Winter Report Card: Padres keep rebuilding with small yet smart moves
- Continuing the work he started during the 2016 season, general manager A.J. Preller has spent the winter stripping the Padres for parts to try to accelerate a total rebuild.
Before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season, acknowledging that there’s still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2016. Next up: the San Diego Padres.
68–94 (.420), fifth place in National League West
IF Alexei Amarista, OF Oswaldo Arcia, RHP Edwin Jackson,* OF Jon Jay, C Derek Norris, IF Adam Rosales,* RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Carlos Villanueva*
RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Tyrell Jenkins, RHP Zach Lee
(*free agent, still unsigned)
Off-season In Review
The Padres went into the 2016 season hoping that general manager A.J. Preller's back-to-back winter whirlwinds were enough to change the direction of the club, which hasn't finished above .500 since '10 or reached the postseason since '06. Two months into the season, it became abundantly clear that wasn't the case. Two days after executive chairman Ron Fowler went full Steinbrenner by publicly blasting the team as "miserable failures," James Shields was traded in the first of seven deals that Preller made before the Aug. 1 trade deadline; Andrew Cashner, Matt Kemp, Fernando Rodney, Drew Pomeranz and Melvin Upton Jr. were part of the exodus as the Padres belatedly embraced rebuilding. In some cases, they dumped salary; in others, they got back live arms (most notably Anderson Espinosa and Hansel Rodriguez); in one case, they got back a player whom they had just traded away (Colin Rea) who turned out to need Tommy John surgery. That landed Preller in hot water when MLB’s investigation confirmed that the team withheld medical information from its trade partners, resulting in a month-long suspension for the GM.
Since the end of the season, more familiar names have scattered to the four winds. Most notably, starting catcher Derek Norris, who hit an abysmal 186/.255/.328 with 14 homers, was traded to the Nationals. Norris's departure opens up the starting catching job for once-touted prospect Austin Hedges, who spent most of 2016 tearing up the Pacific Coast League (.326.353/.597 with 21 homers in 82 games), though it's his work behind the plate that's his real calling card.
Gone from among those who saw significant duty in the lineup are Jay, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs; Amarista, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Rockies; Arcia, who signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks; and Rosales, who's still a free agent. Jay hit .291/.339/.389 with a 97 OPS+ and 1.1 WAR in 90 games, including 72 starts in centerfield. That job that could belong to prospect Manuel Margot (acquired from Boston in the November 2015 trade of Craig Kimbrel) as soon as Opening Day, and even if that timeline doesn't work out, youngsters Margot, Travis Jankowski, Alex Dickerson and Hunter Renfroe figure to see the bulk of the outfield duty. Utility infielders both, Amarista hit just .257/.295/.271 with -0.6 WAR in 65 games as a utilityman, and Rosales hit .229/.319/.495 with a career-high 13 homers in 248 PA. Arcia hit a combined .203/.270/.366 with eight homers in 222 PA in a year that spanned four teams, though he went just 5-for-43 for San Diego. In other words: Arcia later.
Of the pitchers gone, the only ones who threw more than 22 innings for the Padres were Jackson and Villanueva. Jackson was lit up for a 5.89 ERA in in 73 1/3 innings over 13 starts—a performance of a piece with just about all the rest of his expired four-year, $52 million deal. If he has any kind of big league future, it's via a return to the middle relief role that he performed ably for the Cubs and Braves in 2015. Villanueva was somehow every bit as bad as Jackson, posting a 5.96 ERA in 74 innings out of the bullpen; how one yields 2.1 homers per nine rate despite calling Petco Park home is a riddle for the Sphinx. The one who will be missed is Ross, a 2014 All-Star and former hot commodity who was limited to one start in '16—Opening Day—due to shoulder inflammation that culminated in surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October; he just signed with the Rangers.
That brings us to the rotation, where San Diego has added Chacin via a one-year, $1.75 million deal. The 29-year-old righty pitched to a 4.81 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 144 innings for the Braves and Angels and will head up an unimposing unit that will also include some combination of Clayton Richard (re-signed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal after a strong nine-start showing late in the year), Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart, Luis Perdomo and quite likely Trevor Cahill, who's reportedly nearing a deal of similar value to Chacin's. The team has also expressed interest in free agents Doug Fister, Jake Peavy and Jered Weaver, all of whom would need to rebuild some value themselves.
Two former first-round picks who suffered through rough 2016 seasons could pitch their way onto the staff, if they get back on track. The 25-year-old Lee, a 2010 Dodgers pick with exactly one big league appearance under his belt, was torched for a 6.14 ERA with the PCL affiliates of the Dodgers and Mariners, which makes him a project. The 24-year-old Jenkins, a 2010 supplemental first-round pick by the Cardinals, was cuffed for a 5.88 ERA in 52 innings split between the Braves' rotation and bullpen. Already this winter, he's been traded from the Braves to the Rangers and then selected off waivers by the Reds and Padres.
Unfinished Business: Shortstop, infield depth, a Wil Myers extension
The shortstop position has been the bane of Preller's existence since taking over the Padres: It went largely unaddressed during his first-year makeover, and last year, Alexei Ramirez was so uninspiring that he drew his release in early September. Luis Sardinas, who was picked up late last season and whose connections to Preller go back to their time with the Rangers, is a 24-year-old switch-hitter who did well after being acquired from Seattle but hit just .244/.295/.356 in 197 plate appearances overall. Scouts feel that he's better suited to a utility role.
Finding someone who can anchor the infield defense behind a staff that doesn't figure to miss a ton of bats—the Padres were second-to-last in the league in strikeouts last year and 12th in defensive efficiency—is a must. What remains on the free-agent market (Erick Aybar, Daniel Descalso) isn't inspiring, so Preller will have to find talent by other means. Between Ryan Schimpf, Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje (who figure to cover second and third base in some combination), he does have some depth to deal from.
As for Myers, he earned All-Star honors for the first time last year after putting together his first healthy season, batting .259/.336/.461 with 28 homers. He's arbitration eligible for the first time, and the team has already begun exploring the possibility of an extension with him. There are lean years ahead for the Padres, but locking in the 26-year-old slugger would give the fans a star to focus upon.
Preliminary Grade: C+
Credit Preller here: While the rebuild was overdue, he hasn't been shy about stripping this roster to the bone. He’s cleared space to give young and inexpensive players—plus a few reclamation projects—a long look, and while there haven’t been attention-grabbing moves, he hasn’t spent foolishly and has used the waiver wire and Rule 5 draft (picking three players through that) to add talent on the cheap. It’s not likely to pay off in a team that’s pretty to watch in 2017, but the long-term vision here is more clear than it was before, and that should hopefully keep the Padres off the 70-something-win treadmill of mediocrity that they've occupied for too long.