The Padres are going to be quite an interesting team this year due to a highly talented roster saturated with injury prone players. While constructing the 2014 team, general manager Josh Byrnes has taken on significant risk while trying to accrue sufficient talent to compete with the superstar-laden Dodgers and solid Giants.
The tale of the 2014 Padres begins in October of 2009, when Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod left the Boston Red Sox to take over for Kevin Towers. Now led by two of the top front office minds in baseball, they quickly began to hoard talent. They would finish 90-72 in 2010, good for a second place finish in the West. Their direction completely flipped that offseason, when they traded star 1B Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in exchange for a package including RHP Casey Kelley and 1B Anthony Rizzo. In the coming year, they turned LF Ryan Ludwick, RHP Mat Latos, and RHP Mike Adams into prospects, as well as flipping Rizzo for RHP Andrew Cashner. Their 2011 draft was a boon due to late round hits on right-handers Matt Wisler (7), Burch Smith (14), and Matt Stites (17) in addition to C Austin Hedges (2) and SS Jace Peterson (1s).
Josh Byrnes would take over as GM as Hoyer followed his former boss, Theo Epstein, to Chicago. Byrnes would continue to foster the talent gathering, mainly from the draft as they acquired LHP Max Fried and RF Hunter Renfroe in the first round of the following respective drafts. Once slightly devoid of talent, they were now replenished and in good shape. Their farm system was rated the 6th best in 2013 and 9th best in 2014 according to Keith Law's rankings.
Finally the beneficiary of good scouting and player development, the talent is now present in the 2014 Padres organization. One issue for them is going forward is that injuries have taken a significant toll on them. Currently built around a core of injury-prone players, it doesn't appear as if luck is on their side while keeping players healthy.
2013 Season in Review
The 2013 season went pretty much as you'd expect one to go with a roster built with injury marred and young players. Six of their eight regulars spent upwards of 15 days on the DL, including CF Cameron Maybin, who appeared in only 14 games due to wrist and knee injuries. They lost their most dependable starter, LHP Corey Luebke, to Tommy John surgery, the same fate as RHP Joe Wieland. Chase Headley was disappointing for the Friars, with his value being cut in half from the previous season falling to 3.6 fWAR. OF Chris Denorfia burst on the scene in his age-33 season to post a 3.9 fWAR. Both OF Carlos Quentin and Cashner showed flashes of brilliance, with the former posting a 143 wRC+ in 320 PA and the latter a 3.35 FIP in 26 starts. LHP Eric Stults seemingly came out of nowhere to throw 203.2 valuable innings.
Key Offseason Moves
1) Signed RHP Josh Johnson to 1-year deal worth $8 million
It's superfluous to recap what's been said before: If healthy, Johnson is going to be a steal (Alex Keinholz). The thing is, he was both unhealthy and bad last year, posting a 152 ERA- in 81.1 innings. Still, if he stays healthy, his plus arsenal could play up PETCO.
2) Traded RHP Luke Gregerson to Oakland for OF Seth Smith
This move was slightly bewildering, but not because they didn't receive good value. The addition of Smith only added to their glut of outfielders, one that has already thinned with a spring injury to Maybin. Smith is a pretty monotonous player, a power bat who will provide a value against righties, post anemic numbers against lefties, and play at a below-average level in the outfield. He's likely the fourth best outfielder on the team behind Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Quentin.
3) Acquired 1B/OF Alex Dickerson from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for OF Jaff Decker and RHP Miles Mikolas
I included this deal simply because I'm enamored with challenge trades. Coming up, Decker was heralded as a lumbering outfielder who would provide value by crushing the ball and walking. He has been stalled in the upper minors since 2011, begging to be picked up by a team who is looking for some pop-up value. Dickerson is an interesting case. He likely won't hit enough to justify an everyday role at 1B, but also lacks the athleticism to play the outfield. Both Decker and Dickerson could be useful bench bats for their new teams.
One to Watch
It could all be so simple for Andrew Cashner. The 27-year old tall Texan has thrown only 286.1 innings in the big leagues, enough for evaluators to comfortably deem him a potential top of the rotation arm. From a Baseball Prospectus article back in September of 2013, we get one scout's take on Cashner: "This guy is really coming fast with his ascent to the top of a rotation. His delivery is under control and he is repeating extremely well. He is one of the best athletes on the mound in the league and has really turned the corner with his pitch making. It looks like he has added a two-seam FB to his already dominant velocity and that could be a difference maker. I saw him pitch as well as he ever has this week and he is quickly becoming a legit ace."
Cashner does have a few minor red flags. He has a checkered medical record in his rear view mirror, spotted with rotator cuff strains. His opponent's BABIP was only .269 in 2013, which translated to a 3.63 xFIP compared to a 3.09 ERA. There's a little room for regression along with health risks that are going to be interesting to follow. However, if healthy, you're looking at a frontline starter who will legitimately sit 94-96 touching 98 with a devastating changeup. Fun.
Padres by the Numbers
28. This is the number of Tommy John surgeries Padres players have succumbed to since 1977. That figure is tied with St. Louis for second most behind the Braves. The Padres had Luebke, RHP Jason Marquis, RHP Casey Kelley, RHP Juan Oramos, and RF Rymer Liriano all go under the knife in the past two years, as well as Luebke again this February. Another interesting thing to note is that they have had three position players have surgery in the past five years, more than anyone else by a solid margin. This number could be tied to luck, or possibly an underlying organization philosophy. Numbers like these are important to note when looking at success throughout the entire organization.
2014 Padres Outlook
I have to say, I'm torn. PECOTA projects a finish of 81-81, which sounds fairly accurate. There is a large range in which I'd feel comfortable putting their win total due to their high level of volatility. If injuries continue to ransack their roster, I could see them winning around 75 games. However, with a large stroke of luck in the maintenance of their health, they could a very legitimate contender for a postseason slot. The front office has taken a gamble, cognizant of the fact that this team could go one of two ways: getting blown up by injuries or looking like geniuses for betting on the right talent. It's going to be an exhilarating year for the Friars, but for now, you stay classy San Diego.
Daniel Schoenfeld is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can can be found on Twitter at @DanielSchoe.