Coming into the offseason, most people expected the Padres to revamp a middle infield that saw three of its primary contributors- David Eckstein, Jerry Hairston Jr. and midseason addition Miguel Tejada- hit free agency. With a projected everyday middle infield of Everth Cabrera at shortstop and Jarrett Hoffpauir at second base, it was obvious that GM Jed Hoyer would look to the market to improve upon what appeared to be a seriously underwhelming duo.
When your everyday shortstop just put up a .279 OBP in the majors and your everyday second baseman has a total of 53 plate appearances in his MLB career, it's hard to see how the situation can turn out positive. Clearly Hoyer and company agreed, and in the past few days they've finalized moves to totally change the landscape of their middle infield.
But before we get into San Diego's latest key additions, shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Orlando Hudson, it's probably fair to note that the Padres actually got some solid performance from their middle infield in 2010 if you buy into modern defensive statistics. Although the team's shortstops (.240/.299/.348) and second basemen (.254/.309/.336) put up some seriously ugly offensive numbers, they were also among the best-fielding teams at their respective positions. At 13.7 runs above average, the team's keystoners were fifth among all MLB teams according to UZR, while the shortstops were tied for ninth at 7.3 runs above average. With a combined 7 WAR between the two positions, they were actually providing above average value.
But even while acknowledging that the team's infield was surprisingly solid last season, changes needed to made given that they were depending on primarily aging veterans. Those changes have come in the form of the Bartlett trade and the Hudson signing, and both players should provide some offensive improvement while not taking away that much on defense. Throw in the team's waiver claim on Hoffpauir in October and the naming of Eric Patterson as the PTBNL in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and the team should be depending on an entirely new corps of middle infielders in 2011.
After watching most of the available shortstop options get gobbled up by other teams, the Padres managed to work out a deal with Tampa Bay to land Bartlett days after previous talks had reportedly hit a snag. He may be coming off a weak season, but he's only one year removed from what could be considered an elite offensive season for the position, and while his UZR numbers haven't been great, Keith Law mentioned in his analysis of the Bartlett deal that, "Bartlett can handle the position defensively, probably not above-average but enough to actually play it every day." It's a deal that the Padres almost had to make given the lack of options on the market, the unlikeliness that guys like Eckstein and Hairston would play as well again, and Bartlett's cheap price tag (he's arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2011 after making $4 million in 2010).
Hudson also brings a veteran presence to the middle infield, although he'll be around for 2012 as well at a combined $11.5 million. Considering that he's averaged 2.7 WAR per season over the past seven seasons, it's reasonable to expect solid performance from the second baseman. And while he had his worst offensive season with Minnesota since leaving the AL in 2005, he also had a resurgence defensively after years of decline from his peak as one of the position's best defenders. He's not likely to improve much offensively while moving to Petco, but the improved glove work likely played into the team's willingness to give him two years.
San Diego had to make some moves after getting some unsustainably good defensive work from their middle infield last season, and they certainly have been active in making those moves. Hudson and Bartlett may never return to their respective offensive peaks, but if they can provide some solid defense and add some on-base skills to the lineup, then San Diego should certainly get their money's worth. Considering what other veterans like Tejada, Juan Uribe and Jhonny Peralta signed for, it's easy to view the Hudson and Bartlett additions as solid moves for the Padres.
San Diego may not contend next season regardless without the presence of their star first baseman, but now they at least won't have to depend on aging veterans, unexperienced waiver claims and iffy young players like Cabrera next season.