Around 2 AM Eastern Standard Time, SB Nation's own Chris Cotillo reported that James Shields has finally signed a contract, and the lucky winners are the San Diego Padres. According to CBS' Jon Heyman, the deal is worth $75 million over four years, with an option for a fifth year. He represents the cherry on top of an offseason that’s seen the team undergo a total makeover at the hands of new GM A.J. Preller.
Shields is latest major addition for #Padres, joining Kemp, Myers, J-Upton, Norris, Middlebrooks, and Morrow this offseason.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) February 9, 2015
That’s quite an impressive group of players, and they join pieces such as Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable. Indeed, San Diego should be the proud owners of one of the strongest pitching staffs in the game, backed up by a robust relief corps and that shiny new hard-hitting outfield. There’s still a gaping wide hole in this team, though, and that resides in the infield.
Though Gyorko is a good candidate to bounce back from an underwhelming season, the other three positions figure to be occupied by some combination of Yonder Alonso, Tommy Medica, Alexi Amarista, Clint Barmes, Yangervis Solarte, and Will Middlebrooks. That’s hardly an inspiring group. It gets worse when it’s considered that Amarista and Barmes, two glove-first players, will be making up a platoon at shortstop, while Alonso and Medica will be doing the same at first. Solarte was a nice story for part of 2014, but fizzled out and finished around league average. And Middlebrooks has plenty of upside, but he’s also had plenty of shots to show he can hit at the big league level before. Perhaps a move to the NL may help his cause, but it’s hard to get one’s hopes up.
In short, this infield is an offensive black hole waiting to happen. Sure, they’ll recoup some value through defense. However, these are four positions’ worth of at-bats we’re talking about here. Here are San Diego’s ZiPS projections, and each of the infielder’s projected wOBA.
|Player||Position||ZiPS Proj. wOBA|
That’s simply unacceptable for a team that has aspirations of contention. The Padres will be leaning heavily on their outfield and Norris to pull the offensive load, and on the rotation to shut down opposing lineups. That strategy could also backfire in a hurry. Wil Myers missed quite a chunk of time in 2014 with a wrist injury, and those kinds of injuries have a habit of lingering. Andrew Cashner has failed to top 175 innings in the Major Leagues, and only managed 123.1 last year. 41.2% of all pitches thrown by Tyson Ross last year were sliders, and heavy usage of that pitch has been linked to arm injuries. Then of course there’s Matt Kemp, whose trade to San Diego nearly fell through when he failed his physical upon the finding of arthritis in both his hips. That condition certainly won’t aid his already awful defense, and he's been a walking one-man physical therapy ward for years now.
Then when the defensive struggles of Upton and Myers are considered, as well as the sheer size of the outfield at Petco Park, a whole lot of runs are going to be surrendered by those three. ZiPS gives the three of them a cumulative DEF forcast of -22, for what it’s worth. Also, Derek Norris has never been regarded as a good defender behind the plate, or a good controller of the running game.
Nearly every component of the Padres roster comes with a serious caveat. The outfield could hit really well (if they stay healthy, and they’ll probably make fools of themselves on defense). The infield could defend very well (but they’re not going to hit worth a damn). The rotation could be an absolute weapon (if they stay healthy, and don’t give significant starts to their very shaky depth after dealing away a good amount of young big-league ready arms). If absolutely everything breaks right and A.J. Preller makes another big buy at the trade deadline, this could be a formidable club. But I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on it. The Padres and Preller’s grand experiment look like a whole lot of smoke without much fire.
ZiPS projections and all other statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. ZiPS projections are created by ESPN's Dan Szymborski.
Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and a member of the IWBAA. You can find him on Twitter @StelliniTweets, or email him at email@example.com.