With less than a month 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 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
San Diego Padres
2012 Results: 76-86, 4th place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
On the heels of a 71-91 season in 2011, the Padres weren't expected to contend last year, and they did not, falling below .500 on Opening Day, slipping more than 10 games back in the National League West by mid-May and never trimming that deficit back into the single digits. Even so, they did improve by five wins, and after stumbling out of the gate with a 28-50 record through June 29, they went 48-36 the rest of the way, the league's fifth-best record over that stretch, just two games off the pace of the division-winning Giants.
You might think that such a late-season showing would convince people that San Diego's rebuilding effort was ahead of schedule, and that it had a chance to contend in 2013 given an appropriately aggressive offseason. But where a team like the Royals has brazenly loaded up on veterans for a run at the AL Central, the Padres have exercised exceptional restraint. The only major league free agent they've signed this winter has been Jason Marquis, whom they're retaining on a one-year, $3 million deal following a half season of mediocre work in their rotation. Lit for an 8.47 ERA in seven starts with the Twins, the 34-year-old righty rebounded to post a 4.04 ERA in 15 starts (93 2/3 innings) for the Padres, a mark that was still 10 percent worse than the park-adjusted league average; somehow, he allowed 1.5 homers per nine in his 41 2/3 innings at Petco Park, and 1.6 per nine overall despite pitcher-friendly surroundings.
Right now, Marquis is penciled in as the team's number three starter behind holdovers Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard, who both have scary peripherals camouflaged by similarly 4-ish ERAs as well, Volquez with 5.2 walks per nine and a 4.14 ERA, Richard with 1.3 homers and 4.4 strikeouts per nine accompanying a 3.99 ERA. Rounding out the rotation are two from among a group containing Ross, Eric Stults, Andrew Cashner, Anthony Bass and Cory Luebke. Cashner was limited to 46 1/3 innings last year due to a strained latissimus dorsi, then lacerated a tendon in his right thumb, requiring surgery and likely pushing him to the disabled list to start the year. Luebke, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 (3.29 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per nine in 139 2/3 innings), is recovering from late May Tommy John surgery after making just five starts last year. Ross, who turns 26 on April 22, was acquired from the A's along with minor league first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones in a deal that sent away Werner (5.58 ERA in eight starts for the Padres) and Parrino (.207/.316/.276 in 55 games). In 13 starts and five relief appearances for the A's last year, he was rocked for a 6.50 ERA, largely due to the effects of a .365 BABIP and 4.5 walks per nine. He may be bullpen fodder.
The rest of the additions are even more obscure, signed to minor league contracts instead of being added to the 40-man roster. Boscan, 23, spent last year with the Rangers' Double-A outfit, whiffing 8.1 per nine in 98 1/3 innings split between the rotation (nine starts) and the bullpen (25 appearances). Rearick, 25, struck out 10.9 per nine for the Rays' High-A and Double-A affiliates. Kloess, 28, struck out 8.6 per nine in 73 2/3 innings for the White Sox' top two farm clubs. All three could find their way into San Diego's bullpen at some point later in the year. Buck, 29, is a spare outfielder whose career has gone steadily downhill since a solid rookie season with the A's in 2007; last year he hit just .216/.284/.311 in 81 PA for the Astros. Rivera, 29, is a backup catcher with a lifetime .193/.234/.280 line in 273 PA; he may be third on the depth chart, a phone call away while Yasmani Grandal serves a 50-game suspension for PED use, leaving Nick Hundley and John Baker splitting time as the starter. Ransom, going on 37, is a utilityman with some pop but serious contact woes; he hit .220/.312/.411 with 11 homers and 109 strikeouts in 282 PA split between the Diamondbacks and Brewers.
Unfinished business: Continue the Chase. Chase Headley broke out during his age 28 season, hitting .286/.376/.498 with 31 homers — more than he'd hit in the previous three seasons combined — and a league-high 115 RBI. The Padres mulled trading him before the July 31 deadline, and I suggested their new owners would be wise to finish the job this winter, but that was early in a second half that featured an MLB-high 23 of those homers. By November, I was advocating they lock him up with a long-term extension. Headley has one more year of arbitration eligibility after this one and has submitted a figure of $10.3 million for 2013, with the Padres counteroffering $7.075 million. With Petco's infamous fences coming in and making it more likely he can match last year's numbers, the Padres would be better off completing an extension before his price rises too high. Preliminary grade: C- The Padres have done very little to move themselves in either direction this winter, but at least they've done nothing stupid. They're banking that a young nucleus will continue to improve and that their booming farm system will help them contend in due time while showing enough patience not to force the issue.