Do The Weird Ideas Make Sense?

Over at Gaslamp Ball, Roy Thomasson recently wrote about how the Padres might get weird this season, which has been an offseason theme in the Padres corner of the internet.

But are the weird ideas any good? Let’s discuss some of them.

Weird idea No. 1: Using Christian Bethancourt as a two-way player.
Weirdness scale rating: 8.
Does it make sense? Yes, mostly.

Bethancourt has a good shot to become the second-best two-way player in the world this season (Shohei Otani has a hammerlock on the No. 1 slot), if only because the species is mostly extinct.

A strong-armed catcher with a suspect bat and a middling defensive rep, Bethancourt makes as much sense as a pitcher/position player convert as anyone. In theory, he’d be able to provide the Padres with an adequate backup option at catcher (and occasionally in the outfield) and eat up some relief innings—maybe even some high-leverage ones, depending on how things go.

This idea only really works if the Padres stick with it, though. Once they tilt too heavily to one side, Bethancourt just reverts back into a run-of-the-mill backup catcher with mop-up ability, or he turns into an always fungible middle reliever who can catch in a pinch. The kicker here, if they do truly stick with it, is that the Padres would gain some additional roster flexibility. Having Bethancourt play the two-way role could, for example, allow San Diego to keep Rule-5 catcher Luis Torrens around without having to commit to carrying three true catchers all season. It’d also potentially allow them to carry one less real pitcher, giving skipper Andy Green more options for late game substitutions.

It’s still something of a stretch that it works out—remember, Bethancourt isn’t even really a good catcher, and now he’s trying to learn how to pitch on short notice. There’s only so much time in a day, so much give in a UCL. But, hey, there’s not much to lose here, so we’re on board with the experiment.

Related weird idea: The Padres might carry four catchers, including Bethancourt. This doesn’t make much sense, and likely means that Bethancourt would transition into more of a reliever, primarily, which would negate any of that roster flexibility we mentioned above. With three other catchers on the roster, it’d make Bethancourt, the catcher, superfluous, and limit Green’s late game maneuverability (who needs three—or four!—catchers, anyway?).

Weird idea No. 2: Using Hunter Renfroe as a center fielder.
Weirdness scale rating: 6
Does it make sense? No.

The rationale here, apparently, is that getting Renfroe into center would allow him to utilize his big arm, with speedsters flanking him in the corners. As Roy put it:

With the expansive dimensions of some MLB parks, it’s been postulated that a configuration with the rangy speedsters in the corners could allow Renfroe to shade deep, allowing him to deploy his cannon arm on balls hit in the gaps, which could potentially save bases throughout the season. Conversely, Renfroe could shade shallow for less powerful hitters, essentially adding a rover to the infield.

The name of the game in the outfield is preventing hits, not necessarily worrying about gunning down runners (or preventing them from advancing) after hits. Renfroe playing in deep center would be fine when a ball was actually hit there, but imagine all the hits that would drop in front of him. One reason why you want your best, fastest outfielder in center is because the position simply get more chances than either corner. Check out any balls in zone or put outs leader board—it’ll be made up almost exclusively of center fielders.

With two gold glove caliber center fielders on the roster, in Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski, this has the distinct odor of overthinking it. Further, Renfroe’s arm plays perfectly well in right.

Shoot, even if you argue that Renfroe in center is secretly part of the tank, just quietly making the team a little bit worse (hashtag Seth Beer), it messes with the development of two or three players, all potentially long-term guys. Margot and/or Jankowski should be getting reps in center at the big-league level, and the same goes for Renfroe in right. This one probably won’t happen, and it shouldn’t.

Weird idea No. 3: The Opener/piggybacking
Weirdness scale rating: 8
Does it make sense? Sorta.

This one could work, and it’s something that’s been brought up in sabermetric circles for years—Bryan Grosnick, of Baseball Prospectus, discussed it earlier this year regarding the Padres, and the guys at Make the Padres Great Again have devoted entire podcasts to it (it’s been dissected elsewhere, too, specifically regarding the Padres).

It makes sense on paper, and it’d probably make the Padres a slightly better team. My only question: why now? For a team that is, in some ways, stealthily trying to lose, why break out something that might add a win or two to the end-of-season ledger and piss off half the pitching staff. This feels like something that should be done when the Padres have a legit chance to make some noise, so let’s save it for when they’re actually pushing to break 80 wins.

Weird idea No. 4: Carrying three Rule-5 players
Weirdness scale rating: 7
Does it make sense? Eh, possibly.

It seems as though there’s at least a chance the Padres keep all three Rule-5 picks from earlier this winter (pitcher Miguel Diaz, Torrens, and infielder Allen Cordoba). None are truly ready for the majors now, or even all that close, but all three possess some level of future upside. The idea would be for the Padres to hide them on the big-league roster all season, then have the ability to send them back to the minors next year, in an attempt to rehabilitate their developmental path. Luis Perdomo is a recent example of a nifty Rule-5 score.

While this would be a sneaky way to add three more intriguing prospects into the organization, it’d take a lot of patience. Even though the Padres aren’t necessarily planning to go all-out to win every game this year, you’ve gotta give Green and the players on the team a chance to win. With essentially a 22-man roster, if the Padres kept all three Rule-5ers around, there’d be some loooong nights at Petco, where the paying customer is expecting something resembling a major-league ball club over a carnival sideshow.

I’m not totally against the idea—if you’re going to go in a certain direction, go there with some vigor. But it might be a tough sell given ticket prices and such.

Weird idea No. 5: Digging a pit in front of the batter’s box.
Weirdness scale rating: 10
Does it make sense? Alright, we’re kidding.

The Padres are in a, um, weird spot. We want them to lose, sort of, but we also want a number of good, young players to perform well (and avoid pits). And we don’t want them to lose too much, because with too much losing everyone gets a little antsy, and our good, young players probably don’t perform well. People get fired; owners say crazy things.

63-99 would work, with acceptable (or better) years out of a bunch of position players like Margot and Austin Hedges and some of the worst damn starting pitching you’ve ever seen.

Viewed a certain way, everything the Padres do should go to goal one (developing good, young players) or goal two (losing). That’s why a four WAR season out of Hedges and Jered Weaver‘s 81 mile-per-hour fastball can both work, on the same team, for different reasons. Some of these weird ideas have potential, but not all of them line up quite right with the greater goals of the organization; one, for instance, schemes to net a couple marginal wins while another toys with the careers of three young players.

Either way, there will be some weird baseball at Petco this season, and we’re okay with that.

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  • ballybunion

    Let’s be realistic: Bethancourt is merely transitioning to full time relief pitcher. He’s not that good a catcher, he’s not that good an outfielder, and though he has some power, he’s not a very good hitter either. Until a flurry of at-bats, he had more innings pitched than ABs, and one hit, a homer, in 13 ABs means he’s apitcher who can fill in behind the plate in an emergency.

    That makes Torrens the backup for Hedges, who will have to play 110-120 games, a career high for him. That’s one Rule V keeper. Another is Miguel Diaz, who has pitched to a 2.25 ERA in 8 innings with a batting average against of .125 and a WHIP of .088. He made the choice easy. The Third Rule V is SS Cordoba, who hasn’t hit much, but has played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and CF. He’s Alexi Amarista, only taller.

    As for piggybacking, we have Clayton Richard and Jered Weaver in the rotation, and they’ve both had trouble getting within the 5th inning’s zip code. Chacin, Cahill and Perdomo will be alright, but with Cosart and Magill getting starts this Spring, they may have to bridge to short relief on a regular basis. Technically, they’ll be long relievers, but if they fill in for the same guy every five days, that’s a piggyback.

    Finally, four catchers? If you count Bethancourt and want to keep Hector Sanchez plus Torrens, then that’s four. Sanchez has hit and he’s the “grizzled veteran”, but you would have to dump Torrens to make room for Sanchez on the 40-man. He signed a minor league contract, so he’s just a phone call away if needed.

    The only thing I can say about Padres “weirdness” is that if you’re a fan and have been watching, it’s all beginning to look normal. We may have to get used to the funny looks from other teams’ fans. It’s easier than explaining it.

    • In the one link under the four catchers comment, Green himself says they might carry four catchers–Hedges, Sanchez, Torrens, and Bethancourt (though he says Bethancourt would be more of a reliever). To me that’s just too many of them. If Bethancourt were really going to be used as a two-way guy, they could have definitely got by with Hedges/Torrens/Bethancourt, and I still don’t see why they need both Torrens and Sanchez, even if Bethancourt is only going to catch once in a while. Given the current situation, it makes more sense to stick with Torrens. I guess we’ll have to see how things shake out. Obviously the Opening Day roster isn’t necessarily a sign of how things will go all year.