Is It Time for the Padres to Sell? (Not Yet)

The Padres’ season has gone poorly enough that, according to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report, their postseason chances have shrunk to 2.7 percent. Not only do the Padres trail the division-leading Dodgers by eight and a half games, they trail eight other National League teams, including the Diamondbacks, which makes climbing the playoff mountain all the more difficult. BP currently has the two projected NL wildcard teams, the Pirates and Cubs, winning 89 and 88 games respectively. The Padres would have to go 50-27 the rest of the way to win 89 games, which is a little like playing like the Cardinals have in the first three months of 2015. In other words, not likely.

It’s not as though the Padres have been unlucky. BP’s third-order winning percentage, which uses underlying statistics and strength of schedule to measure team performance, spits out a .422 winning percentage for the Padres, better than only the Brewers, Rockies, Phillies, and White Sox.

The offense has been surprisingly bad, in part because some of the big names have struggled — Matt Kemp, mostly — but also because some glaring offseason holes were left unfilled. Alexi Amarista‘s defense has remained better than expected at short, but he’s hitting .212/.281/.296. That’s a you-better-field-like-Andrelton-Simmons slash line, and Amarista is no Simmons in the field. Will Middlebrooks has shown glimpses of offensive competence surrounded by his usual flail-and-pray approach — his .629 OPS isn’t particularly surprising. Melvin Upton, getting regular playing time in part because of Wil Myers‘ absence, is also (not surprisingly) struggling with the bat, posting a .152/.250/.261 line (just 52 PAs) while inexplicably batting leadoff on seven different occasions.

Sometimes bad hitting teams make up for their offensive deficiencies with great glove-work. The Padres do not — their -29.6 UZR ranks second-to-last in the majors, ahead of only the White Sox, and their slightly-more-encouraging -16 DRS still ranks 26th in the league. Most of the ugly defense has come from the outfield, where the Padres have trotted out a Justin UptonWil MyersMatt Kemp trio 26 different times. Even substituting Myers with Melvin Upton or Will Venable doesn’t make the outfield defense an average one, and the infield doesn’t have a single standout defender.

The pitching has perhaps been the team’s biggest disappointment. James Shields and Ian Kennedy have combined to surrender 35 home runs in 191 and one-third innings. Odrisamer Despaigne and Andrew Cashner have generally been inconsistent while Tyson Ross, the only Padres’ starter to avoid the home run bug, has walked almost five batters per nine innings. The bullpen hasn’t been great either — the usually untouchable Craig Kimbrel has shown a human side, his 2.86 FIP well over a point higher than it was during his Braves career. The rest of the pen has been a mixed bag, from Brandon Maurer‘s 2.65 FIP to Frank Garces‘ 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Here’s the good news: things should get better. Kemp and Jedd Gyorko and, heck, maybe even Derek Norris — his on-base percentage has plummeted to .288 — should hit better in the second half. Myers should be back in time for a late-season surge, if one transpires. And the pitching can’t get much worse. The Padres’ staff currently has the second-highest HR/FB rate in the majors, at 12.5 percent, and it should continue to drop. A Shields-Ross-Cashner-Kennedy top four still looks pretty good on paper, despite the returns so far this season. The bullpen, too, should be fine. Kimbrel looks like Kimbrel, outside of a few bad outings, and Mauer, Shawn Kelley, and Joaquin Benoit highlight a capable group of setup men.

Here’s more good news: it’s only July 7th. The Padres have three and a half weeks and 18 games (19 if you count the July 31st game) before the trade deadline arrives, which gives them time to evaluate whether they’ll be buyers or sellers (or stand pat). Sure, that’s not a lot of time, but playoff odds change quicker than you might think. BP provides a column called 7 day delta in its playoff odds report, which is simply “the difference in a team’s playoff odds from seven days ago.” Here are the five biggest movers in the last week:

Team  7 Day Delta 
Giants  -31.6%
Pirates 22.5%
Rays -18.2%
Astros 15.8%
Angels  12.2%

The Giants, who are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, have lost nearly 32 percentage points in playoff odds since last Monday, dropping from 54.6 to 22.9. The Pirates and Cubs (+11.8 percent) have been the beneficiaries, significantly boosting their playoff odds in the same time span. The Mets gained 5.5 percentage points in yesterday’s games alone. There’s enough time left in the season for a team to drastically change its playoff outlook in a single week, let alone a few weeks or months. The Padres have 18 games to do some damage, and even if they go, let’s say, 12-6 in those games, that might be enough to make an October run realistic. At the same time, they might go 6-12 in the games leading up to the trade deadline, signalling a sell-off that’s sure to see Justin Upton change area codes.

Either way, there’s incentive to be patient. As Dave Cameron noted last week, the Padres have a lot riding on this season, as they traded gobs of young players for older ones, making the 2016-and-beyond outlook not as bright as it could have been, with salaries rising and veterans aging. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Cameron wrote in that article, but his main point makes sense. While the Padres can remain competitive beyond this season, they did mortgage a good deal of the future for an immediate turnaround, and it’ll be tough(er) to put together a winning team when guys like Kemp and Upton (Jr.) are making over $30 million a year combined. In short, it’d be a shame if the Padres gave up on this season too soon, when it’s not like a couple of minor adjustments would turn them into legit contenders next season.

On the other hand, if the Padres do play poorly enough in the rest of the month, they’ll be forced to retool for the future. Whether that means shipping off the obvious trade candidates — like Justin Upton, perhaps one of Cashner/Ross, a reliever or two — or going full-on Astros-style rebuild remains to be seen, but at least the Padres will have given this season every chance to right itself.

This article probably could have been really short, like most articles, and it’s my fault that it ran on for 1,000-something words. It’s simple — there’s 18 games until the July 31st trade deadline, which gives the Padres some additional time to evaluate what they have and how well their playoff chances stack up. There’s no reason to decide to blow up the offseason plan just yet.

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  • Tom Waits

    Without reinforcements, I don’t see how we make a push.

    Norris is worn to a nub. The in-house 3b and SS aren’t likely to get better. Murphy’s treating the 25th man on the roster like a platoon starter. The pitching “should” get better, but a) we’ve been saying that for weeks and b) even if it happens, are they good enough?

    I’m trying to temper current disappointment with the idea that we could still end 2015 with the core of a solid team AND we should be able to focus on areas of need rather than accumulating talent.

    • I hear ya, Tom. Not too confident myself it’ll get turned around, especially after another loss tonight. I guess my point is there’s really nothing to gain by going into sell-mode early, even though it’s looking more and more like sell-mode will soon be upon us.

      • Pat

        I sure hope they know they are in sell mode NOW! Sure, nothing to be gained, most likely, by pulling the trigger on deals in early July versus late July, but they are NOT competitors for a playoff position, and they DO need to take steps to shore up barren farm system which was both raped and pillaged this offseason.
        I know I have the hindsight of another five games since you wrote this, Dustin, but I would have said the same thing then. We are NOT, no way, going to play .650 ball the rest of the way, which is what it would take to even get us in contention for a play in/second WC spot.
        Preller took a shot. Fine, but the pitching sank any chance it had at working. The time is past for thinking about making the playoffs. The time is hear for thinking about rebuilding the farm system, and focusing on developing one which will successfully produce players to give us a quality team at the major league level on a consistent basis. Until they do this we will continue to be a second division team.

      • It’ll be interesting to see how they approach the deadline. I agree, they almost certainly will be sellers at this point. But who do they sell? And which type of players do they try to bring back? Should be fun, I guess, though not as fun as a pennant race.

      • Pat

        Everything must go!!!

    • ballybunion

      Actually, Tom, the pitching this road trip hasn’t been bad at all, and the team hasn’t been getting blown out. I count five 1-run games in the first eight of this trip, and two 2-run games. The Padres have had a tough schedule so far, 9th in strength of schedule, while the Dodgers have had the 25th toughest. That changes after the ASG, with the Padres playing 26 of 32 against teams with losing records, and the two teams with winning records, the Giants and Mets, are barely above .500. The problem is that the deadline is one-third into that stretch of schedule. Preller might want to wait until the off-season to make substantial moves.

      • Tom Waits

        Not bad is not good enough. We’re 9 games under .500. 7.5 back in the WC, behind 6 other teams. To climb back in, the team needs to be spectacular. That’s not impossible — the 99 Padres reeled off 14 straight and they weren’t a great team. They also couldn’t sustain it and finished in 4th place. That’s why I say “without reinforcements.” Add Hamels and another hitter or two (Reddick would be a nice LH balance), it gets more possible. But that’s much easier said than done.

        June was supposed to be an easier month, too. We went 12-15.The strength of schedule is at least partly self-fulfilling. Our opponents won because they played us. The Padres have fought hard against some good teams recently, but those games are gone.

        Preller can wait until the offseason for players who are under control, although he’s then competing with free agents. Teams will pay for a chance at the playoffs in a way they may not pay when they’re looking 162 games of 2016. He can even wait until five minutes before the deadline on Kennedy and Venable, just in case a miracle happens. But that’s what it would be, a miracle.

      • Pat

        “Actually, Tom, the pitching this road trip hasn’t been bad at all, and the team hasn’t been getting blown out. I count five 1-run games in the first eight of this trip, and two 2-run games.”
        Losses are losses, and we lost 5 of those 7 games.
        “The Padres have had a tough schedule so far, 9th in strength of schedule, while the Dodgers have had the 25th toughest. That changes after the ASG, with the Padres playing 26 of 32 against teams with losing records, and the two teams with winning records”
        Fine. Let’s say they take full advantage of the situation and take 2 out of 3 against those with losing records, then split with those who have winning records. That means we’d go 20-12 for those 32 games, which would get us to .500 with 40 to go. Whoo Hoo, .500! What happens in those next 40 games when 19 are against teams with winning records, plus another 6 against the D-Backs, who have a better record than us to date?
        The problem is that the deadline is one-third into that stretch of schedule. Preller might want to wait until the off-season to make substantial moves.”
        He’d be a fool to do so. He needs to be realistic and realize his trades worked only fairly well, and the pitching staff flopped completely. He decimated the farm system to try to make this year work and it didn’t happen. It’s time to start trying to rebuild it.

  • vapadres

    I still have hope. Probably beyond all reason but I still think “hey, this guy can hit it out and get us back in this one” when Kemp, Upton or Norris come to the plate.
    If we do become sellers, I struggle to see how we trade to get better or get younger without a major explosion. We are carrying one horrific contract in Upton Jr I assume in the hopes his brother might stay past this year. Scary when Venable is an offensive upgrade in center! One intermediate option may be to package the Uptons together and still hope to get a high ceiling low A reliever in trade. When we get Fedorwicz (sp) back, we could trade either Norris (or Hedges) and benoit and/or kennedy for a shortstop (maybe to Houston or Chicago) and a young starter. Renfroe and Liriano come to the majors to play left/4th outfielder, leaving a Renfroe Venable Kemp Outfield. Not a lot better defensively but younger. Maybe the returning Myers can hide in left and we can leave one of the AAA guys in the minors. Solarte can trade off with Middlebrook or Gyorko (whomever is coolest), and Alonso can slap singles from first. Casey Kelley can take the Kennedy position in the rotation. Still carrying the Kemp and Shields contracts and have to sign Ross and Cash soon but relatively inexpensive and stable organization. Lineup – Myers, Alonso, Shortstop TBNL, Kemp, Solarte, Venable, Gyorko, Hedges, Pitcher (not intimidating unless Kemp and the shortstop start hitting). Bench of Renfroe or Liriano, Amarista, Middlebrook, and Fedorwicz. Wow, even I am bored by the thought of that group!
    Next offseason, we evaluate and potentially look for upgrades in center and the infield. Like you, a lot of words to say there is no easy fix to set us up either for a run this year or a few years of contention in the near future. So lets just wait……..

    • Yeah, I don’t think all hope is lost for the near future, as maybe some people do. But there are some bad contracts now and depending on the payroll outlook going forward, not a lot of flexibility there. As you mention, dealing Upton Jr. will certainly be tough, unless the Padres put him together with someone valuable and take back significantly less in trade. That’s kind of spinning wheels, but it’d ease some of the payroll stress. There are a bunch of potential moves to be made once they decide how they’re going to progress. Hey, at least Preller has a good amount of trading experience already.

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