It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning. For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper! We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat. This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal. It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.
San Diego Padres
74-88, fourth in the NL West
Last year’s Pepper
San Diego has a lot of things going for it. Great weather, nice beaches, a strong military presence. One thing it doesn’t have, though, is a regularly successful baseball team. After new GM A.J. Preller “won the offseason” last year, hopes were very high for the Padres. Those hopes crashed down quickly and a more temperate look at the club prevails this season.
To talk about the Pads, we’ve got a couple of San Diego bloggers for you. Daryll Dorman is a rookie to this process but hopefully this won’t be his last time facing the Pepper questions. You’ll find him writing at Friars On Base and Tweeting @DaryllDorman. We also have Richard Dorsha back for his second straight appearance. Richard’s work can be found on The Friarhood and you can follow him on Twitter @dorsha78.
C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?
FOB: While naturally this off-season was dramatically different from last year – it did show some maturity from A.J. Preller as he looks to rebuild a broken farm system. He traded away the last two starters from 2014 he didn’t trade away last year in Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso, and now very quickly has remade the entire team in his image all the way down to new manager Andy Green. He made the team younger and does have some payroll flexibility though having to pay much more of Matt Kemp‘s contract hurts the team financially and tough to see anyone else taking it on.
TF: I am among the few who believe the Padres improved this offseason. Defensively they will be better at nearly every position. As crazy as it sounds they might be better on offense as well. Alexi Amarista was so bad the team started playing anyone else at shortstop. Yonder Alonso continued his trek into obscurity. Justin Upton and Jedd Gyorko hit home runs but they struck out a ton and never walked. The problem with the Padres lineup last year was all the players were the same: low OBP, sparse contact, home run hitters. They appear to have fixed that central issue.
FOB: Jon Jay at this point appears to be either taking over for Justin Upton in left field, assuming that Melvin Upton Jr.can show any semblance of his pre 2013 self and hold down center field. Since that hasn’t happened in awhile, I think Jay will end up being the starting center fielder by June and move Upton Jr back to the bench. The team jettisoned last year’s 8th and 9th inning tandem in Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel, so the bullpen needed fortification and Villanueva should provide just that. Additionally after the top 3 starters, the rotation is a mix of another reliever from 2015 going starter in Brandon Maurer and some youth, so Villanueva will be valuable in that swing role that Odrisamer Despaigne held down last season.
TF: Most fans ignored the Villanueva signing because they don’t realize how good he has been at his role over the last 3 years. I expect he will gobble up innings and could post the highest WAR in the bullpen.
Jon Jay is in a tough spot. Fans already have a negative opinion of him because they think he is Justin Upton’s replacement. They assume the Padres’ front office acquired Jay on the cheap, rather than pay Upton. This is patently false, but fans are emotional which makes it difficult to think rationally. The other challenge for Jay will be the fact that his stats aren’t sexy, in other words: he doesn’t hit home runs. I predict it will take a while for fans to warm to him.
Personally, I think Jay gives the Padres exactly what they need: defense and OBP. I am really looking forward to watching him play and I always like the idea of acquiring players from the Cardinals organization. They are, typically, solid baseball players.
C70: There’s still that anticipation for Wil Myers to become a great player. Are there signs that it might happen this season?
FOB: YES of course! Moving Myers to first base should keep his wrist healthy all season long, something that has bothered him off and on for a couple of seasons now. He says he is fully healthy for the first time since his ROY season, but a lot of eyes will be on him in Spring Training and throughout the season. Big hinge guy for the Padres this season and beyond.
TF: Wil Myers is an absolute stud, when healthy. That’s the rub. He is never healthy and hasn’t been for years, but he is the type of gamble small-market teams have to take. Every metric points to Myers putting up all-star caliber numbers, if (and it is a huge “if”) he can collect his 500 at-bats. I think removing the pressure of having to play center field helps, I just don’t know if his wrist will ever let him play more than 80 games in a season.
C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
FOB: I’m excited to see what Cory Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte can do at 2b and 3b respectively for a full season. Solarte was quietly one of the Padres best hitters all season long last year, and that was with moving around a lot early on just to keep his bat in the lineup. Spangenberg showed well in the majors last year after moving up the minors quickly. Moving Gyorko gives him the second base job to lose, and I don’t expect him to. I could see him hitting .300 and stealing 20 bases.
TF: Cory Spangenberg was a first round draft pick in 2011, put up solid numbers at every level of the minors and practically forced the Padres to keep him on the big club in 2015. He has been handed the second base job and I expect large gains for him this year. Despite all of Jedd Gyorko’s home runs, Spangenberg actually posted a higher WAR last year and I predict he will do the same this year. Spangenberg should spend most the season as the Padres’ lead-off hitter with a final line something like 270/360/400 to go with 30+ steals.
C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
FOB: Division will be tough with the Giants, Dodgers, and D’backs duking it out for the top couple of spots…if Tyson Ross continues to improve though and Andrew Cashner/James Shields have bounceback seasons the starting pitching could be really good and the offense might be able to punch and judy their way to enough runs to win some games. I think fourth place and a record of 74-88 would be optimistic.
TF: The Padres will be slightly better than last year, but they may end up with fewer wins. Their biggest problem is their division. You have the new evil empire in LA and the masters of the even year World Series in SF. Arizona is improved, even though I’m skeptical about how much. If you figure San Diego will lose the season series to those 3 and win it against Colorado you’re already at least 10 games in the hole. I’ll set the over/under for wins at 76, which is probably a fourth-place finish.
C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?
FOB: Easily the Dodgers are ALWAYS good to beat. Especially as LA tries to steal the Chargers away only adds to the (mostly) one sided rivalry between San Diego and Los Angeles. Clearly San Diego the city wins with less smog, traffic, and better breweries and fish tacos, but the team hasn’t done much winning of late. Remember the Carlos Quentin / Zack Greinke fight a couple of years ago? I do enjoy pointing out to Dodgers fans the Padres have been to the World Series more recently – by 10 years – than the Dodgers. I think the Dodgers are in for a disappointing 2016 unless Puig and Peterson step up their game in the outfield.
TF: I hate nearly everything about Los Angeles. I hate the traffic, the inflated cost of everything, the arrogance (they’re not the capital of California, despite what their residents would have you believe). Despite all that, I save a special level of hate for the Dodgers. Not only are they from LA, but their overspending inflates salaries for smaller market teams. There was a wonderful time in the early part of last decade where the Padres owned the Dodgers. Sadly those days are long over and the Padres lose the season series to them every year, and they probably will again. If we can just keep the season series close (8-11), I’ll be happy.
My thanks to Daryll and Richard for their thoughts on the Padres. We’ll have to keep an eye on them this season, if only to see how those former Cardinals are doing!