Winter Report Card: San Diego Padres
With little less than four weeks before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2014. You can find all previously published Winter Report Cards here.
2014 Results: 77-85 (.469), third place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key Departures: RHP R.J. Alvarez, RHP Blaine Boyer, SS Everth Cabrera, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Jesse Hahn, IF Jace Peterson, C Rene Rivera, RHP Donn Roach, RHP Keyvius Sampson, OF Seth Smith, RHP Tim Stauffer, LHP Eric Stults, RHP Joe Wieland
If you thought the Marlins have been busy wheeling and dealing during hot stove season, consider the Padres. In his first winter on the job, general manager A.J. Preller, hired last August from the Rangers, has made eight different trades, radically remaking the roster of a team that has just one season above .500 out of the last seven. Of the seven players who accumulated the most plate appearances with the team last year, four are gone, as are five of the players whom Baseball America ranked among the team's top 10 prospects last spring. As Preller cleans up the various messes left behind by predecessor Josh Byrnes and the interim GM team that handled the Padres' deadline deals, the parts still may not entirely fit together yet — which is to say that the dealing may not be done — but it's been a fascinating whirlwind to behold.
Headlining the remake is a star-powered outfield that has only exacerbated the pre-existing logjam. In separate deals, Preller traded for the Braves' Justin Upton, the Rays' Wil Myers and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, a unit that lacks a true centerfielder but that for the moment sets up as listed, left to right. There's an all-new catching tandem featuring the Athletics' Derek Norris and the Dodgers' Tim Federowicz as well, and the left side of the infield has been shaken up with the addition of the Red Sox's Will Middlebrooks and the nontendering of Everth Cabrera.
The 30-year-old Kemp and 27-year-old Federowicz were part of a five-player intradivisional deal that sent Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland (who returned from 2013 Tommy John surgery and made four appearances for the Pads) and righty pitching prospect Zach Eflin (who spent the year at High A) to the Dodgers, with the latter then sent to the Phillies in the Jimmy Rollins trade. Healthy enough to play 150 games after two injury-wracked seasons, Kemp rebounded from a slow start to hit .287/.346/.506 with 25 homers (17 after the All-Star break) but appeared to have lost more than a step, speed-wise. He stole just eight bases (a career low) and was so dreadful afield — -23 Defensive Runs Saved, -22 Ultimate Zone Rating — that the Dodgers changed his position twice, moving him from center to left to right as through he were starring in Goldilocks and the Three Outfield Spots. The Dodgers ultimately concluded that relocating him to somebody else's (much larger) outfield 124 miles south was juuuuust right, and are paying $32 million of the $107 million he's owed through 2019, including $18 million in 2015.
Amid winning Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2012 and then AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, the 24-year-old Myers has now been traded twice, first by the Royals and then by the Rays, and was acquired as part of a three-team, 11-player deal that also included the Nationals. In that one, the Padres sent out Rene Rivera, 19-year-old A-ball first baseman Jake Bauers (a 2013 seventh-round pick), 24-year-old righty Burch Smith (No. 8 on BA's prospect list last winter but limited to two appearances in 2014 due to forearm troubles) and 21-year-old righty Joe Ross (10th on BA's list before splitting his 2014 season between High A and Double A).
Myers' 2014 was miserable, as he hit just .222/.294/.320 with six homers in 361 PA and missed 70 games due to a right wrist fracture suffered in a collision. While he played 87 games in centerfield at Double A and Triple A stops in 2012, he has just six starts there in the majors, so the position could be a stretch. More palatable is the fact that he won't become arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season or eligible for free agency until 2019. Also coming from Tampa Bay in the deal were catcher Ryan Hanigan (subsequently flipped to Boston for Middlebrooks), 19-year-old lefty Jose Castillo (who hasn't played above Rookie ball) and 21-year-old righty Gerardo Reyes (who spent last year in Low A as a reliever).
The 27-year-old Upton arrived via a six-player deal with the Braves, one that sent out now-21-year-old lefty Max Fried (the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft and the team's No. 3 prospect coming into the year before being lost to Tommy John surgery), 20-year-old third baseman Dustin Peterson (who spent the year in A-ball), 24-year-old Jace Peterson (their No. 7 prospect who rose from Double A to Triple A to the majors, where he went 6-for-53) and 21-year-old outfielder Mallex Smith (who split the year at two A-ball levels). Upton put up his best numbers since 2011, hitting .270/.342/.491 with 29 homers, a 132 OPS+ and 4.0 WAR. He'll make $14.5 million in 2015, his final year before free agency. Also coming over in the trade was 24-year-old righthander Aaron Northcraft, who was knocked around for a 4.70 ERA with 7.8 strikeouts per nine as a starter at Double A and Triple A.
Despite adding Upton, Myers and Kemp, only one player has been subtracted from the resulting mess of outfielders: Seth Smith, who hit .266/.367/.440 with 12 homers in a team-high 521 PA en route to a 135 OPS+ and 4.5 WAR, the last two of which were career bests. He was sent to Seattle for 24-year-old Brandon Maurer, who pitched to a 4.65 ERA in seven starts and 31 relief appearances totaling 69 2/3 innings. He impressed in the latter role via a 38/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.17 ERA in 37 1/3 innings, though it's unclear whether he'll battle for a bullpen job or work in Triple A as a starter. While Smith is gone, fellow outfielders Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin and Will Venable remain, more on which below.
As for the catching corps, the Padres dealt away two above-average offensive contributors in Grandal (.225/.327/.401 with 15 homers en route to a 112 OPS+) and Rivera (.252/.319/.432 with 11 homers and a 117 OPS+), the latter of which was quite unexpected given his .206/.241/.290 (45 OPS+) line in 461 career PA before last year. Grandal struggled with his throwing, but both he and Rivera were among the majors' best at pitch framing according to Baseball Prospectus' metrics (sixth at +17.8 runs for the former, second at +26.2 runs for the latter). Norris, on the other hand, was 15.5 runs below average in that department and threw out just 17 percent of opposing base thieves, though he hit .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and a 118 OPS+. He turns 26 on Feb. 14 and comes cheap in terms of price, with one more year to go before arbitration eligibility and four before free agency.
That club control came at a cost, for the team traded a pair of promising pitchers who didn't spend long in the organization in 25-year-old Jesse Hahn and 23-year-old R.J. Alvarez. Hahn put up a 3.07 ERA with 8.6 strikeouts per nine in 73 1/3 innings as a rookie, primarily as a starter, while Alvarez, who arrived from the Angels in the July deal for Huston Street, made 10 appearances with the Padres after splitting his minor league season at two Double A stops. Also coming from Oakland was 23-year-old righty Seth Streich, a 2012 sixth-round pick who spent last year starting in High A.
On the left side of the infield, the Padres ditched problem child Cabrera, who went from leading the league in steals in 2012 and earning All-Star honors in 2013 to hitting just 232/.272/.300 in 391 PA in 2014 amid even bigger problems off the field. He was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2012 (ultimately dismissed), suspended 50 games for his involvement in Biogenesis in 2013, and arrested again last fall for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana and resisting arrest. Holdover Alexi Amarista, who hit just .239/.286/.314 (76 OPS+), is the likely starter, with 35-year-old Clint Barmes as the backup via a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The latter hit .245/.328/.294 in 116 PA for the Pirates, but he's around for his glove, not his bat; he averages 18 DRS per 1,200 innings (roughly 135 games).
At third base, holdover Yangervis Solarte (.260/.336/.369, 103 OPS+ as a rookie for the Yankees and Padres) will battle with the 26-year-old Middlebrooks, who hit an abysmal .191/.256/.265 with two homers in 234 PA for the Red Sox and missed roughly three months due to a calf strain and a broken right index finger. Middlebrooks has been moving steadily backwards since a strong rookie season in 2012 due to his lack of plate discipline, but he's not even arbitration eligible yet, so he'll get another chance while he’s still cheap.
Among the rest, back-of-the-rotation lefty Eric Stults, who was tagged for a 4.30 ERA (78 ERA+) departed via free agency, replaced (possibly) by oft-inured 30-year-old Brandon Morrow, who threw just 33 1/3 major league innings last year due to a strained tendon sheath in his right index finger. He could wind up in the bullpen, with Odrisamer Despaigne slotted behind Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Robbie Erlin in the rotation. Also an option if he can ever get healthy is Josh Johnson, who didn't give the team a single regular-season inning last year before undergoing April Tommy John surgery, his second. He took a pay cut from $8 million to $1 million plus incentives to re-sign.
In the bullpen, scattered to the four winds are Blaine Boyer, Donn Roach and Tim Stauffer, who combined to make 92 appearances last year. Arriving as a potential setup man is 30-year-old Shawn Kelley, who whiffed 11.7 per nine but was tagged for a 4.53 ERA (but just a 3.02 FIP) in 51 2/3 innings with the Yankees. He came via a trade that sent Double A righty reliever Johnny Barbato to New York.
Unfinished Business: Outfield logjam
For all of Preller's trades, he still has the aforementioned trio of holdover outfielders on his roster who are owed a combined $19.25 million for 2015, with another $9 million guaranteed beyond this year. The 32-year-old Quentin is dead weight, owed $8 million after being limited to a .177/.284/.315 showing in 155 PA last year due to two extended DL stays for left knee inflammation. He's played in just 218 games over the last three seasons, missing enough time that he won't qualify for a $3 million buyout on his $10 million mutual option for 2016.
More useful is the 32-year-old Venable, who will make $4.25 million in his final year before free agency. After a 22-homer/126 OPS+ breakout in 2013, he slumped to eight homers with a 79 OPS+ (.224/.288/.325), though he did play a credible centerfield (-2 DRS in 76 games) and is six runs above average per 1,200 innings there. He could fit as a fourth outfielder or even the starting centerfielder if the team wanted to try moving Myers to first base and sending punchless but inexpensive ($1.65 million) 28-year-old incumbent Yonder Alonso yonder.
Maybin, a natural centerfielder who turns 28 on Apr. 4, is coming off a rough season in which he hit just .235/.290/.331 for an 81 OPS+ in 272 PA, missed five weeks due to a torn biceps tendon and drew a 25-game suspension for amphetamine usage. Given that he's seven runs above average per 1,200 innings via DRS, he makes some sense as a starter, but owed $7 million for 2015, $8 million for 2016 and either $9 million or a $1 million buyout for 2017, he's too pricey to make a bench player or stash until Upton departs as a free agent.
Of course, the picture would be simplified if a long-rumored deal involving Myers and Cole Hamels goes down, but there’s been far more smoke than fire to that one since it surfaced in December. One way or another, Preller still has work to do to clean up the situation and save some money.
Preliminary Grade: B+
The Padres have pulled off an impressive set of swaps that give them a shot at contending for a postseason berth, but the parts don't all fit together very well yet. Expect San Diego's new GM to make one or two more moves before we circle back for a final grade.