Playing Pepper 2020: San Diego Padres

If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper!  For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear.  It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about.  It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.

San Diego Padres
70-92, fourth in NL West
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

San Diego’s known for its perfect weather but the Padres rarely have smooth sailing.  They made one of the big splashes an offseason ago, only to find themselves still under .500 when the season came to an end.  Is the forecast for 2020 any better?  Are there sunnier days ahead or is more rain going to fall.  One thing is for sure–no matter how the Padres play this year, it’s going to look different.  Let’s find out all the team that gave us David Freese for Jim Edmonds!

Blogger Site Twitter
Richard Dorsha East Village Times outsidepaint
Scott Dunsmore The Kept Faith GhostofRAK
Diego Solares Friar Faithful Chronicle diego_solares73

C70: Year One of the Manny Machado Era didn’t necessarily go according to plan, at least from a team standpoint. Have the opinions around the deal changed at all?

Richard: It really should not have, but it did for some. His WAR was actually better than it was the year before. His OPS+ was down a bit, but not dramatically. But here’s the rub: money does funny things to people. Plenty of fans fail to understand that Machado got that contract because the team paid the going rate for his level of talent at his position. Money does not guarantee production. In other words, you can’t just buy home runs. Baseball doesn’t work that way. The market was set at that price, so the team paid the price.

Personally, I was not disappointed at all. He changed teams & leagues (I know he was with the Dodgers in 2018, but that was for like 12 minutes) and his numbers suffered. Big deal. People don’t remember but he was terrible in April. I assume he was feeling the pressure of the contact. The fact that his numbers recovered and he still turned in a WAR above 3 is impressive, considering he was .236/.325/.368 on April 30th.  With the way baseball is going, his deal will look like a bargain in 2-3 years. Also, he has an opt out clause after 5 years, I’ll bet he exercises that option.

Scott: Depends on who you talk to. The smart Padres fans are saying it was a bad year to judge, that he was still getting used to a new league, and it was just the first year out of 10 to really show us what the Padres are paying for. The not-so-smart Padres fans are saying, well, who really cares what they’re saying?

Diego: The opinions around this deal have not changed at all. Manny Machado is still and will continue to be, a superstar in the game of baseball. The adjustment period to a new league, which has happened to many other players, took longer than expected, but Machado will be just fine entering his second season as a Padre. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fan of the Padres who doubts what he can do. 

C70: Fernando Tatis Jr. had a remarkable rookie year, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. What comes next for the young man?

Richard: He is so fun to watch. Every at bat is must-see TV. He was immediately embraced by the entire fan base. But… he has only finished 1 professional season without injury. His back problem ended his 2019 season early but keep in mind he was hurt for a month earlier in the year, as well. He didn’t finish his 2018 season, either, because of a broken thumb.  I’m really, really scared he’s a fragile player who can’t stay on the field. If he plays 140 games he’s a legit MVP candidate. But I will watch everything he does with anxiety that he will hurt himself. I want to just enjoy having him on my team but I can’t, I’m too scared.

Scott: Playing more than half of a season would be a big next step, to be honest. He didn’t play almost the entire second half and he STILL finished in third place for RotY. Imagine what kinds of numbers he might have put up if he had played even another quarter of a season?

Diego: Machado signed that lucrative 10-year, $300 million deal last off-season, but it’s Tatis who should be viewed as this team’s franchise player. A true five-tool player, Tatis burst onto the scene in his first year before a season-ending back injury that would limit him to only 84 games played. Now that he’s back, and fully healthy, the next step is to solidify himself as one of the top players in the game. His ceiling is a top-five player in the game, and while he may not reach that in 2020, it could come sooner rather than later. 

C70: What offseason acquisition will make the most impact for San Diego?

Richard: Tommy Pham. And not just for his production, which I hope will be in line with his career norms. But the dude is all business. He will hold the players accountable and basically be another manager on the bench and in the field. Taylor Trammel, an outfield prospect, called him a grinder and said he hopes to emulate that in his game. Of course, I think his bat will help quite a bit. I was so tired of Hunter Renfroe’s lack of consistent contact. He hit 7 more home runs last year but his OPS went down by nearly 30 points. Pham is the anti-Renfroe, gets on base, sprays the ball around the field. Love him already.

Scott: Well, they really didn’t do much this offseason. Yeah, they traded for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham from the Brewers, acquired Jurickson Profar from Oakland, and re-signed Drew Pomeranz for the bullpen. And, of course, signed Brian Dozier to a Minor League deal. But I don’t think any of those guys are going to have as much impact as the sexy pick, Tommy Pham.

What I’m saying is, Tommy Pham. Tommy Pham is my answer. I’m choosing Tommy Pham. Tommy Pham.

Diego: Tommy Pham. The Padres have finished towards the bottom of the league in on-base percentage for as long as I can remember. Pham is known for his ability to grind out at-bats and get on base at a high clip, which adds a completely different dynamic to this team. Having someone who can get on base on a consistent basis in front of Machado and Hosmer should greatly benefit this offense, translating to better overall team success. 

C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?

Richard: The window opens now. And it stays open for about 4-5 years. This team is the 2013 Royals, meaning they are on the way but not quite there yet. They were 45 – 45 before the All-Star break in 2019 before the wheels fell off. But that first half showed us what was possible, soon. This team has to be better than .500 for this season to even resemble a success. If I am being realistic, 2021 is probably a more likely year to expect a deep playoff run, but this team can challenge for a Wild Card this year. As far as the division? Let’s be honest, no one can compete with the Dodgers and the Brinks truck they call a payroll. I’ll say the Padres win 84 games and just miss the second wild card.

Scott: Vegas oddsmakers have the Padres at 83 wins. That’s a notable improvement from last year’s disappointing 70-92 record. The team was at .500 at the halfway point but limped along the second half. Many blamed former manager Andy Green, but the season-ending injury to Tatís Jr took a lot of the wind out of their sails. It remains to be seen if new manager Jayce “Who the FUDGE is that?” Tingler can keep this team more focused on the big picture.

In other words, I’m saying 81-81. But I’m reserving the right to change my prediction at any time. That should land them at least a third place finish in the division. Maybe even second, depending on how bad the Dodgers beat up on everyone else.

Diego: Honestly, there’s no reason why this team can’t finish with at least 84 wins. They have a talented trio of arms at the top of their rotation, a solid, well-rounded lineup, and one of the game’s best bullpens. First place in the National League West is a longshot, but second place and potentially reaching the Wild Card game isn’t out of the question by any means. 

C70: What’s the main topic Padres fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?

Richard: Austin Hedges. Or, more specifically, the usefulness of defensive metrics in catching as opposed to traditional stats (like batting average). Austin Hedges is, at the same exact time, the best defensive catcher and worst hitting position player in baseball. There are stats to back this up. He was historically bad in 2019, which ranked near the bottom in MLB history for qualifying seasons. However, Hedges is almost untouchable defensively. He is agile, he can throw and he is the best pitch-framer on planet Earth. Again, the stats are there. Padres pitchers post significantly lower ERA’s when they throw to him over anyone else.

How balanced are his elite defense and miserable offense? His oWAR and dWAR were literally opposite. What does a manager do? Play Francisco Mejia, who at least hits a little bit? Or give his starting pitcher the Adonis of catchers? It is fascinating to see Padres fans fight about who should be the starting catcher. For me, I’d give Hedges the majority of innings in April and May and see what happens. If he even hits his weight, he’s worth the headaches with the bat.

Scott: Besides the Astros getting caught cheating and Dodger fans losing their minds over it? I guess that’s happening all over, not just here.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know of any one particular thing. I suppose there’s Chris Paddack’s second year in the big leagues and what is expected by the fans versus what he expects of himself. That kid has confidence. Some fan bases (**cough**Mets**cough**) might call it cockiness. With a year under his belt it’s going to be something to watch how he adjusts to the rest of the league adjusting to him.

Diego: I don’t entirely know if this isn’t obvious to other teams, but the one thing Padres fans care about the most is their prospects. Particularly, two pitching prospects by the name of MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño. Both of these arms have top-of-the-rotation upside, while most evaluators see Gore as one of the top pitchers in the game a few seasons down the road. It’s highly likely that both of these two make their big league debut in 2020, which obviously has fans buzzing. 

C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?

Richard: This is probably going to sound silly, but I am honestly excited by the uniforms. I have always thought the Padres should wear brown. The fans have been leaning on ownership for more than a decade, never giving up hope we’d drop our generic-as-hell blue and white. When the team announced they’d do a uniform reveal event at Petco, I went there with my son and got goosebumps when they trotted out Tatis, Hosmer and Machado in the new brown unis. I bought myself and my son brown hats that night. I don’t think I am the only Padres fan who is actually looking forward to games because of their new color scheme. Nearly everything I’ve read from other baseball markets agrees the uniforms are on point.

Scott: Winning. It’s been so long since we’ve seen it around here (with the exception being the SDSU men’s basketball team). I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like.

Realistically, something more from Eric Hosmer than what we’ve been shown over the last two seasons. Whether that comes from the offensive or defensive sides, I don’t care. Both would be great. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen, though.

Diego: There’s a completely different vibe to this team than in year’s past. A flurry of new faces, Jayce Tingler, full seasons (hopefully) of Chris Paddack and Tatis, and MacKenzie Gore’s anticipated big league debut all give this team hope. This is the start of a new decade for the Friar Faithful, a decade that should destroy the narrative set by the last 10 years of Padre baseball. I’m looking forward to seeing a competitive team on the field for a consistent 162-game span. 

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