Playing Pepper 2014: San Diego Padres

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

San Diego Padres
76-86, third in the NL West

On June 30, the Padres sat just 2.5 games out of the divisional lead.  Granted, they were under .500 at the time, but there was some hope floating around that part of California.  Then the Dodgers took off and left everyone behind, dashing any October dreams of the Friar faithful.

Will this year be different?  Los Angeles still looks like the Big Team In Division, but we’ve rounded up a few Padres bloggers to give their thoughts on the NL West.  Today we’ll hear from:

So let’s chat about this team with the perfect weather and the pitcher’s park!

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

AJM: The offseason was a smashing success if the barometer one uses is the previous Padres off-season. The Padres addressed some needs in Seth Smith (left-handed bat off the bench / platoon partner with the fragile Carlos Quentin) and Joaquin Benoit (strengthening the bullpen after dealing Luke Gregerson for the aforementioned Smith). Josh Johnson was the exciting free agent acquisition but who knows if his health will allow him to return to his 2010 form. Chase Headley is still in contract limbo and the Padres didn’t do any sexy contract extensions for young up-and-comers (Everth Cabrera, Andrew Cashner, Jedd Gyorko).

If I were to slap a grade on it I would give the Padres a C+.

FH: C. Although we did see activity this offseason, the team still appears on paper as though they are going to continue to struggle at the plate. With the exception of the Josh Johnson signing (which has a lot of upside) the additional moves will be minor upgrades. The team needed to add an impact bat and failed.

FOB: I would probably grade the offseason a solid B. An A would mean that we brought in a slugger that would slot in the 4 hole and be the leader of the team for the next decade. But, that wasn’t possible considering the free agents that were available. What we did do is bring in a left-handed power bat that we needed (Seth Smith). We brought in an 8th inning guy/back-up Closer (Joaquin Benoit) to replace the pitcher we gave up for Smith (Luke Gregerson). We traded for Rule 5 pick Patrick Schuester who has never pitched above A-Ball and looked for a while like this was going to be our answer to the left-handed reliever problem. This would have made the offseason grade a C. Then Josh Byrnes pulled off a miracle trade and acquired Alex Torres from the Rays. He is not only the LOOGY that we needed but could be the eventual Closer when Street and Benoit are gone. It has been an offseason of hope leading to what we hope will be a Wild Card season.

LCB: B- before games have been played. The team rightfully took a lot of heat a season ago for standing pat in the offseason and bringing back the same 76 win team. As a result, last season that team won…76 games. Injuries plagued this team a lot last year and they made a point in the offseason to shore up the bench. The addition of Seth Smith provides a few more options in the OF for Bud Black, options he already needs with Cameron Maybin‘s Spring Training injury. They also went out and added Josh Johnson which has become a bit of a Padres special. Grab a formerly great pitcher off an injury-plagued year and hope the cavernous Petco Park rehabs his career. Additions to the bullpen (Benoit, Torres) should hopefully turn 9 inning games into 7 inning games. The off-season was nothing flashy, but it was a lot of pieces being added that fill holes that existed a year ago.

PT: Net improvement over recent history.  The Padres spent $23M this off-season, up from $3M in 2012.  The not-so-good news is they lagged the rest of the NL West in off-season spending, some by a considerable margin.  Of course, that’s completely skewed thanks to the Dodgers printing and spending their own money.  However, being willing and able to spend 7X what they spent a year ago is improvement.  They traded away Luke Gregerson but signed Joaquin Benoit.  Possibly a wash. Mark Kotsay retired but they got Seth Smith in the Gregerson deal.  Improvement from the left-side.  And the Josh Johnson signing has nothing but upside. I’d give this off-season a solid B.

C70: What are the expectations for Everth Cabrera as he comes off the Biogenesis suspension?

AJM: I believe Everth Cabrera entered the 2013 season clean so my expectations are that he will be everything he showed from April to July of last year. I’m also a foolish dreamer though so we’ll see.

FH: His expectations are to repeat a breakout 2013 campaign. Not an easy task coming off of a year he hit .283/.355/.381 and played solid defense. Although no one likes a cheater, one thing we know is that if you perform, you will be forgiven.

FOB: Maybe it’s just part of being a negative Padres fan but, I do not have a lot of confidence in Cabrera. Some people may choose to believe that his .283/.355/.736 slash in 95 games last year is the real Everth. I hope it is. But, I think that the 2012 season may be more realistic. He is still going to be valuable based entirely on his speed. But, if he bats .250 for the entire season, he will be considered a dud in my book. I hope he turns into the lead-off man that the Padres badly need. But, only time will tell if we saw the best of him last season (during the half a season that we saw him).

LCB: I think the expectation is that Cabrera will come back and be the player he was in the beginning of 2013 when he was the presumptive NL All-Star SS. The tainted substance was taken a year prior so I don’t think what we saw in 2013 was artificial. What sunk Cabrera was the distraction of the investigation and pending suspension. With that behind him, the expectations will be that he will set the table, cause havoc on the bases, and anchor the shortstop position.

PT: I think Cabrera has something to prove.  He was having an outstanding season in 2013 before being suspended, and I’m sure he wants to prove it wasn’t chemically caused.  By OPS+ he had a career year last season; hopefully his offense is the new norm and not his peak.  Defensively he’s improved dramatically from where he was in 2009/2010.  I expect that improvement to remain this season.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

AJM: We’re now a few weeks into Spring Training and I think that many fans look at the success of Tommy Medica and wonder if he could be the answer to the light hitting Yonder Alonso at first base. This is not really a competition though as GM Josh Byrnes has his wagon hitched to Alonso, a major component to the Mat Latos trade after the 2011 season. Having said that, Medica still factors into the roster fight for bat off the bench with Xavier Nady. The Padres will probably go with the old vet and give the youngster ABs at the AAA level as well as some playing time in the outfield. Not a very exciting spring in terms of roster competition.

FH: The Padres v. injuries. It seems the 25-man was set before the spring, but Josh Byrnes has continued to put together an injury riddled roster that continues to break down during the season. With that said, the Padres have already seen injuries to Maybin, Headley, and Street.

FOB: It was supposed to be the left-handed reliever battle. But, that was finished when Alex Torres joined the team. Now that Cameron Maybin is out, it may be the fifth outfielder job. I know that most fans would rather Alexi Amarista stick to the infield. If that happens, then who will join Denorfia, Quentin, Venable and Smith in the outfield. So far, newly acquired Alex Dickerson has made a strong case to take the spot and add another left-handed bat to the Padres bench. But, considering the move would only be for a few months, the front office may prefer to not have to add someone to the 40-man. If that is the case, could Tommy Medica stay with the big club for a while? Maybe the Padres won’t carry a fifth outfielder at all and this is a moot point.

LCB: There isn’t really a battle that’s worth keeping an eye on. The starting lineup is pretty much set. A few things though. While Alonso is locked in as the starting 1B, Tommy Medica has been tearing the cover off the ball and should Alonso slump or get hurt I think the team won’t hesitate to bring Medica up. He’s already had a taste when he got a cup of coffee with the team last season. Catching is another position to keep an eye on. Grandal is the presumptive starter when/if he is ready to come back after a pretty devastating knee injury last year. After coming up in 2012 with such promise he started 2013 suspended due to Biogenesis and then suffered a horrific knee injury in D.C. Until then, it’s between Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera.

PT: The Padres are pretty much set throughout their roster.  Cameron Maybin’s injury freed up an OF slot, making most of the hard decisions there moot until June/July.  Right now the most interesting battle is for the last seat on the bench.  X Nady has had a renaissance this spring, and Tommy Medica has been solid throughout at the plate, building on his solid September.  Who makes the team gives us something to watch for.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

AJM: I could see Burch Smith logging innings out of the bullpen or Tommy Medica getting time at first if Yonder Alonso can’t stay healthy but I don’t know that either will make a sizable impact.

FH: I think most people want to say Tommy Medica, but with a move to the OF, given his injury history, a move to the OF looks like Blanks, Darnell, and Forsythe before him. An injury waiting to happen. I’m going to say Matt Wisler. Although the Padres do have Erlin, Kelly, Wieland, and others technically ahead of him, Wisler is the guy that will be able to have the biggest impact when he is called up.

FOB: I would like to say it will be Alex Dickerson so that my last answer will appear to be right. But that’s not true. The Padres are stacked with pitching prospects and there is absolutely zero chance that the big league pitching staff will make it all year without an injury or eight. I would say that Matt Wisler will be the first to get the call. If he pitches in AAA like he did in AA, he will force his way up to San Diego. If he continues to pitch like the Padres think he can and strike out almost a batter per inning, he could get 8-10 starts by the end of the season.

LCB: This was such an easy question to answer last year with Gyorko. And I look for him to continue to improve. But for this year I think you’ll start to see the young pitching crop that the Padres have been cultivating in the minors make an impact this year. Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, and Burch Smith are all names I could see making starts (plural) in 2014.

PT: I don’t think any rookies will make the team out of spring training.  Guys who we’ll probably see called up over the course of the season include Burch Smith and Reymond Fuentes.  They’ll have an impact, but unless this team is ravaged by injury like in 2012 it won’t be much of one.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

AJM: I’ve said 83 games before so I’ll stick with that. It’ll be good for third place behind the Dodgers (1st) and Diamondbacks (2nd).

FH: 76-86 seems like the obvious answer here. It appears every year I say this team has the talent to win 85+ games and due to a combination of poor managing and injuries they fall under .500. Although I do think the Padres have slightly improved over last year, I also think the rest of the division improved more. 2014 will mark the highest payroll in team history. If Bud Black can’t compete for a wild card spot, then the Padres need to start looking for a change a scenery.

FOB: I would say 85-77. Possibly good enough for the Wild Card but, possibly just on the outside looking in. It may not be enough to make the playoffs, but I think any Padres fan would be happy with such a turn around. Everything is predicated on pitching. If the pitchers stay healthy and we get a full season from almost everyone in the lineup (minus Cameron Maybin), it could be a great year… by Padres standards.

LCB: I think this team is in the hunt for a wild card spot well into September. The Dodgers are the runaway favorite in the division for good reason. But I see an 85-87 win season with the potential for 90 wins if things go their way. Probably battling for 2nd/3rd.

PT: This is the year they finish above .500 again.  82-80.  The NL West is tough tough tough.  Put me down for a third place prediction, behind Los Angeles and Arizona.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

AJM: Andrew Cashner. He has a beard and throws a baseball 100 mph. And he also kills things with a bow.

FH: Chase Headley with Jedd Gyorko a close second. Headley’s ability to put together solid Abs even when he’s in a rut is impressive. He hits from both sides of the plate (so he’s not platooned), and he plays gold glove defense. Although, it’s highly likely this will be his last season in a Padres uniform. I’ll enjoy it while I can.

FOB: Hmmm…. I’ll go with Tony Gwynn. Ohh, you mean now? I think I’ll go with Yonder Alonso. Even though it is absolutely absurd for someone to be as big as he is and not hit 20 home runs a season, I love watching him hit. His swing his beautiful and it’s always just good to see good hitting. He finds a way to go with what is pitched and hit it where they ain’t. It’s a beautiful thing. Especially when they accidentally go over the fence.

LCB: I would say Cameron Maybin but unfortunately what makes him so fun to watch is also what causes him to be injured all of the time so I don’t get to see him much. So I’ll say Andrew Cashner. Cashner starts are becoming much watch affairs. A feeling I haven’t had about a starter since Jake Peavy.

PT: I like watching Carlos Quentin hit.  I just don’t get to do it as much as I’d like.  Quentin makes that whole lineup more dangerous.  He also brings that edge you need to the plate (just ask Zack Grienke), and doesn’t have any walk-up music.  Back in the day that was standard.  Now it’s unique.

I appreciate everyone taking the time to talk about the Padres with me.  I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the club–the first World Series I can really remember was ’84 with them against the Tigers–and I’d like to see them have a successful season!

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