It was probably right after finishing my third pint of 2 a.m. Bike Ride that I had an epiphany. Yes, I realized I needed another glass of Fall Brewery’s fantastic stout, but what I truly realized was although I want to write more, I probably need to read more. It’s not a lack of motivation for writing that has kept me quiet, it was not having the depth I think I should to be able to fully flesh out a couple thousand words on a subject. Thus my resolution was made, and I have already ordered received and read three books to start off the New Year. I had been late in acquiring Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy. Baseball Prospectus 2016 by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski recently arrived. I quickly devoured The Extra 2% (talk about being late on my reading list). I’m totally going to geek it up this season.
As to this upcoming season, I just can’t get excited for what appears to be a half-assed approach to rebuilding (sorry, building), while executing a half-assed approach to contending. Do I think the Padres can contend in 2016? Probably not. The three teams that finished the 2015 campaign ahead of the Padres have all gotten better, or are not much worse than last season, while the Padres have taken a few steps back. The Padres have three fifths of a starting pitching staff, a small upgrade at shortstop and a downgrade in left field. I do like the addition of Alexei Ramirez, but worry he may be no more of an addition than say, Jason Bartlett was in years past. He’ll still be better than Alexi Amarista, so they will improve the position, but most likely not by much. Left field looks like it belongs to Melvin Upton Jr., and that will be a huge offensive drop off from his baby brother Justin Upton. Center field will be manned by Jon Jay and the only redeeming feature of Jay is he probably will platoon with Jabari Blash. Upton will move to center while Blash mans left. One can only hope Blash leads the team in the three true outcomes (BB, K, HR) this season. Nothing like pulling for a Rule 5 guy to make the roster and contribute. This is also what we typically call being a Padres fan.
But make no mistake. I am optimistic for the Padres in 2016. My expectations are high. But what has me so hopeful is the work AJ Preller and company will be doing this summer to improve the farm. He started rebuilding the farm last summer with the Rule 4 draft and the 38 international signings. He added to it with a couple of trades this off season. This summer, with 6 picks in the top 85 selections of the Rule 4, plus rumors of exceeding the International Pool cap, we should really see his vision for this team come to fruition. He should stock the farm for the long haul, and provide for the beginnings of a pipeline that must remain full and talented if the Padres hope to ever be a truly competitive team in the NL West. AJ Preller will finally be in his element, and I have no doubt he will shine in his well-planned opportunity. Another down season should provide the Padres with more opportunities to trade MLB talent away for more MiLB talent, while also secure a protected pick in the 2017 Rule 4 draft. See, optimism.
But on the field has some optimism as well. Wil Myers looks healthy and ready to hit loud 400’+ home runs again. And moving him to first gives him a steady home where he should be comfortable. Second looks like a position that could see some progression as well. I honestly believe Cory Spangenberg is going to have a break-out season. I think he will beat his projections and end up with an fWAR over 3. Last season he played 70 games at second and a total of 108 games and amassed 2.1 fWAR. I’m going out on a limb and saying he will double the current projections. Fight me.
Shortstop will be better. It has to be. Alexei Ramirez is better than Alexi Amarista right? Last season for Alexei is no indicator for how well he is going to produce this year. Nope, not going to regress. The projections have him producing anywhere from 0.5 to 1.2 fWAR. Let’s split it in the middle and say 0.8. That is not good, but it will be an improvement over last season. He’s thirty-four years old, so there really isn’t much hope for a youthful resurgence. And it’s doubtful his power will play very well in the NL West. He could be bad. Probably. Maybe. When is Javier Guerra going to be ready?
Third is Yangervis Solarte’s position and the fact that he knows he’s got it locked up going into the season hopefully helps him prepare for the long haul. Solarte will never resemble Chase Headley as a gloveman, but his bat should play and he should post a wRC+ of about 110. He also could break out a bit and climb into the 120 range and become a true middle of the order guy for the Padres. He posted a 124 wRC+ for the second half of 2015. He was the regular starter at third by then and to project for him to continue that pace of production is not a stretch. I’m talking myself into believing the Padres infield is going to be not too shabby in 2016.
Moving to the outfield is where the optimism losses steam. Matt Kemp is in right field. He will play poor defense in right, despite new Manager Andy Green’s best defensive alignment strategies. Unless Green has an alignment where Kemp DH’s and Blash plays right, there is just no way to hope for improvement in right. It’s also difficult to predict Kemp will do better at the plate. He was a little better than league average there, and at this point of his career, we probably should expect him to be about the same. I hold out some hope that Mark McGwire is actually a sooth saying home run teaching guru and Kemp mashes all season. 40 HRs. Book it.
Center field belongs to Jon Jay and he is whatever. He can go get it fairly well, but I fear he can’t get on base enough to justify giving him a top of the order spot. He is a placeholder for Manuel Margot, but the Padres most likely don’t want to start Margot’s clock while they languish in 2016, and maybe even 2017. So Jay will man center and let’s hope he gets on base like he used too. I think that might even be the Padres theme this summer; “Play like you used too!” They really need that to ring true from the likes of Kemp, Norris, Myers, Upton, Shields and Jay if they want to push above .500
As we move from right to left the fun begins again. Melvin Upton Junior will get most of the starts in left. He should slide to center when the Padres face a southpaw. Then Jabari Blash moves into left and lights up the party. I’ve caught a few Spring Training games and his power is as advertised. He went opposite field for one homer and I think it just recently flew by us here in Houston. His swing is smooth and easy and I’m honestly hoping he gets plenty of ABs this summer for the opportunity to mash. Sure he is going to strike out a ton. He is going to walk a bunch too. But if he slashes .200/.400/.550 his at bats will be the greatest viewing events of the season. As much as I am all in on the Spangwagon, I’m keeping an eye on the Blashwagon too. Maybe Padres Jagoff will let me drive a little bit too.
Catching looks to be fairly solid this year, with Derek Norris as the starter and Christian Betancourt and Austin Hedges looking for back-up starts. Only one of the latter two will break with the club, and I expect the most swoonable Padre will be a Chihuahua. Hedges has been hitting fairly well this Spring, so El Paso could be a short trip. The Padres have been listening to offers for their catching surplus, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a deal here soon. The offensive drop-off from Norris to either Bethancourt or Hedges as the primary could be significant, but let’s hope the haul of prospects helps build the farm as the Padres make their inevitable push for the playoffs in 2020. I’m old, so I hope I can make it around that long to see the roaring 20’s of Padres Baseball Fun.
Lastly, let’s look at the pitching. Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner form the front trio of a solid if not spectacular starting pitching core. It is easy to see one if not two Cy Young contenders from this, wait this isn’t 2015. And I’m not Mike Dee. Tyson Ross would be an extremely solid number three on most decent staffs. If he pitches well this season and the Padres play to 30 something wins by the All Star Break, he should bring in a significant haul from a contender. Andrew Cashner is in his walk season, and now that it has been reported that his mother is doing much better, I would not be surprised to see him put together a strong campaign and get paid fairly well next off season. He too should be dealt by the trade deadline and hopefully brings some much needed young pitching prospects in return. Shields arm is probably dying and the most I hope for is he sets a new HR given up in a single season record. Bert Blyleven, excuse me, Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven owns the illustrious record at a robust 50. Shields yielded 33 last year so he clearly has his work cut out for him. My dream is for Shields to pitch to Jabari Blash in the Home Run Derby presented to you by Sycuan Casino and Corky’s Pest Control during the All Star festivities brought to you by National University. I think Blash can give the other sluggers a serious run for the title and James Shields might be the secret weapon to just put Blash over the top to take the crown. Colin Rea should continue to develop and hopefully becomes a very solid middle of the rotation guy. His command and control should see him slot into the number 4 spot this year, and he should move up as the opportunity arrives via a trade of one of the top 3 guys. The fifth spot is probably going to go to some combination of Brandon Morrow, Drew Pomeranz and Robbie Erlin. Yea.
The bullpen is a bunch of guys that are too lousy to start so I’m not going to waste much time analyzing the Padres BP for ’16. Hopefully Fernando Rodney does a few post-game interviews as Kermit the Frog, and shoots about 40 invisible arrows into the night sky. Nick Vincent is from Ramona.
The Padres brought in a new manager and Andy Green should probably be a motivational speaker instead of a baseball skipper. I’d peg his enthusiasm at an additional 0.2 wins for the season. Mark McGwire, however, is likely worth twice that. He’s going to turn Blash into a monster and lead Kemp to Comeback Player of the Year. He will earn that award because most writers forgot he is in San Diego now, and his 40 homer season will remind them he is in fact, still around.
So there it is my hopes and dreams for a successful ’16. AJ Preller has his work cut out for him. The Padres really need him to do well with the draft, international signings and deadline deals. I trust he will too. I’m the eternal optimist. Who needs a beer? Meet me at Fall. I’m buying.
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