One of the most-repeated axioms of Spring Training coverage is that "winning the offseason" does not necessarily result in fielding a winning team. This nugget of wisdom is put to the test time and again. Sometimes it is proved false by teams such as the 2009 Yankees. Brian Cashman brought in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixieira, and Nick Swisher, retained Andy Pettitte, and won the World Series. Simple as that. Install the Steinbrenners as owners of the club and watch the rings roll in.
The 2015 Padres "won" the offseason. They traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Derek Norris, and Wil Myers. They signed James Shields to lead a rotation that already included Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Freshman General Manager A.J. Preller's explosion of maneuvers put San Diego back on the map in a way that only a massive offseason could. That in itself was good for baseball.
If only they had been good for Padres baseball. Even as pundits and talking heads crowned San Diego as a playoff team, the dream was always too hollow and too unstable to be real, too filled with Wil Myers playing center field. Preller's players were certainly big names, but nearly all of them lacked a fundamental completeness. That's not to say that the Padres should have been the Royals. Only the Royals were the Royals. Yet the Padres were composed almost entirely of players that could either hit for field, but not both. The team finished near the bottom of the list in almost every fielding metric. Unsurprisingly, it's very hard to win baseball games when catching the ball is a chore.
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In a way, Preller's Padres were an exercise in testing just how successful a team could be without a competent defense. Predictably enough they didn't make it very far. The new-look offense managed to score only the 23rd-most runs in baseball, and the pitching staff entrenched itself firmly in the middle of the pack. When all was said and done, the Padres went home with a losing record and three wins fewer than they had managed in 2014. A once-promising farm system was left nearly barren from all of Preller's trades, and San Diego baseball is once again morose and uninspiring. The team now sits at a crossroads. Do they double down and try to win again, or do they cut their losses and sell players off for parts?
The NL West projects to be somewhat unforgiving in 2016. The Dodgers and the Giants will likely once again be in contention. The Diamondbacks have two stars in Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock and will benefit from a full season of Patrick Corbin. The Snakes are likely to pursue quality starting arms and could be in the hunt for a Wild Card. That's three teams with whom the Padres would have to wrangle.
The current roster is built around a nucleus of Myers and Kemp with the Shields/Ross/Cashner troika in the rotation and Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit shoring up the back of the bullpen. Like lots of things with the Padres, that's not a bad place to start on paper. Yet Kemp was worth just 0.4 fWAR this season, and Myers played in only 60 games while once again battling injuries. Shields allowed homers at his highest rate since 2010. The big pieces of this team were not that big.
Between those unfortunate figures and the largely sunk cost of Jedd Gyorko's $35.5 million extension, it might very well be for the best to blow it all up once again. Hunter Renfroe is the only extremely notable prospect still in the system with Austin Hedges graduating to the big leagues (and failing to impress) and everyone else being traded away. There won't be help coming from within.
So let's blow up the team.
If we're pressing the Big Red Button, we have to get our ducks in a row first. The ducks need to be ordered by overall value and then need to be sorted into three groups. Those groups are "keep", "move", and "Matt Kemp." The first two categories are self-explanatory. These are the players that you either want to keep in the organization or sell off for players that you want to add to your organization. The "Matt Kemp" category is for players like Matt Kemp that you really want to get off your payroll but can't because their contract is a Matt Kemp-sized albatross. See Howard, Ryan.
The "Keep" Category
Role players and depth pieces will be omitted here because they're largely a dime a dozen and can be replaced rather easily. So, all due apologies to Cory Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte. They can stay because they have 80-grade names.
When deciding to nuke a team, a front office can do a hard reset or a soft reset. The hard reset is the Astros. Tank as hard as a team can tank for years, hire some excellent amateur scouts, pick high in the draft, then explode back onto the scene. The soft reset is the Yankees. The Yankees aren't allowed to rebuild. They have to contend while reshaping the roster. New York is still a team without a present identity, but they're still fully capable of punching you in the face. They lost their core and have been scrambling to piece a new one together on the fly for years now.
The Padres need a hard reset. There's nothing happening on the farm at the moment, so they can't afford to cobble together a roster that will be elevated by the ascension of prospects. Carlos Correa isn't coming to save the Padres. With that in mind, who's worth keeping?
Wil Myers: Myers should be in left field next year, where he's far more defensively able. A fully healthy season out of him could result in some useful offense and may show why he was the bluest of blue chip prospects at one point. What's scary is that Myers could also turn out to be Jeff Francouer without the arm. It's too soon to give up on him.
Andrew Cashner: He's around for only another year, and middle-of-the-rotation pitchers on one-year deals who have never hit 200 innings don't fetch much in trades. The Padres should keep him to eat innings and possibly flip him at the trade deadline.
Joaquin Benoit: He's old, and he's on a one year deal as well. He's also about to become the closer.
The "Move" Category
Not everyone in this category should necessarily be moved. A pure fire sale is bad for morale and even worse for attendance. It's also important to keep some of these guys for the trade deadline, when prices will be much higher. Capitalizing on peak demand is an important part of selling any kind of product.
Craig Kimbrel: The last thing for which a bad team needs to pay a lot of money is a closer. Craig Kimbrel is a really good closer, and an expensive one. He's good enough to fetch a good prospect or two, partially because the team acquiring him can have his services for up to three years. He's the first one out the door.
James Shields: This will involve eating some salary. However Shields is not an ace, and a tanking team doesn't need to pay a lot of money for a non-ace pitcher. He's had a good enough career that someone will pick him up in hopes that he can recapture some of his old form, or at least eat a lot of innings. Shields still has some value.
Tyson Ross: This is the big chip. Ross is 28 and just put up 4.4 fWAR with his silly slider. He's only just hitting salary arbitration, and under normal circumstances he's an extension candidate. The buying team will not only be getting a good pitcher, but a good pitcher they can extend. Ross will fetch something pretty.
The "Matt Kemp" Category
Matt Kemp: Kemp actually still hits pretty well! He managed a 109 wRC+ for the year after a positively sluggish first half. The problem is that he's atrocious on defense mostly due to bad hips. He could theoretically be moved to an AL club with a need at DH if the Padres eat almost all of his contract, but that's a tall order any day of the year. San Diego may be stuck here.
So the Big Red Button has been pushed. What's next?
What's next is waiting. A lot of waiting. There's no Cole Hamels in this group. There's no Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres will get some intriguing talent should they choose to start over and try again, but work will also have to be done through the draft and international free agency. It may be years before the Padres are ready to truly contend. It's an unfortunate reality, but A.J. Preller's utter disregard for some aspects of the game when building his roster, and then standing pat at the trade deadline, is why the franchise is at this juncture. Loading up for another run at the playoffs in 2016 (Chris Davis at first base! Ian Desmond at short! Scott Kazmir in the rotation!) likely doesn't end any better and may be outside of the financial realm of possibility.
At least they won the offseason.