It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching. Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside. Not in this space! Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch. There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper! If you want to keep up with the Padres during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well. You can follow that here!
Well THAT didn’t go according to plan. A year after a playoff appearance and the coronation as the next big thing, the Padres stumbled, then imploded in September to finish with a sub-.500 record. Was this more like growing pains or something truly worrisome? We’ve got some folks here who might have an opinion on that.
|Ben Fadden||Gaslamp Ball||talkingfriars (podcast Talking Friars)|
|Diego Solares||Friar Faithful Chronicle||DeegsBaseball|
|Richard Dorsha||East Village Times||outsidepaint|
|Scott Dunsmore||The Kept Faith||GhostofRAK|
|Carlos Gutierrez||The Padfathers||losequis3|
C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about San Diego’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?
Ben: The Padres were able to add some quality arms to their bullpen to help replace Mark Melancon, including Luis Garcia and Robert Suarez, but they aren’t household names so those additions weren’t talked about a lot among Padres fans. It also seems like Nick Martinez is an overpay at $25.5 million when he’s only going to be the fifth starter. The roster as a whole may have improved also with the additions of an offensive-first catcher in Jorge Alfaro and DH Luke Voit but a lot of fans were expecting A.J. Preller to pick up a big power hitting outfielder like Seiya Suzuki and it didn’t happen. Add that to the fact that San Diego’s best player, Fernando Tatis Jr., fractured his wrist and will likely miss the first half of the season and you’ve got an underwhelming offseason.
The teasing that went on this offseason for the Padres is what irritated myself and a lot of other Padres fans. There were reporters saying the team was close with Seiya Suzuki but they didn’t land him. And then there were reports that the team was close with Nelson Cruz but they didn’t get him. Plus, there were other star players like Kris Bryant and Freddie Freeman going to division rivals so not adding star players certainly didn’t make it easy for Friar Faithful post-lockout.
Diego: For me, it was just an okay off-season for the Padres. I felt that they didn’t significantly upgrade their outfield situation and, frankly, were outplayed by several teams in the market who were aggressive on key outfield pieces. The Fernando Tatis Jr. news put an obvious dent in early hopes for the Friars, but adding Luke Voit, several cheap relief arms, and getting their starting rotation back in tact was a positive. If they could add Michael Conforto before the season began, I think things would look a whole lot better.
Richard: I didn’t like a whole lot. Luke Voit is a nice addition, but he’s barely a 1 WAR/year who had one great stretch which just so happened to coincide with the shortened 2020 season. As a result, he led MLB in HR’s. Yippee. The team’s only real pitching “addition” was getting Mike Clevinger back from Tommy John surgery. I don’t know enough about Nick Martinez to have an opinion. They still don’t have a closer, they still don’t have a left fielder. And now, they don’t have a shortstop for a while. I mean, I understand they can’t hand out $300 million contracts every offseason, but there’s some holes on this roster that were not addressed.
Something I hoped for that didn’t happen: Eric Hosmer is still a Padre. I, along with a vast number of Padres fans, want to see him off of this team. Speaking for myself, I never wanted the Padres to sign him in 2018, because at best he would prove to be an every-other-year performer and at worst he’d be a huge weight dragging the team down with him. Turns out it’s really close to the worst case scenario.
Didn’t like it at all: Fernando Tatis Jr. broke his wrist (either because of a motorcycle accident or swinging an ax, depending on who you ask) and no one knew about it until he reported to Spring Training. He had surgery to repair it the next day and will now be out for probably three months to start the season.
Carlos: I would give the overall offseason a solid C. There were a few things the Friar Faithful really wanted to see: Hosmer’s contract offloaded, adding AT LEAST one big bat / star at LF, an upgrade at 1B (see item 1), and pitching depth. Unloading Hosmer was always going to be a longshot when you are dealing with such a bad contract (he is due $20M, with $18.5M luxury tax salary). It’s a double whammy of underperforming and hurting the overall team structure when he accounts for ~9% of our luxury tax payroll. Unless we bite the bullet and tag a high prospect while eating a majority of the contract, there was no way this was happening. That brings me to the LF position. As the lineup currently stands, the Padres have 3 (THREE) oufielders on the roster. We are looking at Jurickson Profar starting in LF opening day. Don’t get me wrong. Jurickson is a good depth piece that can play a multitude of positions. A solid bench guy for todays brand of baseball. But he is not an everyday starter, and definitely not at LF. His .227/.329/.320 slash line isn’t going to cut it, especially for a team looking for power (The Padres were in the bottom 10 as a team in AVG, OBP, & SLG last season).
Speaking of power – Where are the reinforcements? For a team lacking in power and OF depth, you would think signing a Castellanos / Schwarber / Suzuki / Pederson would be a MUST, especially when those guys all can play OF. Bringing in Luke Voit is a good start. He can be a solid option, when healthy, but this team desperately needs more. Knowing AJ Preller, the lineup could change dramatically between now and opening day, but to not see a big move for an OF to this point is worrisome and disappointing. I’ll end the wrap up on the biggest acquisition of the summer. No, I am not talking about a player. I’m talking about Bob Melvin. You can’t put a price on leadership and winning. The Padres got that and then some with Bob Melvin. The guy made Oakland a perennial playoff contender with much less than what he now has in San Diego. Add in the addition of Pitcher Whisperer Ruben Niebla, and this coaching staff has a very high ceiling.
C70: The Padres had a dismal second half last year. What was the main reason and how confident are you that it won’t happen again?
Ben: The main reason the Padres collapsed was injuries. The offense didn’t perform up to expectations either but it’s hard to imagine they would’ve still won a lot of games when the whole rotation not including Joe Musgrove got hurt and Emilio Pagan was giving up three home runs in an inning to the Dodgers. There’s no way that this many injuries will happen again so the club should be a playoff team in 2022 especially considering Darvish, Blake Snell, and Mike Clevinger are coming back.
Diego: I truly believe it had to do with management and the locker room being lost. With Jayce Tingler gone and respected veteran Bob Melvin at the helm, I think the Padres will be placed in a better position for sustained success across the 162-game season.
Richard: There were a bunch of factors at play. Trade rumors swirled around the deadline, some names were mentioned (Hosmer, for one) and none of the trades actually happened. So you got a combination of players angry the team didn’t acquire help at the deadline, and others angry that they were on the block. Throw in some injuries and a manager who lost the clubhouse and you get a turd sandwich.
How confident am I that it won’t happen again? Like not at all. The team did the exact same thing in 2019. They were at .500 at the All-Star Break and laid an egg over the final 70 games then also. Is Bob Melvin enough of a manager to keep it from happening again? We’ll see.
Scott: After the trade deadline, Eric Hosmer was still a Padre. The rumors of his expendability in the Padre front office’s eyes helped sink the team after the All-Star break. Hosmer has not lived up to the contract they gave him. I’m on record as NEVER wanting him in San Diego and he has done nothing to change that stance even a little. Add in the fact that another inexperienced manager was tabbed with keeping this team on track and failed. Again. There’s no guarantee that Hosmer won’t be here by the time this year’s trade deadline passes, so I’m not confident at all that it won’t happen again, but at least they’ve got Melvin to hopefully kick some butts and take some names if the need arises.
Oh, also most of the pitching staff fell off a cliff right after the trade deadline due to overwork. Meaning guys like Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez were getting one last chance at pitching for a Major League team. Which they proved they didn’t deserve.
Carlos: Dismal is an understatement in regard to last years second half showing. Injuries were a big part of the issue. Its hard to compete in the NL West when you have 10+ pitchers on the IL including names like Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, Drew Pomeranz, Chris Paddack, Dan Altavilla, Matt Strahm, Yu Darvish, etc. Was it bad luck? A system issue? Hard to tell. Its also hard to imagine the Padres get hit with so many injuries two years in a row *knocks on wood*.
The Padres also had a leadership and maturity issue that came to a head at the final stretch. Rumors swirled towards the end of the season of a lack of leadership within the team and at the and a loss of trust at the manager position. Ultimately, Jayce Tingler was out following the collapse and Bob Melvin was in. With such a young, star-studded team there are going to be growing pains in the maturity and leadership department. It also may have been too much for someone like Jayce Tingler who was in his second year with the Padres, and first full season as a head coach. A proven veteran like Bob Melvin will be able to mitigate those issues within the locker room. It’s tough to find an ex-player or colleague who worked with Bob that doesn’t speak highly of his managerial style and leadership qualities. Barring any injuries, I don’t see such an epic downfall occurring in 2022.
C70: What’s the latest on Mike Clevinger and what are the expectations for him this season?
Ben: Clevinger feels better than he has ever felt–even before getting hurt–so it seems like all things are a go for him and he will be the Padres fourth starter to begin the season. He worked in Poway with Musgrove during the lockout and from the videos I’ve seen, he is going full throttle in bullpen sessions. I’d expect the Padres to ease him in to start the season (so maybe four innings a start) because they want a healthy Clevinger for the playoffs.
Diego: Clevinger threw yesterday against White Sox minor leaguers on the backfields and went four perfect innings on 43 pitches. All of his stuff appears to be where it’s normally been and he’s slated to, albeit on a pitch count, be apart of this rotation when the season begins. I think that the expectations should be tempered, especially because control/command is the last thing to return when players undergo Tommy John Surgery, but having someone with his talent and experience as the fourth best arm in this rotation is…a good thing.
Richard: The team thinks he’s all the way back. Melvin says the top 4 in our rotation is “set in stone”, which includes Sunshine. So, the expectation is he makes all his starts and posts a sub-3 ERA. Is that realistic? Not at all. He’s had exactly one season in the Bigs where he’s made all his starts. I said the same thing about Dinelson Lamet and I was right then. I’d love to be wrong now.
Scott: Mike Clevinger is back from his second Tommy John surgery that kept him sidelined for all of 2021. And while it’s hard for me to gauge his status after [checks notes] one (as I type this) back field minor league Spring Training start, he looked good and reported no issues afterwards. Early talk has Melvin going with either Yu Darvish or Joe Musgrove to start Opening day, with Blake Snell (who also hasn’t made a start yet), Clevinger, and [insert pitcher name here] rounding out the rotation.
Carlos: After taking 2021 off to recover from his second Tommy John surgery, Mike Clevinger is officially back. The Padres are hoping to see him come back to his pre-surgery form. A form that saw him pitch to a 41-20 record with a 2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, & a 10.2 K/9 ratio in the years prior to surgery. The Padres will be cautios with him as there is a small group of pitcher that have found success after two TJ surgeries, but a healthy Clevinger will be crucial to the Padres’ world series hopes.
C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?
Ben: C.J. Abrams all day long. MacKenzie Gore is an option as well but he doesn’t play everyday and there are still just so many arms ahead of him on the “likelihood to make the roster” list. Abrams is the team’s number one prospect and has the potential to be a five tool player once he gets stronger. He has been compared to Tatis in terms of his speed and athleticism and can be a top of the order threat when he arrives in San Diego. He’s had such a great start to spring camp that there’s talk about him starting at shortstop for Bob Melvin on Opening Day in place of the injured Tatis.
Diego: CJ Abrams. I really think he cracks the team this year, especially with Tatis out for an extended period of time, and can be a key piece to the success of this roster in multiple areas. He’s an excellent athlete with defensive prowess on the infield and some outfield experience dating back to his high school days and his speed, bat-to-ball skills, and improving power can be key at the bottom of this lineup.
Richard: That’s like making me pick my favorite child. I honestly can’t pick between CJ Abrams and Mackenzie Gore. A lot of Padres fans are down on Gore because he just can’t seem to turn the corner in the minors. He’s had problems with blisters on his pitching hand, which is about the most maddening thing for a baseball player to struggle with. Then last year he got his chance at AAA and stunk. I just can’t give up on him. His stuff is just nasty: four MLB-level pitches. His velo has even been up a few MPH this spring. CJ Abrams is coming off a broken leg but the hit tool is just beautiful to watch. I don’t think he sticks at SS and we’re locked in at 2B, so I think he’s an outfielder with the big club. But man is he fun. Dare I say a left-handed Fernando Tatis with less power but better contact? Well, I just typed it so I guess I’m saying it.
I can’t pick between Gore and Abrams, and you can’t make me.
Scott: C.J. Abrams (SS/2B). He could make the Opening Day roster as a backup (because Ha-Seong Kim is penciled in as the starting shortstop in place of the injured Tatis Jr.), he could be a September call-up, or he could be traded at the deadline. No one really knows what to expect, but we’re all waiting for him. Robert Hassell III (OF) is another one that we all hope gets a shot by September, but I doubt we’ll see him before then. Perhaps Mackenzie Gore (SP) has finally figured out what he was trying to fix in the minors over the last two years.
Carlos: CJ Abrams no question. The Young phenom continues to impress on the diamond. He lashed .269/.363/.420 at AA San Antonio last season, and is currently slashing .333 / .333 / .667 with a 1.000 OPS in spring training. Ideally he would be a September callup, especially with the infield depth the Padres have in front of him. But with the Tatis Injury keeping him on the sidelines for the next few months, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the Opening Day roster. The Padres have shown they are willing to bring top prospects up and start their service time early if they are up for the task – look no further to Tatis in 2020 when he made the opening day roster at just 20 years old.
C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?
Ben: I view the Padres as one of the three wild card teams and they likely will be playing one of the other two wild card teams in the Wild Card round. Even with the Tatis injury to start the season, this team is still very talented with a rotation on paper that’s probably the best in baseball and a lineup at the top that has All-Star caliber players (Trent Grisham, Luke Voit) and former All-Stars in it already (Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth). If this team doesn’t make an expanded postseason (assuming there aren’t as many injuries as last year), some changes probably should be made in the front office because right now is the time to win.
Diego: I think they’ll be competitive and sneak into the playoffs with the expanded format. The Dodgers are who they are and San Francisco has clearly emerged as a behemoth in the NL West, too. I think if Tatis was playing for the full season they could compete for a shot at the division, but his absence has them locked into a wild card spot or on the outside looking in.
Richard: I said it last year and I’ll say it again. This team has World Series potential. Obviously, they have to deal with the monster in LA. But the Giants absolutely caught lightning in a bottle and they are falling back to Earth like a star from heaven, in my opinion. The D-backs and Rockies are terrible. So, again, just have to deal with the blue demons to the north. I have to assume LA wins the division, but with expanded playoffs the Padres must make the playoffs this year. What happens in the tournament is anyone’s guess. If we get good Blake, healthy Yu and standard Musgrove then we have at least a shot against anyone. The bullpen scares me a little and I hope Tatis is back before the ASG but this a top 10 roster in MLB. Maybe Bob Melvin is the secret sauce? Sure hope so.
Scott: I was SOOOO wrong last year on this question, so I’m going to temper my expectations and hope they’ve exceeded them by the season’s end. I think they make the postseason, finishing second behind the dodgers, hopefully with 85-90 wins. But the Giants could be a surprise once again, in which case the NL West is going to be interesting to say the least. After that, it all depends on who the Padres potentially face in the first round.
Carlos: With the amount of hype this team has garnered over the last few years, coupled with the disappointment of last season, its hard not to expect a playoff berth at a minimum. It won’t be easy since the Padres find themselves in the most stacked divisions in baseball. The Dodger and Giants only got better this offseason. If the Padres can take care of business, and finish with a winning divisional record, they will control their own destiny. I fully expect the pitching to bounce back under pitching coach Ruben Niebla. If they can keep injuries to a minimum, a starting rotation of Darvish, Clevinger, Snell, Musgrove, and Gore (?) will lead the team to a playoff berth. From there, it is certainly anyone’s ball game but don’t be surprised if the Friars make a deep run in October.
C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Padres Twitter accounts to follow.
Richard: @RyanCohen24 is the Padre fan I wish I was. He is all positivity and enthusiasm. He’s a between-innings, video board celebrity at the park and just a fount of fandom on twitter. @PadresUK Dude either stays up or wakes up at God-knows-when to watch the Padres from England. It makes me happy to think someone loves a team from my little town in the southwest corner of the US enough to follow them across the pond. @jpro22 Runs the video board at Petco Park and comes up with the most entertaining facts for the players during their at bats. He then sends out his greatest hits and Twitter.
Scott: @thekeptfaith, but that technically doesn’t really count as “besides yourself,” so…
@SamNeher24 – One of the most annoying members of #PadresTwitter, and one of the funniest. He manages to push everyone’s buttons, both opposing teams’ fans and Padres fans. And I love it, because he’s doing it in a way that is hilarious to those who understand the bit.
@HJPreller – Formerly known as PadresJagoff, HJ (not his real name or initials) co-hosts a Padres podcast, Gwynntelligence. He has some great baseball takes, in between the MS Paint dong photos and the travel rewards points chat.
@MajorCBS – Arguably the most high-profile Padres fan out there right now, the chief Washington, DC correspondent and occasional CBS Evening News anchor religiously follows the team from the East Coast, watching the games on TV late at night. And he writes occasional columns for the Clairemont Times to boot.