The normally stingy Padres made several moves in free agency, including landing closer Joaquin Benoit. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
With little more 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 2013.
San Diego Padres
2013 results: 76-86 (.467), tied for 3rd place NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key arrivals: RHP Joaquin Benoit, SS Alberto Gonzalez, RHP Josh Johnson, OF Seth Smith
The combination of a slew of injuries to the lineup — including heavy hitters Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin — and rotation plus PED suspensions for both Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal led the Padres to their third straight losing season and fifth out of the last six. From a distance it might appear as though they're simply treading water, but ownership has given general manager Josh Byrnes the green light to increase payroll from last year's Opening Day mark of $68.3 million, and already they've spent more money on the free agent market than in any year in recent memory.
Admittedly, that's not saying a whole lot, not when their previous two winters' expenditures in the market come to just $5.25 million, or when this winter's work amounts to a total of three player-years and $23.5 million in commitments, but neither of their deals looks exorbitant. The bigger of the two is the two-year, $15.5 million deal for Joaquin Benoit, who's coming off a 2.01 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine and 24 saves in his first extended taste of closer duty. With Huston Street still under contract for another season and coming off an odd 33-save year with a 2.70 ERA but 1.9 homers allowed per nine, Benoit is initially slated to replace the traded Luke Gregerson in the top setup role, though it wouldn't be surprised if he winds up claiming the ninth inning for himself at some point. His price tag may be a steep for a team on a limited payroll, but his track record and the presence of an affordable option for 2016 ($8 million, with a $1.5 million buyout) should make him tradeable if need be.
The other deal is for one year and $8 million to Josh Johnson, who failed to make even 20 starts for the second year out of three due to triceps inflammation and a forearm strain. In 16 starts, the soon-to-be 30-year-old righty was tagged for a 6.20 ERA and 1.7 homers per nine, a problem Petco Park can hopefully help to alleviate. He did strike out more than a batter per inning, so it's not like the stuff isn't there. After the season, he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow, which may help clear up his physical issues. If he and July 31 acquisition Ian Kennedy are anywhere close to their previous form, they should be able to easily offset the 5.44 ERA (63 ERA+) put together by the departed Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez, across 48 starts in 2013.
The only other substantial move Byrnes has made this winter is the trade of Gregerson to Oakland in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith, who's something of a disappointing return for the team's top bullpen asset. The 31-year-old lefty is a career .279/.357/.487 hitter against righties, though he slipped to .258/.341/.408 in 323 PA in 2013. Exactly how Smith will fit into the outfield remains a mystery, more on which below.
As for one bit of business that may appear unfinished, the Padres signed Headley to a one-year, $10.525 million deal on Friday, thereby avoiding arbitration. The 29-year-old third baseman is heading into his final year before free agency, and while the Padres want to either make him the highest-paid player in team history or get the best possible return in trading him, he's coming off a down year. Limited by thumb and knee injuries, the latter of which required surgery to repair a meniscus, he hit .250/.347/.400 season with 13 homers, well short of his .286/.376/.498 line with 31 homers in 2012. It sounds as though no decision on his long-term fate will be made before June, by which time his stock will have hopefully rebounded.
Unfinished business: outfield puzzle, left-handed relief
At this writing, it's unclear how the Padres intend to handle their outfield situation. The righty-swinging Quentin, the team's top slugger (in more ways than one) figures to be the starting leftfielder if and when he's healthy. He's never played more than 131 games a season, and was limited to 82 games in 2013, that after playing in 82 in 2012; during that span, he's had three surgeries on his right knee. Lefty Will Venable will be a full-timer after showing substantial improvement against lefties (.276/.309/.524 in 110 PA), but whether that will come in rightfield or in center, where he made a career-high 52 starts in 2013, remains to be seen. Cameron Maybin, who was limited to 14 games in 2013 due to wrist and knee injuries, will try to reassert his claim on the middle pasture; while he hasn't been able to sustain the promise of his prospect days, he was worth 7.4 Wins Above Replacement in 2011-2012, and is still owed $21 million over the next three years.
That leaves righty Chris Denorfia (.284/.355/.479 in 211 PA against lefties in 2013) and Smith as spare parts. Denorfia could be part of a job share with Maybin, either covering center or playing right while Venable shifts positions. That mainly limits Smith to taking up whatever playing time that Quentin misses, which again seems like a meager return for trading Gregerson. Perhaps the Padres have another deal in the works that will make sense of it all; a trade of Quentin to an AL team, which would allow him to DH regularly, would make sense, but he has a no-trade clause along with $20.5 million guaranteed through the next two seasons.
Meanwhile, with Joe Thatcher traded at the deadline and both Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne let go, left-handed relief is still an item on Byrnes' shopping list. Relatively pricey solutions like J.P. Howell, Boone Logan and Javier Lopez were never really options, and now they're signed to deals with the team's NL West competition. Notable free agents like Pedro Feliciano, Mike Gonzalez and Rich Hill probably have too many dents and dings to be relied upon, which means that it may take a trade for Byrnes to get what he needs.
Preliminary Grade: C+