Opening Day Roster Analysis: Staying Weird

The Padres released their Opening Day roster today, and there were some things that we speculated on (four catchers!) and other things we didn’t necessarily expect (Margot in the majors, Spangenberg in the minors). Let’s attempt to sort it out.

Four catchers! Four catchers?

When the Padres initially announced that Christian Bethancourt would be making a go at turning into a two-way player, I thought there was a chance they’d only carry two catchers. Austin Hedges would be the go-to guy, and Bethancourt would serve as the backup while sometimes pitching and filling in the outfield. That strategy would have been bold and possibly too demanding. Could Bethancourt handle catching duties a night after pitching an inning (or vice versa), for instance?

Instead, the Padres have opted to go in the complete opposite direction. To start the season, they’re going to carry three true catchers (Hedges, Rule 5-er Luis Torrens, and veteran Hector Sanchez) plus Bethancourt. Frankly, it’s unclear why. It does seem like Bethancourt is being converted more into a reliever than any type of legit two-way player (boo), but that still doesn’t answer the question of why the Padres need an additional three backstops.

Torrens has impressed in camp, and he’s an interesting long-term project. Okay, makes sense. He works as Hedges’ backup, and he gets to learn from both Hedges and Bethancourt—mostly Hedges—with Bethancourt still there as an emergency guy. Sanchez, a career backup who is probably a nice guy and all, is overkill. He’s hit .241/.278/.354 in 691 career plate appearances over parts of six seasons, though he had a nice (and brief) showing with San Diego last year. The minor-league numbers suggest there’s maybe a little bit more there with the stick, but not much. And the defense is just okay, at best.

Basically, it should have been either Sanchez or Torrens. Prefer the veteran presence, take Sanchez. Prefer the slow burn project, take Torrens. Given the Padres current situation, with a lack of urgency in trying to actually win games, Torrens works better. Now, with all three of them (plus tweener Bethancourt), the Padres are tied up with too many catchers, leaving Andy Green with less-than-desired late game flexibility and a roster spot squeeze. Teams love to hoard catchers—there’s a comfort, I suppose, in having a backup to the backup to the backup—but this seems a tad excessive.

Spangenberg vs. Schimpf

Cory Spangenberg was surprisingly sent to Triple-A, apparently so he can play everyday. And Schimpf, for now, is the starting third baseman. I know Spang is a bit of an internet darling, but take a look at these PECOTA projections for each player:

Spangenberg: .263/.309/.401, .249 TAv
Schimpf: .230/.324/.485, .278 TAv

Schimpf only got 330 plate appearances last year, but holy cow did he make each one count. He hit .217/.336/.533, with 20 homers, 42 walks, and 105 whiffs. Among all position players with at least 300 PAs, his .315 TAv ranked 17th in all of baseball, just ahead of Josh Donaldson. Josh Donaldson. He’s an over-the-top obvious regression candidate, but there’s a good chance he’s a solid hitter, and he deserves a fair shot to prove it on a big-league field.

Spangenberg is still an interesting player, but I’m not sure he’s much of a defender at third, and since the Padres want to make Yangervis Solarte back into a second baseman, this move makes some sense. Spangenberg could use the reps, and Schimpf gets his extended shot. There’s a good likelihood that one of Solarte or Schimpf are dealt (or injured) by the deadline, opening up a clear slot for Spang.

Three Rule 5 players

We talked about this one the other day, so there’s a not a whole lot to add here. Torrens will likely see limited time, especially early on, buried somewhere on the catcher hierarchy. Miguel Diaz has looked really good in spring, so he works as a mop-up guy, at least. And Allen Cordoba probably won’t hit a lick, but he’s a versatile infield rover type with some speed and bat-to-ball skills.

Just because all three made the roster to start the season doesn’t mean they’ll stick around all year. For now, though, the Padres are giving each one an extended audition, an experiment that might work out okay for a team in their position.

Where’s Jabari Blash?

Blash was another surprising omission after mashing all spring. He hit a team-leading seven spring dingers while also striking out 26 times in 66 plate appearances. That’s his game: dingers and strikeouts, with some walks mixed in. Someone in the Padres org just isn’t a huge fan, it seems, because there’s not much more Blash could have done this spring to earn a spot on the club, especially once Alex Dickerson went down to injury.

He’ll head down to El Paso, collect dingers and strikeouts, and be back in San Diego at some point.

Manuel Margot, right now

Margot made the team out of spring training, which is surprising for a few reasons:

  • He didn’t play all that well.
  • He injured his knee.
  • Service time.

It would have been logical to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks, to iron out the kinks and get fully healthy. And, you know, for business reasons, to nab an extra year of service time out of the young star. But I’m not going to complain about the Padres doing right by Margot, especially if the plan is to one day gift him with a shiny new contract extension.

Three outfielders?

Related to the last couple of sections, the Padres are starting the season with only three true outfielders, Margot, Travis Jankowski, and Hunter Renfroe (it’s a really fun outfield). With no Blash, Dickerson, or Spangenberg (who was working some as an outfielder this spring), there isn’t even an obvious emergency fourth outfielder on the roster, outside of Bethancourt, the dude who’s now mostly a pitcher. (Word on the street is that Cordoba will serve as the fourth outfielder.) It’s a temporary oddity, almost certainly, as someone like Dickerson or Blash will be up in time, but it’s still a strange way to start out the season, especially given Margot’s never MRI-ed left knee.

Aybar and Sardinas 

Neither Erick Aybar nor Luis Sardinas are particularly good major-league players, and neither are likely to be the starting shortstop come 2019. Both of them on the same roster (with Cordoba, too) is, well, . . . kind of weird. Aybar is the better player, right now, probably, and he looks like the starter. I’d argue that Sardinas, nearly 10 years younger, is the better option, but the Padres apparently don’t believe he’s ready. Look, let’s not waste any more words here. Out of Fernando Tatis Jr., Javier Guerra, Hudson Potts, and the recent J-2 signings, the shortstop of the future is somewhere in the minors. The Aybar and Sardinas Show is just an opening act.

Whew. Not sure that cleared much up, but hey, you can’t always explain weird.

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  • John Virissimo

    Thank you for clearing up this weird roster, I think.
    Preller not done dealing.

  • ballybunion

    Yup. Nothing even a bigmouth like me can add. You can call it weird, but I’ll call it “Preller”. He’s got something up his sleeve, and as usual, he leaves no hints, clues, or documents in the trash. I’ve given up guessing. My blindfolded swings at the pinata have produced a broken window, two smashed lamps, and dents in the coffee table. We’ll find out what he’s up to when he does it.

  • Pat

    Schimpf has a small chance of being a decent hitter. The lack of contact, the inability to hit lh pitching, and the age all argue against it. A fluky amount of HR in a very brief exposure to MLB pitching are about all that argue for it. But who cares, really, if it’s Schimpf, or Spangenberg, or Solarte? It’s a crap team, run by carp ownership, and put together by an utterly bizarre front office. Sorry, I know it’s spring, time for a new season, optimism, etc., but this group and their misdeeds of the pages years has completely soured me on Padres baseball. I’ll try to keep my mouth shut going forward.

  • shaynes41

    Part of it might be that they are trying to work out deals for the rule 5 guys and their source clubs. Didn’t they do something like that with Blash last year as well? Work out some sort of compensation so we can take them out of Rule 5 status and don’t have to return them to the source club and can then send them down to the minors if we want. That would explain a lot of the wonkiness and might be worked out pretty soon.

    • Yeah, good point. I could see them potentially doing that with one or two of these guys.

  • GT500KR

    Imagine the conversation between Preller and Green.

    We’re keeping all three Rule Five kids.
    Got it. I’ll try to pick the best spots for them to play. May be good that they’re a trio, they won’t feel so alone.

    Hector Sanchez is your backup 1b.
    He did hit 13 homers for us in the minors last year (mutters “in El Paso” under his breath).

    Our middle infielders are Soalrte, Aybar, Sardinas, and Cordoba.
    One-sixth of my roster and one actual major leaguer. Could be worse. Could be raining.

    You have just as many catchers as you do outfielders.
    You’re a dick.

    My feeble jokes aside, this roster is temporary. Rule Fives will come down with strange ailments and the front office will track their minor league rehab assignments to the split-second so we don’t lose them. Trades will be made or fervently attempted.

    The “experienced” starting pitchers worry me more than the position players. Fans can root for kids working through growing pains (or at least trying really hard). They won’t go to games if the starters consistently get blasted early, and that’s a real possibility with all of ’em.