The argument supporting a contending season for the Padres, therefore making this team more attractive to fantasy owners than expected, is peppered with the word "if." If Jedd Gyorko takes the next step toward stardom, if Chase Headley can regain at least a measure of his 2012 self, if Everth Cabrera's breakout wasn't driven by PED use, if Will Venable is a consistent 20/20 player, if Yasmani Grandal can stay healthy and achieve his potential, the offense could be much better than it was last year.
If Andrew Cashner is a true frontline pitcher, if Josh Johnson's peripheral stats last year were true, if Tyson Ross can hold up in a full season as a starter, the rotation could be much improved, as well.
Of course, fantasy owners cannot count on ifs, at least not until its time to start taking upside shots on guys. That's why you may not hear a Padre's name called in the first 100 picks of your draft. While all the players above are worth drafting, and a handful have sleeper or breakout potential, the bottom line is San Diego does not figure to contribute much to the fantasy community this season.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Everth Cabrera, SS
2. Yonder Alonso, 1B
3. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
4. Chase Headley, 3B
5. Carlos Quentin, LF
6. Will Venable, RF
7. Yasmani Grandal/Nick Hundley, C
8. Cameron Maybin, CF
1. Andrew Cashner
2. Josh Johnson
3. Tyson Ross
4. Ian Kennedy
5. Eric Stults
Bullpen: Huston Street (closer), Joaquin Benoit, Dale Thayer, Robbie Erlin, Tim Stauffer, Alex Torres, Nick Vincent
What does last year's PED suspension mean for Everth Cabrera? Cabrera was well on his way to a 50-steal campaign in 2013 before accepting a suspension for PED use that effectively ended his season. It was still a breakout year for the then 26-year-old shortstop, as he hit .283/.355/.381 with 37 steals in 435 plate appearances. Of course, we cannot be sure how much of that we can take at face value. The speed certainly is legit. Cabrera stole 44 bases in 449 plate appearances in 2012 and 29 in 2011 while spending most of his time at Triple-A Tucson. However, even with his strong slash numbers last year, he's just a career .252/.330/.342 hitter in nearly 1,600 trips to the plate.
Cabrera's batted-ball stats last year were almost directly in line with his career totals. His 2013 line-drive, ground-ball, fly-ball and infield-hit rates were all within two percentage points of his career numbers. The only drastic difference was his popup rate, which was way down at 3.5 percent compared to 7.3 percent for his entire career. Most of that number, though, derives from a ridiculous 14.7-percent popup rate in 2010. In other words, Cabrera got better results from the same batted-ball outcomes and earned his .337 BABIP.
What you don't see from those numbers is that Cabrera put the ball in play a whole lot more often last year that at any other point in his career. His strikeout rate dipped all the way to 15.9 percent from 24.5 percent in 2012. Any player will see his batting average and OBP increase if he cuts his strikeouts by one-fourth, but that's especially true for a speedster like Cabrera, who is a threat to reach base any time he puts the ball in play on the ground. Meanwhile, his 9.4-percent walk rate was flat compared with 2012 and his career.
It's impossible to pin down how much, if any, Cabrera's PED use boosted his numbers last year. To pretend otherwise is foolish. There is some circumstantial evidence, though, that suggests they were largely responsible for his jump in batting average and OBP. According to Pitch F/X, Cabrera was worth -2.9 runs compared with a replacement player against fastballs in 2012. Last year, he was worth 3.1 runs. Did PEDs help Cabrera increase his bat speed and catch up to fastballs that had blazed past him in previous years? It's not a smoking gun, but it is quite the turnaround in one season.
There are simply too many red flags here for me to buy into Cabrera this season. He can still be a 50-steal guy even if his rates come down, but I'm not into one-category players in fantasy baseball.
Is Jedd Gyroko the next great fantasy second baseman? We're in the middle of a Golden Era for the second base position in fantasy baseball. Robinson Cano is a superstar, and Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia are likely to come off the board within the first 30 picks of any fantasy draft. Ian Kinsler is a step or two behind them, and mid-round guys like Matt Carpenter, Jose Altuve and Brandon Phillips all offer a specific, multi-category skill set. Throw in Ben Zobrist and Aaron Hill and it's safe to say that you screwed up if you fail to find yourself a solid second baseman once draft season rolls around.
The biggest snafu, however, might be passing on Gyorko.
As a rookie in his age-24 season last year, Gyorko hit .249/.301/.444 with 23 homers and 63 RBI. Those numbers, other than the bombs, might not jump off the page, but recall that he hit .270 with a .330 OBP before the All-Star break. His struggles after the break can be tied directly to a strikeout rate that increased to 25.2 percent from 21.7 percent as pitchers changed their approach. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, and the bet here is that a guy who had success at every level of the minors, including a .328/.380/.588 season at Triple-A Tucson, will make those adjustments to not be a batting average or OBP killer for his fantasy owners this year.
At the same time, his power is not a mirage. Gyorko has played four full seasons as a professional since the Padres drafted him in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft. He hit 25 homers combined at two levels of the minors in 2011 and 30 in 2012 before his 23-homer rookie season last year. Time will tell if he is the next great fantasy second baseman. What he is for sure is a cheap source of 25 home runs at a position that does not feature a ton of power bats.
Is there any hope for Josh Johnson this year? Johnson's lone season with the Blue Jays was an unmitigated disaster. He went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts before being shut down with a forearm injury. In a year of total disappointment in Toronto, Johnson was perhaps the biggest bust.
Johnson fled Toronto this offseason for the major league city farthest away, signing a one-year, $8 million contract (albeit with an unconventional team option in 2015) with San Diego. Not only does he escape the American League, the brutal AL East and the Rogers Centre, but also he'll now make roughly half his starts at Petco Park. Moreover, his 2013 season wasn't nearly as bad as his superficial stats suggest.
Johnson's 6.20 ERA belies a 4.62 FIP and 3.58 xFIP. He didn't pitch enough innings to qualify, but the 1.58 difference between Johnson's ERA and FIP would have been the highest in the majors. It shouldn't surprise you to learn, then, that he had a .356 BABIP and 63.3-percent strand rate, both indicative of terrible luck. He threw just 81.1 innings last year, but he struck out 83 batters, good for a 9.2 K/9. His average fastball velocity was 92.8 mph, exactly the same as it was in 2012 and just 1 mph slower than it was in 2011.
By simply upgrading to Petco, which suppressed homers by 22 percent compared with an average park, from the Rogers Centre, which boosted them by 19 percent, Johnson can potentially do away with his one true bugaboo from last year. He allowed 15 homers in his 81.1 innings, with 11 of those coming at home. You can't count on him for 30-plus starts, but Johnson will come cheap thanks to a 2013 that wasn't nearly as bad as it appears. Take advantage of that bargain price on draft day.
Yasmani Grandal, C -- Grandal expects to be healthy for Opening Day after suffering a knee injury last season. The 25-year-old has the ability to provide elite batting average and OBP for a catcher, as he's just two seasons removed from a .297/.394/.469 slash with eight homers in 226 plate appearances. You could do worse than waiting on a catcher and ending up with Grandal, even though he was tied up in the same PED investigation as Everth Cabrera.
Everth Cabrera, SS -- I was tempted to put Chase Headley here, but he already busted last year, and the fantasy community should not have any renewed faith in him. Cabrera earns the dishonor, then, as his steals won't do enough to counteract poor batting average and OBP.
Andrew Cashner, SP -- Cashner finally got in a full season of work last year, and went 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA and 3.35 FIP. He didn't post the gaudy strikeout numbers that were projected for him as he was coming up through the Cubs organization, but he also limited his walks and homers, forcing opposing offenses to string together hits to really get to him. His home/road splits are as you'd expect for a guy who calls Petco home, as he had a 1.95 ERA and .255 opponents' wOBA at home versus 4.00 and .303 on the road. The good news, though, is that he's still a Padre.
NL-only guys to know
Yonder Alonso, 1B -- Alonso isn't he sort of power threat you hope for at first base, but he has a career .279/.346/.395 slash with 20 homers in 1,121 plate appearances. If you have to go cheap at the position in an NL-only league, he's a solid choice.
Tyson Ross, SP -- Ross shined for the Padres once they moved him into the rotation. In 16 starts, he posted a 3.06 ERA, 3.22 FIP and 9.3 K/9. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, he's now locked into the third spot in San Diego's rotation. He could easily become a factor in mixed leagues very quickly, but should be universally drafted in NL-only formats.