homers
Well, one thing to note is that the configuration of Petco Park itself changed in 2015. A new section sponsored by one of San Diego’s ubiquitous microbrew companies was added behind the right field wall which meant that the right field fence was moved in by about 10 feet. The left field wall was also moved in, but not as much as right field had been. These changes made Petco Park not quite as much of a pitcher’s park as it had been. The park reduced offense by about 8% in 2015 rather than the 10% it had in previous seasons.
In conjunction with the park changes, the individual pitchers had very different years than they had in 2014. Take Tyson Ross for example. Actually… just kidding! Tyson Ross’s 2015 was very similar to his 2014. His ERA was slightly higher at 3.26, but the innings pitched was nearly identical, and Ross surrendered only 9 homers in 2015. Ross at this point was clearly the ace of the staff.
How about James “Big Game” Shields? Ah… here is where things start to unravel. Shields, coming off a solid year with Kansas City, picked 2015 to give up a career high 81 walks and a league leading 33 homers. Um, guess what? That’s not a good combination for success. Shields did (and still does) provide amazing durability (he has pitched over 200 innings for 9 straight years) and in 2015 pitched like a super-durable inning eating 3rd starter. Unfortunately, he is getting paid like an ace. One would expect better numbers in Petco Park from Shields even with the changed park configuration, considering he is an extreme fly ball pitcher. Nevertheless, Shields does help a team, considering he pitches about 1/7 of a team’s innings every season, and most of the time, those innings aren’t disastrous. But, Shields’ homerific ways didn’t help the team as much as expected.
Next up: Andrew Cashner. Cashner was acquired from the Chicago Cubs for Anthony Rizzo, who has gone on to become a big star. Cashner has certainly had his moments of brilliance, especially in 2014, but he is more high maintenance than your standard hot college girlfriend. There is always some ouchie, or whatever, causing Cashner to spend inordinate amounts of time on the disabled list. His 2014 was great, when he pitched, which was about 3/5 of the season. In 2015, Cashner pitched a career high 184 innings. That’s the good news. The bad news: Those innings weren’t so great. Cashner was way too hittable, giving up 200 hits in those innings, as well as 66 walks. That resulted in a career high hits-given-up rate and walks-given-up rate. Cashner did keep the homers in check, giving up just 19 of them. The result was a rather mediocre 4th starter season when the Padres were hoping for some ace quality work.
Ian Kennedy was also disappointing. The reason for his downfall was easy to figure out: in 2014, Kennedy gave up 16 homers. In 2015, he gave up 31. All of his other numbers were about the same. Alas, those homers really hurt Kennedy’s season. His ERA jumped over half a run.
And finally: Odrisamer Despaigne. This is where disaster really struck. Despaigne went from being a very useful fifth starter to becoming a dumpster fire. To be fair, Despaigne wasn’t expected to pitch as much as he did because china doll Brandon Morrow was expected to be the team’s 5th starter. And Morrow started off great in his first 5 starts. Then, like usual, something in Morrow’s body went sproing and that was that. Morrow never did return in 2015 (how shocking!). So poor Odrisamer Despaigne was thrown into the breach. The result: His homers-given-up rate doubled, his hits-given-up rate increased by 50%, and his ERA paid the price, increasing by over 2 full runs. Despaigne is a junkball pitcher of the first order. In 2014, he was able to fool most of the people, most of the time. In 2015, the jig was up; he was fooling hardly anybody. The Padres had a huge hole at 5th starter all season and were unable to fill it with Despaigne or the likes of Robbie Erlin or Casey Kelly.
So, Tyson Ross held serve, but Kennedy, Cashner, and Despaigne all regressed and Shields had one of his poorest years also. Some of this was due to bad outfield defense (I’m talking about you Matt Kemp). Some of it was due to Petco Park being a bit more hitter friendly. However, most of it was likely due to the random vagaries of pitchers in general. The homers given up is especially alarming. Not even better outfield defense can fix that problem.
So, what about 2016?
2016: Come Back Soon Tyson Ross
Ian Kennedy was let go and Odrisamer Despaigne was kindly asked to depart as well. The Big Three, Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner are still around. New additions include Colin Rea from the minors and Drew Pomeranz via a trade. Cesar Vargas from the minors is also available to help fill in the gaps. Robbie Erlin was supposed to be that guy, but his injury history didn’t inspire much confidence that he could survive the season, and as expected, Erlin is now unavailable for awhile.
Right away, Erlin, and then Vargas were needed because disaster struck: Tyson Ross, started one game, pitched terribly, and has been on the disabled list ever since. Ross is the ace of the staff, and he has been quite reliable in the past, so this is an unlucky break and very tough for a team to overcome.
James Shields has had a pretty good start. Once again, he is on pace to top 200 innings and he has reduced the number of homers given up. Shields is looking like a solid #2 starter right now. The big surprise is who the functional ace has been so far: Drew Pomeranz! Pomeranz was a first round pick many years ago and has bounced around a bit, previously pitching for Colorado and Oakland. Yet, he is only 27 years old and of course, pitching in Coors Field as a rookie is a nearly impossible assignment for any pitcher. Pomeranz is probably breathing much easier seeing the environs of Petco Park around him, and realizing, hey, this is *not* Coors Field, woo hoo! It would not be a surprise if the improvement from Pomeranz is real. This was a great pick up by Preller, possibly the best move he’s made since he was hired. The one concern is that right now, Pomeranz actually leads the league in fewest hits given up (per nine innings). There is probably some luck involved with Pomeranz’s miniscule hit rate, but even with some correction, Pomeranz will likely contribute solid work for the Padres this season.
Andrew Cashner once again has spent some time on the disabled list this season, and once again, his numbers have been disappointing. The talent is clearly there, but the consistency and command just aren’t. His ridiculous beard isn’t helping things either. Cashner appears to be doing about what he did last year, but less of it because of his typical lack of durability. The Padres won’t win more games because of Cashner this season, but at least it appears that he won’t be losing them anymore than he did last year either.
Colin Rea was one of the Padres top 10 prospects last season and he has now graduated to the big club. He is about as meh as can be. He doesn’t have great stuff or superior command. He is durable however, and he isn’t terrible, which definitely has value. The Padres have had trouble with pitcher durability so Rea will be welcome in that department. There is also a chance for further growth as Rea learns his craft and gets major league pitching instruction, but at least for 2016, Rea is not going to lead the team to the promised land all by himself.
Cesar Vargas is nominally the 5th starter right now, but it won’t last. Vargas gets by on moxie and a bulldog mentality and you gotta love rooting for guys like this. But, eventually the league will figure him out and it will be painful to watch. It already is a bit painful, as Vargas has an ERA over 5.00. Unfortunately, this starting stint is likely to be the high point of Vargas’s major league career, that is, until he eventually settles in as low-leverage long reliever. Instead, the 5th starter to watch on this team is Christian Friedrich, who like his fellow teammate Pomeranz is a byproduct of the Colorado Rockies organization. Friedrich, like Pomeranz, was a highly regarded prospect who shot through the minor league system only to get pummeled in Coors Field. Like many a Rockie pitching prospect, the experience set him back for awhile. Eventually, the Rockies moved on and the Padres smartly snagged him. So far, the results in triple-A and now in the majors have been promising. In his short time with the Padres in the majors so far, he has yet to surrender a homer, but his control has been somewhat wobbly.
There is no one else of note in the high minors for the Padres, so this is what they must go forward with for 2016. It will really help if Tyson Ross can come back sooner rather than later from his injury (he’s expected back in early July). If he does, Ross, with Pomeranz and an improved Shields, could lead the Padres to solid pitching numbers this season. Without Ross, it will be difficult for the Padres to make any noise whatsoever this year. A.J. Preller is probably praying every day for Tyson Ross’ swift recovery because Ross’ return to the rotation sooner rather than later might determine whether Preller even has the GM job for 2017.

2016 Padres Catchers and Infielders – Strength or Weakness?

More Alexei, Less Alexi
By Hugh Rothman
The Padres catching situation stands as follows: Derek Norris will be the starter, backed up by Austin Hedges and/or newly acquired Christian Bethancourt. Norris and Hedges manned the position last season too, taking over for Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera in 2014.
In 2014, the Padres were below average (and sometimes waaaay below average) at every position… except catcher. That was the one shining positional beacon in the stinking sewage that passed for an offense that year. Grandal and Rivera combined for a 4.4 WAR (wins above replacement) in 2014 so they clearly were not the problem. However, it was decided by general manager  A.J. Preller that both players needed to be sacrificed in order to improve the rest of the offense in 2015. Grandal helped net the Padres Matt Kemp from the LA Dodgers, and Rivera was a minor piece in helping the Padres acquire Wil Myers from the Tampa Rays. The Padres also acquired their new starting catcher Derek Norris from the Oakland A’s for injury-prone 3rd starter Jesse Hahn. After all the wheeling and dealing, the Padres somehow managed to hold on to one of their top prospects in Austin Hedges, and he eventually became the backup.
The end result: Norris and Hedges combined for a 2.3 WAR in 2015. That’s still not bad. The problem is that 2.5 WAR came from Norris, and -0.2 WAR came from Hedges. In other words, the Padres would benefit from a better backup catcher, but resolving that issue isn’t so easy.
Why?  Because Austin Hedges is an amazing catcher. He was a 2nd round pick and immediately showed an otherworldly aptitude for the catching position. Pitchers adore throwing to him. His arm is so strong (chorus: how strong is it?), he can throw a pea through a battleship if so desired. There are lots of glowing defensive stats about Hedges, but it would be easiest to look at just one overall defensive measurement, DRS (defensive runs saved). Hedges had a DRS of 6 despite being the backup. If he had played the whole season, his DRS would be 21 (per Baseball-Reference.com), which is pretty unreal. The starter Derek Norris had a decent year defensively, with a DRS of 3, which is still above average. Hedges’ mark of 6 in less than a third of the playing time that Norris got is a testament to his stupendous defensive prowess.
Unfortunately, Hedges can’t hit.
He couldn’t hit in double-A. He couldn’t hit in triple-A. He really, really can’t hit in the majors. Whatever defensive benefits he brings to the table he more than gives back with his hitting: .168/.215/.248 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in 137 at bats is simply terrible and the kind of production that cannot be tolerated by any self-respecting baseball franchise. Hedges is only 23 years old, so maybe there is some growth potential, but he is very far away from being even remotely productive as a hitter. Perhaps this is the reason that former Atlanta Braves prospect Christian Bethancourt was acquired.
Bethancourt, a former top-10 prospect of the Braves, is himself a youngster at age 24. His defense isn’t as good as Hedges (whose is?); his DRS last season was very close to 0, meaning he is about average defensively. His hitting is a tiny bit better than Hedges’ (he hit .200/.225/.290 last season in 155 at bats). However, that’s certainly not very impressive. Bethancourt showed a bit more hitting acumen in the minors than Hedges, but not much more. In short, Bethancourt is not much of an upgrade offensively, and a significant downgrade defensively. The Padres are clearly hoping that at least one of them takes a big step forward offensively this season whether in triple-A or the majors, and they are probably hoping that it is Hedges who is the one who takes that step, because that would give them a catcher who can win games with his defense alone – if only his hitting was just moderately acceptable.
In the meantime, the starter is Derek Norris, who had a decent year. The knock on Norris has always been his defense. What A’s fan doesn’t remember the Royals stealing 7 bases on Norris during the 2015 wild-card game, which undoubtedly contributed to the A’s eventually losing that game. But, as previously mentioned, Norris had an above-average DRS last season, including throwing out 34% of would-be base stealers, which was better than the league average rate of 28%. Norris contributed enough offensively to put him in the upper echelon of NL catchers, and this will be his age 27 season, so there could be some further growth, both offensively and defensively.
If Hedges and/or Bethancourt can grow just a bit more offensively, and Norris remains reasonably healthy, catching won’t be a problem the Padres need to worry about in 2016. Instead, they can worry about other spots on the diamond, like the infield for example… or not?
The Padres infield was, not to belabor the point, an unmitigated disaster in 2014, so Preller went right to work to fix it. His big move: He acquired Will Middlebrooks to play 3B in place of Chase Headley. That was it! First baseman Yonder Alonzo remained, as did second baseman Jedd Gyorko, and shortstop Alexi Amarista also stayed put as the replacement for the toxic waste dump formerly known as Everth Cabrera. Ok, so Preller did decide to sign defensive stalwart Clint Barmes to back up Amarista, but otherwise… that was it! In hindsight, it appears that the Padres could have used a bit more help in the infield, although there were some pleasant surprises.
At first base however, Yonder Alonzo was not a surprise whatsoever. He did exactly what he always does: draw some walks, hit for far less power than is acceptable for a starting major league first baseman, and get hurt. In the end, Alonzo contributed a 1.1 WAR for the season, which is pretty meh, but not disastrous. Still, Preller had seen enough and decided to finally terminate the Alonzo Experience by shipping him to the Oakland A’s (a team that appreciates players who can draw a walk). The Padres will instead give the first base job to last year’s center fielder (in name only) Wil Myers. Imagine, if you will, John Kruk playing centerfield. It would be entertaining, and quite hilarious, unless you were a Padres pitcher. Wil Myers wasn’t quite that bad, but he was pretty bad; a -6 DRS, which, if he had stayed in centerfield the entire year, would have become a -15 DRS. That would have been among the worst marks in baseball. Clearly, Myers was completely miscast as a center fielder, so the Padres decided to move him to first base instead; a very understandable decision. Myers was at one time a top 10 prospect and had a dynamic rookie campaign. Even last year, when he could play, Myers hit reasonably well. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Myers hard, which is yet another reason to move him to first base. If Myers can stay healthy, he is a decent enough athlete to play first base capably and should improve upon his .253/.336/.427 numbers from last season. Myers is just 25 years old, so better times should be coming for him.
2015 began innocently enough with second base being manned by Jedd Gyorko. In 2013, Gyorko excited Padres fans by leading the team with 23 homers, which impressed the club enough to give him a sweet five year deal. Gyorko responded to this vote of confidence by completely laying an egg in 2014. In preparation for 2015, Gyorko reportedly had worked very hard to improve his swing and his confidence, blah, blah, blah… and the result was something in between 2013 and 2014: a .247/.297/.397 line including 16 homers, in 458 at bats. Not very good, even for a second baseman, although if Gyorko’s defense was good, that might be an acceptable result. Alas, Gyorko’s defense is not good. The Padres recognized this and decided to anoint one of their former first round picks, Cory Spangenberg, as the new solution at second base mid-year, and had the brilliant idea of moving Gyorko from second base to shortstop! The end result was about what one would expect: Gyorko’s defense was below average at second base, and significantly below average at shortstop. This offseason, the Padres finally cut bait on Gyorko and traded him to the Cardinals. Spangenberg will be the starting second baseman in 2016.
Cory Spangenberg was the Padres’ first round pick in 2011 (10th pick overall). He quickly showed a good batting eye and solid hitting skills in the minors, with above average speed, and below average power. Last season, he showed enough to allow the Padres to entrust their second base position to Spangenberg and he didn’t disappoint, hitting .272/.339/.399 in 303 at bats and playing league average defense. If he can get that on base and slugging percentage just a bit higher, Spangenberg will become a fine asset for the team. The second base position in the National League is not exactly teeming with great players right now. Spangenberg compares favorably with Neil Walker, who was thought of highly enough by the Mets to trade for him in his last season before free agency. Spangenberg had a higher batting average and on-base percentage than Walker, and trailed him in slugging percentage but not by much. Spangenberg will be an improvement over Gyorko, both offensively and defensively in 2016.
Alexi Amarista began the 2015 season at shortstop even though he is woefully miscast as a starter at any position. Amarista’s best quality is that he can play anywhere and not look ridiculous. He can hit about as well as a 24th or 25th man on a baseball squad should hit. He should never get more than 150 at bats in any season. Nevertheless, there he was on opening day playing shortstop and providing next to nil at the plate. In the end, the Padres received a nice .207/.257/.287 poke in the eye for their troubles at the position. Installing Gyorko at shortstop in the latter part of the season was more desperation than solution-based thinking at that point, but what option did they have. It is inconceivable that the Padres didn’t find a better shortstop option than Amarista to start the season. Preller didn’t make the same mistake in 2016, signing Alexei Ramirez to man the position this year.
Ramirez is now 34 years old and just trying to hang on. His defense at shortstop has been above average for most of his career, but it’s starting to slip (his DRS was slightly below 0 the last two years). Similarly, his offense had been pretty decent for a shortstop most of his career, but that is starting to slip too, and last year, his OBP was under .300. Still, Ramirez has been generally steady and durable throughout his career, and a bounce-back from his subpar season last year is possible. More likely, Ramirez will struggle to be average, and the Padres will try something else in 2017. Ramirez is about as stop-gappy a stop-gap as one can imagine in this scenario. The Padres are just hoping to plug a hole for now. What is a real shame is that the Padres had a top shortstop prospect just last year, in Trea Turner, before trading him to Washington in one of their many whirlwind trade flurries. Turner will soon be the Nationals shortstop and he’ll be a good one. The Padres sure could use someone like that… oops!
At third base, the aforementioned Will Middlebrooks began the year manning the hot corner, and he showed his power well enough. Unfortunately, Middlebrooks couldn’t keep his average to an acceptable level. Utility player Yangervis Solarte, acquired from the Yankees in 2014 in the Chase Headley deal, began to play more and more at third base and before anyone knew it, he wrested the job from Middlebrooks and everyone else and claimed it for his very own. Solarte hit .270/.320/.428 in 571 at bats and played solid defense, like one would expect from a defense-first utility player. His 2.2 WAR was 3rd on the team. He was a pleasant surprise, but one the Padres will gladly accept. The starting job is his for the foreseeable future, plus, he has a really cool name!
In summary, the Padres look to be slightly above average at catcher, improved at first base, second base, and third base, and hopefully shortstop too. They will likely be above league average at second base and third base, and hope that Wil Myers can at least provide league-average first base production. Ramirez will probably be a below-average shortstop, but the team is hoping that his offensive and defensive production will still be a significant improvement over their 2015 options. Most of the solutions quietly came from in house with the low-cost exception of Ramirez at shortstop (because the Padres needed *something* there). Outfield… well, that will be more of a challenge to resolve.