This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 22: the San Diego Padres.
2015 Record and Finish:
74–88 (.457), fourth place in National League West (23rd overall)
2016 Projected Record and Finish:
73–89 (.451), fourth place in NL West
The Case For
Change can sometimes be a good thing. Certainly that wasn’t the case for last year’s Padres, even with many calling general manager A.J. Preller the champion of the off-season after he made numerous high-profile moves that ultimately didn’t end with winning results. But after underperforming last season, San Diego could finish higher in the standings than many predict if the team can find a groove and get career years from several players.
The real question is whether that can happen with the roster the Padres currently have. There are a few potential difference makers on the team. Rightfielder Matt Kemp, who rebounded from a slow start with a fantastic second half (.868 OPS after the All-Star break), could be vital for the Padres if he can provide a consistent performance throughout the year. San Diego also dealt with an injured Wil Myers last season and the lack of a regular shortstop; Myers is back and healthy to man first base, and Alexei Ramirez will take over as the everyday starter at short after getting released by the White Sox.
In the rotation, the Padres still have righthander Tyson Ross, who led the starting five with a 112 ERA+ and boasts a fantastic 9.7 strikeout-per-nine ratio. One key here will be righthander Andrew Cashner, who is coming off a tough 2015 in which he went 6–16 with a 4.34 ERA, 84 ERA+ and -0.9 Wins Above Replacement. If Cashner can turn around his performance and return to his 2013–14 form (2.87 ERA, 119 ERA+ in 298 1/3 innings), the Padres' pitching rotation will certainly be stronger.
The Case Against
As they did last year, the Padres will enter the season with a roster that looks markedly different from the previous year's edition, but whereas 2015 was about trying to build a contender on the fly, '16 will be simply about rebuilding. Gone is leftfielder Justin Upton, who led the team in home runs with 26 and is now with the Tigers. Also departed: righthander Ian Kennedy, first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jedd Gyorko. The latter three won't be missed much, but San Diego failed to replace Upton's power this winter, leaving a sizable hole in the middle of what is already a thin lineup.
The pitching rotation for the Padres could also be problematic. Although James Shields and Ross are reliable, the bottom half of the rotation is still in the works. At this point, it looks like righthanders Brandon Maurer and Colin Rea and lefty Robbie Erlin could be filling those spots. Maurer, who served as the Padres' setup man last season, is 4–12 with a 6.62 ERA in his career as a starter. He also last pitched on Aug. 9 and was shut down for the season after dealing with shoulder inflammation. Rea made his major league debut in 2015 and tallied six solid starts, going 2–2 and striking out 26 in 32 2/3 innings, but he's never thrown more than 139 innings in a season. All three pitchers will likely face some growing pains in their starting roles, and San Diego lacks veteran options should they falter.
If the Padres do find themselves in close games, the bullpen situation could be brutal. San Diego traded away closer Craig Kimbrel, who recorded 39 saves last season, and setup reliever Joaquin Benoit. Even with Kimbrel and Benoit, San Diego’s bullpen struggled last season, accumulating a 4.02 ERA, which ranked 13th in the NL. It's hard to imagine that number improving without those two.
X-Factor: Wil Myers, 1B
Dealing with a wrist injury throughout the season, Myers was unable to contribute the way the Padres had hoped after the team acquired him from the Rays for top prospect Trea Turner. Myers played in just 60 games for San Diego last season, spending prolonged stints on the disabled list. Myers did contribute when healthy, hitting .253/.336/.427 for a 114 OPS+ in 253 plate appearances, but those stats were still a far cry from his Rookie of the Year-winning form in 2014.
With the addition of former Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay, Myers will move out of the outfield and over to first base, and with Upton gone, he'll be counted on as a potential run producer in the middle of the Padres' lineup. Now 25 years old and entering his fourth season, Myers’s experience and growth as a player will be crucial for San Diego. If he is able to stay healthy, he could provide the kind of impact the Padres need to return to contention.
Number To Know: 44
In his first year behind the plate for San Diego, catcher Derek Norris led the majors in runners thrown out trying to steal with 44, nabbing an impressive 34% of would-be base stealers. That's the most runners thrown out by a catcher in a single season since Gerald Laird caught 40 when he was with the Tigers in 2009. Norris also set a career-high in starts at catcher with 116 last season, and he graded out positively in Baseball Prospectus' catcher defense metrics. With a lot of questions facing the Padres this season, one certainty is that San Diego will have stability behind the plate.
Most Overrated: Andrew Cashner, SP
"The guy that’s the puzzle is Andrew Cashner. For throwing as hard as he does, he just can’t get through five innings. I saw a game where he had 96 pitches in 3 1/3 innings. His fastball moves, it’s 95–96 [mph], [but] when things go wrong, he doesn’t handle it well. He should be better."
Most Underrated: Wil Myers, 1B
"Wil Myers has been hurt, but he has real power. We loved him in high school. He can run. And he said he likes first base."