Playing Pepper 2018: San Diego Padres

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

San Diego Padres
71-91, fourth in NL West
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Sometimes it feels like the Padres get overlooked when you talk about teams out in California.  Granted, they’ve had some tough times as of late, but they’ve also had some iconic players come through there and there have been some good years as well.  Even the burst of offseason activity a couple of winters ago got them headlines for a while but the results didn’t follow.  So are they building something out there at Petco Park?  We’ve got three Padres bloggers to let us know just that.

Writer Site Twitter
Scott Dunsmore Ghost of Ray Kroc/The Kept Faith GhostofRAK
Jodes Paranal Gaslamp Ball jodes0405
Richard Dorsha East Village Times outsidepaint

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Scott: I guess they improved in some areas, sure.  Eric Hosmer was the big one, obviously. I suppose that is an offensive improvement, because it’s likely a wash defensively, with Wil Myers moving back to the outfield. Defensively, Freddy Galvis is a legitimate shortstop, a position the Padres have been sorely lacking at since the days of Everth Cabrera. And that wasn’t very long a period. We’re just sitting around waiting for Fernando Tatis Jr to get called up. Galvis is a better “stopgap” then the likes of Erick Aybar or Alexei Ramirez.

The bullpen continues to be one of the strongest aspects of the team with Brad Hand locked in as closer and newly added Japanese submariner Kazuhisa Makita.  But that starting rotation, man. When Clayton Richard is an early favorite to be the Opening Day starter, your rotation needs a little work, to say the least.

Jodes: This team still isn’t going to be a contender in 2018, but I think both the big league club and the organization as a whole did improve in the offseason. AJ Preller and his crew addressed some big questions that the team had going into Winter. They signed a legit, proven shortstop in Freddy Galvis as well as a solid backup catcher in A.J. Ellis. Not to mention the big blockbuster signing of the winter, Eric Hosmer, who turned this skeptic into a fan almost immediately with the way he’s stepped into a leadership role and connected with his teammates in camp. There’s a ton of depth in both the outfield and infield, and both the starting pitching and bullpen have some very strong contenders this year. All of this indicates that we’ll be watching a more well-rounded and overall stronger team in 2018. Maybe we won’t be watching them into October, but it’ll be a more exciting regular season for Padres fans.

Richard: Padres fans have developed a hastag: #trusttheprocess (which morphed into #trusttheprellerprocess because too many non-Padres tweets had the former). This team is trying to use the small-market model implemented successfully by the Astros and Royals and not-so-successfully by many (Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Milwaukee, etc). 2017 was not supposed to be a contending year, neither is 2018.

So, did the team improve over the winter? Yes. But that was not really the point. The Padres signed Eric Hosmer to the largest contract in team history because they think he will still be in his prime when this team is ready to contend (in 2019 or 2020). So, this offseason did what it was supposed to do: build for the future without blocking any young players. I call that a success.

C70: It was strange not seeing the Padres steal a Cardinals minor leaguer in the Rule 5 draft this season. What are the thoughts on Luis Perdomo and Allen Córdoba?

Scott: Perdomo has managed to exceed expectations and become a halfway decent mid-rotation starting pitcher. Is he a #1? No way. And anyone who may think that is, quite frankly, nuttier than a fruitcake.

Who’s that second player? I don’t remember ever seeing that guy. Seriously, I had to look it up to see how much Córdoba played last year and was shocked to see he appeared in 100 games. He made 227 plate appearances and hit .208, which means he was used predominantly as a defensive replacement and/or a pinch hitter. Most of those appearances in the field came in the outfield. There was some chatter among Padres fans when Aybar went on the DL last season to give Córdoba a shot at shortstop, but that scenario didn’t work out the way we all hoped it would. What I’m trying to say is he’s likely starting the season in the minors and he’ll be lucky to find his way back to the Majors with a set position and not be just an Alexi Amarista clone.

Jodes: Luis Perdomo was a lot of fun to watch last year, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that in 2018. At this point, it’s looking likely that he’ll get one of three remaining open rotation spots. He still has a lot to work on at the big league level, like his strikeout rate which was pretty low in 2017, but he showed a lot of promise last season and just a few days ago when he made his Spring debut. I was actually at the game out in Surprise, AZ and Perdomo pitched really well – he struck out five batters in three innings! I know it was just one brief Spring outing, but if it’s any indication at all as to the improvements he made over the offseason, I think we’ll be in for another solid season from the young righty.

As for Cordoba, we have yet to see. He started off his 2017 season with some success, but went downhill as opposing pitchers became more familiar with him and his weaknesses as a young hitter. Earlier this year, just before Spring Training began and while he was back home in Panama, he was in a car accident in which he sustained a concussion. As of about a week ago, he still hadn’t made an appearance in Arizona, and it’s looking less and less like he’ll get any playing time at the big league level this season. And that’s not a bad thing. He’ll benefit much more from some consistent at-bats in the minors, where he can take his time developing and honing his craft among some competition that’s more his speed, as opposed to MLB-level opponents that he may not be entirely ready to face yet.

Richard: I got really used to former Cardinals joining the team. I mean, even beyond rule 5 guys (I’ll take Jon Jay to block, Peter). Allen Cordoba is a nice addition, but I don’t think he projects as anything but a depth outfielder, especially with Wil Myers moving back to the outfield.

Luis Perdomo is an interesting player. The second half of his 2016 had many Padre fans excited. 2017 was a bit of a step back, mostly due to lack of control. But he is still just a kid and he is exactly the type of innings-eater a team like the Padres needs. He is under team control until 2022, so I fully expect him to be a mainstay in the rotation for the next few years.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Scott: Nothing. I have no expectations, either positive or negative, for this team. And neither should anyone else. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably delusional. Some may see that as being negative. I see it as being realistic.

Not that this season won’t be fun to watch. The future is getting bright for this organization. It should be interesting to see if Hosmer actually is the positive influence that they’re paying $21 million a year for the next five years for. Will Myers’ move back to the outfield prove to the key to his 2016 first half production? Will Manuel Margot continue to impress? Will Hunter Renfroe continue to overthrow the bases for no reason? Will Fernando Tatis Jr. get the call to the big club before September? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

Jodes: The strength of the Padres bench going into the season is something I think a lot of people don’t think about. Especially after the Hosmer signing, the competition really heated up for those last position player roles on the Opening Day roster. For example, with Hosmer taking the starting 1B job Wil Myers is moving back to right field. And with Manuel Margot basically a lock as the starting center fielder, there are still quite a few strong contenders vying for that last outfield spot. No matter what happens there will be some nice bats left to sit on the Padres bench and be real assets late in games.

Richard: The Padres defense, especially in the infield will be really, really good. Hosmer is elite and Chase Headley has won a Gold Glove. Freddy Galvis is possibly the best defensive shortstop the team has run out to the position in years. Whether Carlos Asuaje or Cory Spangenberg win the second base job, all they need to do is be league average to make the infield defense stellar. When you have a team with Clayton Richard and Perdomo, who will try to keep the ball on the ground, a good defensive infield will save dozens of runs over the course of a season. Add in Manny Margot in CF and Austin Hedges behind the dish and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say the Padres will have one of the best defensive teams in the league.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Padres to do well?

Scott: Myers. Next question.

What? You want more? Fine. Myers needs to show us that he can step up and perform on a consistent level for an entire season. He’s been too hit & miss over the last season and a half since the 2016 All-Star Game. And now that the “team leader and face of the franchise” mantle has been bestowed upon Hosmer, Myers won’t have to worry about that anymore. Probably. In fact, I’m changing my answer to Hosmer. If he doesn’t do well, watch out. All those people who questioned his signing, myself included, will be proven right and I don’t know how the Padres are going to live that down.

If it happens like that.

Which I don’t want to see.

But I do kind of want to see.

Sort of.

But not really.

Jodes: It would be easy (and not untrue) to say someone like Hosmer or Galvis, but my pick goes to Margot. He had something of a breakout season last year as a rookie, and he’s projected to do even better in 2018. With his power and speed in the lineup and his defense in the outfield, his success could be key for this team, and for future Padres teams.

Richard: A key player for the Padres is tricky, because the team really doesn’t plan on contending for anything this year. I will say this, the team really wants Wil Myers to have a bounce-back year. Prior to the Hosmer signing, Myers was the face of the franchise (having received the previous largest contract in team history) and most experts say he didn’t really enjoy the role. This may have been a factor in nearly all of his numbers taking a dip last year. The Padres saw Myers as a player of the ascent, and expected him to keep getting better year over year. They are really, really hoping last year was just a one-year regression, and not a sign of more ominous things to come. I think Myers has a big year.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Scott: Ron Fowler, the chairman of the ownership group, has said repeatedly that he expects to finish with at least a .500 record this year. With that starting rotation, though….yeesh, good luck with that. It’s going to be a hard road to travel when you’re down 5 runs after 2 innings every other game.

I would venture to guess 76 wins. Not for any specific scientific rationale, but because that’s where they finished in 2012 and 2013 after winning 71 games in 2011, the same as last year. And history always repeats itself. IT ALWAYS REPEATS ITSELF!

Jodes: I feel like I’ve been pretty optimistic in my answers up to this point, just because that’s my nature. But I do think this team is going to be an interesting one to watch in 2018. In a general sense, they’ll probably be above average, but not much for casual fans to get too excited about or for fans of other teams to be wary of just yet. If you want a more specific answer, I see them finishing at 3rd or 4th in the NL West, though they may creep higher up in the standings at points during the season.

Richard: The tank is over in San Diego. The team is no longer hoping for a top-5 draft pick. This team thinks it is close and it wants to start a culture of winning. I believe the target is .500 baseball. Most metrics say it won’t get there, but I think 75-80 wins is a pretty realistic target. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities for the team to get to 82 wins. Most of the season success depends on the rotation. I have absolutely no idea who will lead this team in innings, and I don’t think the front office does, either.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Scott: When will Padres management get their heads out of their [backsides] and go back to brown full-time as a color scheme?

We’ll find out in 2020, apparently. This year is all about celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1998 World Series team and they’ll wear the 1998 uniforms on Way Back Wednesdays. And next year is the 50th anniversary of the Major League Padres. So I’m sure they’ll be doing all sorts of 1969 flashback stuff on Wednesdays next season, which wouldn’t be too bad as they wore brown in 1969. So that leaves 2020 as the earliest we could see significant changes to the most boring, uninspired uniform set in Major League Baseball.

Jodes: Maybe something about Jedd Gyorko? I was a big fan of his when he was in San Diego and continue to root for him (when the Cards aren’t playing against the Padres). Jon Jay was fine when he was here, but I was bummed about that trade when it happened and, especially with how well Gyorko has played against his former team the past couple of seasons, I’m still bitter about it.

Richard: Let’s bring this full circle. Since Padre fans have to decide whether to #trusttheprocess or not, I will offer my take on the process. I trust what GM AJ Preller is trying to do at Petco Park. Most analysts say the Padres have the best, or near the best, farm system in baseball. They, legitimately, have 2-3 potential aces starting games in various levels. They have, possibly, the most exciting position player prospect in baseball (Fernando Tatis). I firmly believe they have a 2-5 year window coming up where they have a chance for a Championship. We’ll see how it goes, but this is how small-market teams have to do this. So, I do #trusttheprocess, mostly because I have no choice but to trust this front office.  

My thanks to Scott, Jodes, and Richard for giving us a bit of insight on their favorite club.  We’ll see if the Hosmer deal pays dividends on and off the field, enough to have them as a playoff threat this year or at least soon!

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