It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form. Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season. It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are. This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC. Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!
San Diego Padres
77-85, third in the NL West
Every year, there seems to be one team that gets involved with Extreme Makeover: Hot Stove Edition. Our contestant this year is the Padres, who dealt and signed their way into a seemingly completely new roster from the one that finished in the middle of the pack last year. Such revamps aren’t all that common out in San Diego, though many of the right age will remember that blockbuster deal of Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff 25 years ago. (Ugh, 25 years ago? Pardon me while I go ponder my own mortality.)
You can’t tell the players without a scorecard and you can’t know about the Friars without a guide. Luckily, we have three such guides for you today. Geoff writes at Left Coast Bias, which is part of Padres Public, the inspiration for The Cardinal Conclave. He’s on Twitter @LeftCoastBias. Next we have Richard, one of the stable of writers over at Friarhood. You can follow the blog on Twitter @friarhood and Richard himself @dorsha78. Finally, we have long-time friend Mike Metzger, a man with dual citizenship. You may know Mike from his work here at West Coast Redbird, but he’s also part of Padres Public with his blog Padres Trail. You can get his San Diego musings on Twitter @PadresTrail (more of his Cardinal stuff is at @metzgermg).
C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?
LCB: Wow, where do you start? This was an offseason unlike any I can ever remember for the Padres. In years past, the signing of Clint Barmes would have been the “big” move of the Winter. This year? I have to keep reminding myself that they got Clint Barmes because there were so many moves. Last season the Padres were historically bad offensively. Despite that, they still managed to win 76 games. That is quite an accomplishment when you consider how bad they really were. They probably should have loss more. To rectify that, AJ Preller somehow obtained, via trade, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers. He did it without giving up the top 3 prospects in the Padres system (Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, Hunter Renfroe). If nothing else, the offense will be better this year than last. To cap that off, he goes out to get James Shields to top the rotation of promising yet volatile arms like Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Did they do what they needed to do? It’s tough to turn a 76 win team into a playoff team in one offseason. I’m not sure he’s done that. But he’s made them better. And perhaps more importantly, he’s made them relevant. It’s one team to be bad. The Padres were boring. They won’t be that this year.
FH: My initial response was shock. In 30+ years following this team, this offseason was unprecedented. Which is a good thing. There is no doubt the team accomplished its initial goal, which was to create interest in their product after years of boring baseball. Come April, all that interest must translate into play on the field, or the malaise in the fanbase will return. There are plenty of unknowns with this team, however, and it is next to impossible to know what to expect this year.
PT: The Padres were a team with no buzz and a distracted fan base when the off-season started. Now that Kemp, Upton, and Shields are here, they have both buzz and a re-energized hard-core fan base. So from that perspective they did exactly what they needed to do. From a roster construction perspective I’m really curious to see what AJ Preller does next. They seem to have too many outfielders in camp and the infield outside of Gyorko is unsettled. Heck, we’re trying Carlos Quentin at first base. Seriously.
C70: What will be the strength of this year’s team?
LCB: Right handed power hitting feels like a cop out but…I mean, it’s right handed power hitting. Without question. They have question marks on defense. They have question marks in the infield (though less than I think some think). Health is an issue for Cashner, Ross and guys like Kemp and Myers. But, all things being equal, this team should be able to mash from the right side. And in Petco Park, right handed power hitting is what you are looking for.
FH: Despite all the offensive upgrades, this team will still live and die by its pitching. The top 4 in the rotation can match-up with almost any team in the Majors and there should be wonderful competition for that 5th rotation spot. The upgrades in the bullpen were largely overlooked, but adding Shawn Kelly and Brandon Maurer to an already solid ‘pen was huge. You add returning players like Nick Vincent, Kevin Quackenbush and Joaquin Benoit and the Padres could have one of the best bullpens in the National League.
PT: As last year, starting pitching. Shields and Tyson Ross are lethal. Cashner is too if he can stay healthy. Ian Kennedy is the wily veteran. Josh Johnson is rehabbing. We haven’t even touched on Odrisamer Despaigne, Cory Luebke, or Brandon Morrow. This club is overflowing with starting pitching talent.
C70: What do you think you have in Wil Myers?
LCB: I remember the baseball world being up in arms over the Myers to Shields trade a few years ago. Then that ROY season when he showed every bit the skill that was promised when he was a prospect. I think he’s likely closer to that than he was last year when he was battling a nagging injury. Young players have down years (look at Jedd Gyorko). But he’s too talented to not regain some of that ROY season form.
FH: That’s the multi-million dollar question. In many ways, Myers is the key to this entire season. Can he play centerfield at Petco Park? Does his power return from his rookie year? Are his injury problems finished? The Padres are singing his praises and he certainly passes the eyeball test but none of that matters. I don’t think he is a centerfielder, but the Padres have no choice at this point. I think Myers is right fielder with decent power who will be asked to bat at the top of the lineup and play center field, two things he is not really suited for. He makes me very nervous.
PT: Don’t know. It all depends on his health. I think we have a speed/power guy who will be an anchor in the lineup for several years. I hope we have a guy who can cover CF and hit his weight. Watching how Bud Black uses Myers and Cameron Maybin will be one of the more intriguing sub-plots of this season.
C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
LCB: Jedd Gyorko. Much like the aforementioned Myers, Gyorko had a great rookie season followed by a very disappointing 2014. Gyorko was battling an injury that he is fully healed from. Gyorko has been good at every level he’s every played at, including the Major League level in his rookie season. Now he has a lineup where he won’t be called on to be the primary source of offense. I think he has a big bounce back year.
FH: I expect Tyson Ross to enter the Cy Young discussion this year. Nearly all of his pitching metrics were fantastic last year and most of the baseball world knows about the swing-through rate on his slider. If he didn’t play with such a bad offense he could have won 20 games last year. Now, he will be pushed back to either the 2nd or even the 3rd spot in the rotation and he should get a favorable matchup on the mound every night.
PT: I’m hoping Gyorko turns back into the hitter he was in 2013, so we’ll go with him. If Quentin can stay healthy and play 130 games, that would qualify as a major stride.
C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
LCB: 87-75. Fighting for 2nd in the division.
FH: This team might be better than the 1998 team that won 98 games. However, the division is better as well. I’d put the over/under at 89 wins, which won’t be enough to win the NL West, so they likely finish 2nd and earn a Wild Card spot.
PT: I said .500 last year based solely on their starting pitching. But we have an offense now. I don’t think they’ll be a WC team but they should be entertaining all season. Let’s go with 84-78.
C70: What do you like best about being a Padres fan?
LCB: Huh…interesting question. Well, Tony Gwynn is a big one. But mostly it’s the underdog role the Padres have. Most years are pretty lean, honestly. Mediocre teams, mediocre baseball. But every now and then, they put together a season that’s magical. It’s so much fun when that happens. And I don’t think it’d be nearly as much fun if the Padres making the playoffs and going to World Series were regular things. I suffer the bad because I so cherish the good.
FH: I love the “me against the world” mentality we fans have. We know no one cares about us. We know ESPN will never show a Padres highlight in their “A” block. So when we do something noteworthy and force the national media to take notice it feels very gratifying. I will read the newspaper in the market of a team the Padres just swept just to see the columnists and fans lose their minds. If the Padres can somehow find a way to win a World Series in my lifetime, they could make a TV executive’s brain melt and I will smile.
PT: Rarely sitting in traffic waiting to leave the parking lot after the game ends. Although if they’re in contention come August and that starts to happen, I won’t mind a bit.
Big thanks to Geoff, Richard and Mike for their thoughts. It’s going to be fun to see how the team that “won the offseason” does when it hits the field!