Bring On The Off Season

Well, they did it. Hooray.

The Padres broke the 76 win curse, winning more games this season than they did in any of the previous three seasons. Unfortunately, they only beat the previous two seasons by one win, finishing with a 77-85 record. Unfortunately-er, had they stuck to the 76 win streak, they would have had a protected first round pick in next year’s draft, as tying with the 76-86 Reds for the 10th worst record in baseball would have given the Padres the 11th and last protected pick in the draft.

Had they done that, they could have signed a free agent this off season who received a qualifying offer from their current team, and they wouldn’t have had to give up their first round pick to do so, surrendering their 2nd rounder instead. As the Padres also have a pick in between the first and second rounds in the 2015 draft due to the competitive balance lottery, losing a 2nd rounder wouldn’t have cost them much, as they’d still have two picks in the top 50.

Those who thought I was being a bad fan because I was rooting for the team to finish in the Bottom 10, how does that one extra win feel? Was it worth it? As it stands, the Padres will now own the 13th pick in next year’s draft (for the third year in a row), too high to consider giving up for a free agent, especially considering the talent available in free agency this off season.

That’s one option for improving the team off the table. Should we give up on the Padres getting better? Should we stop caring what the Padres do because they give us so few reasons to hope? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a Padres fan through thick and thin, and anyone who has stuck with them this long can say that with 100% certainty because there have been so many more thin years than thick in all of our lives, no matter how old we are.

What that means is that we can’t let the Padres off the hook with apathy. They still have the chance to make this team into a contender in 2015 and beyond, it’s just going to be harder and take creativity. Hopefully under new GM AJ Preller, what we’ll see from the Padres is a change of culture, a new-found willingness to spend on long-term contracts, and a renewed creativity.

Bottom line: the Padres need to evaluate where they are, what’s available or might be available for the right price, how to get where they need to be, and then execute a plan that should realistically get them into the playoffs in 2015. They hired one of the top talent evaluators and hardest workers in baseball to lead them, and now they need to allow him to take this franchise to the next level.

That said, there are a lot of questions. Where will payroll stand in 2015? Will it increase, decrease, or stay the same? I haven’t heard much on that front in awhile. I don’t see why, from a fiscal perspective, it should go down. Attendance was slightly up and media money is the same or better. At $90 million, the team is spending about $20 million less than what I think they should be spending based on payroll to revenue ratio, but if it does stand pat at that number or close to it next season, it should be enough to field a winning team.

The Padres have three good starting pitchers in Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, and Andrew Cashner, but they have a combined 6 years of team control between them. What are they going to do with their big 3? Kennedy is entering his last season of arbitration, and with over 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, he’s going to command around $9 million next year. Cashner has two years of arbitration left and Ross has three (he was a super 2 this year), and they will likely make between $4 million and $5 million each next year. Will the Padres trade any of them? Extend any of them? I’d suggest looking to extend Ross, and possibly trading one of the other two for offense.

What about the offense? It was historically abysmal for the first half of the year, and while it got better in the 2nd half, there are still many positions looking for major league regulars to fill them. The biggest holes are at 1st base, 3rd base, shortstop, left field, and right field, but there were also under-performers with long-term contracts at 2nd base and center field. How many of these holes can be filled from within the organization, and how many of them will have to be acquired from outside? I’d suggest, if the goal is to improve the team, think mostly outside the Padres.

The Padres are not without redundancy. They’ve likely got 4 starters they could pencil into the rotation right now if they wanted to, in the previously mentioned 3 plus standout rookie Jesse Hahn. Then they have 5-6 guys who could battle for the 5th spot, with top prospects Matt Wisler and Joe Ross possessing middle of the rotation potential. Or they could use that depth to trade from. They also have several utility players who may not have the talent to be starters in Yangervis Solarte, Alexi Amarista, Jace Peterson, and Corey Spangenberg. They don’t need all of them, and some of them could have value in a trade package. There’s also a few first basemen on the roster who fit that same category, and who they keep and let go there may depend on who they choose to make the starter.

Then there’s catcher, arguably the most productive position on the team this season. Rene Rivera had a breakout year and should be a starting catcher somewhere next year, but he’s also 31 years old. Yasmani Grandal had a strong 2nd half and is seemingly fully healed from ACL surgery, but was pushed to 1st base to keep both his and Rivera’s bats in the lineup. Both want to catch, and I’m guessing both will catch somewhere.

On the farm, Austin Hedges continued to show elite defense in AA, but a sub .600 OPS over a full season at the level leaves a lot of question marks as to whether he’s still an elite prospect, and how long it will take, if ever, for his bat to develop. I’m not giving up on Hedges, but I think Padres have a bird in the hand with Grandal, who is just 25 years old, and he’s more likely to make sense as the catcher for the next 5-10 years than Hedges. If I’m the Padres, I would try to extend Grandal this off season and trade both Rivera and Hedges. I know a GM in Chicago who might want to have his draft pick back.

I’ll be here all off season, speculating, analyzing, and holding the Padres accountable. A fancy new scoreboard isn’t going to put butts in seats, but winning games will, and we need to make sure the team knows we’re paying attention and have high expectations. I don’t just want to see modest improvements and general upgrades. I’m looking for wholesale changes, maybe a couple big splashes, and a playoff run in 2015.

The Vocal Minority is a blog that posts blog posts here on this website, mostly on Mondays. Follow me on Twitter. Come to Ohio and hang with me. Don’t leave me hanging.

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  • Geoff Hancock

    Considering the Padres do have that pick between the 1st and 2nd round, and the relative crapshoot that the MLB draft can be, if there is a FA they really like, why no give up that pick for him? I’m not sure who that FA would be: Nelson Cruz maybe? But giving up the 13th pick shouldn’t stop them from improving this team if they can.

    • ItsDis

      Pablo Sandoval. Forget Cruz in the NL.

    • Nathan Veale

      There’s a huge value gap between the 13th pick of the 1st round and the 51st pick (approximate spot of their 2nd round pick, based on this year). The 13th pick will be worth around $2.7-8 million in slot value. The 51st pick is worth around $1.1 million. So we’re talking about the 2nd round pick having less than half the value of the first round pick, and the combined value of the 2nd round pick and the comp round pick (worth $1.4-5 million) doesn’t even add up to the value of the 1st round pick.

      And you can see how that plays out in the draft picks. 2013-2014 1st rounders are two of the team’s top 6 prospects, and are both likely to be consensus top 100 prospects. The 2nd rounders? Gettys is a borderline top 10 org prospect. Dustin Peterson might be a top 20 org prospect. That’s the difference between the 13th pick and the 51st. Having the 39th or 40th pick also helps, but it doesn’t fill the value gap.

      I’m not totally against the idea of trading a 1st round pick for a top free agent, but I don’t think any of this year’s free agents is worth the loss to the organization that comes with losing the 13th pick in the draft. Maybe if they were picking in the 20’s somewhere.

  • GoldenBoy

    The 13th pick is a blessing in disguise. The Pads shouldn’t be targeting any of the top free agents in this sub-par pool. Instead, they should go all in on Yasmani Tomas. And that signing won’t lose them their 1st round pick.

  • ballybunion

    I don’t know if payroll means much. The players have to be available, and as GoldenBoy noted, the pickings are slim. With Josh Johnson, Headley, Blanks, Hundley and Street gone, there’s over $30 million available, though $15-$20 million will be taken up by contract and arbitration raises. It looks like there’s room to add salary through trades.

    Grandal seems to have taken over first base, Solarte, Spangenberg and Gyorko (pick two) can cover second and third, and Liriano may be Denorfia’s replacement. That leaves shortstop, a tough role to fill if Cabrera is in as much trouble as it looks like he is. Only Peterson has the defensive chops, but you can only hope the bat isn’t as bad as it looked. Ninja is not the answer.

    A.J. Preller may have hoped to have time to ease in, but it looks like he has a couple critical decisions to make that can alter the near future of the team. I hope he’s as good as people have said.

  • Robby Deming

    I’d rather move Grandal to first and give Hedges a shot before I trade him. Grandal was terribad behind the plate this year and a catcher with Hedges’ defensive prowess is worth starting. I’d also like to see Spangenberg get an extended look to see if his bat can play.

    That said, I’d probably trade Kennedy And maybe even Benoit for a nice positional player. I just don’t know who.

    • Laurence Adams

      Grandal was “horrible” behind the plate, bcuz his knee was on the mend…not bcuz he’s a horrible defensive catcher. If you cant pop up on that knee, out of the crouch, you cant throw guys out.

      • Robby Deming

        We don’t know why he couldn’t block balls in the dirt or throw guys out. It could be because of the injury, or because he’s just not a great defensive catcher. Either way, he was awful behind the plate this season, outside of pitch framing.

        I’m not advocating we shoot the guy out of a cannon or anything. I’m perfectly fine with keeping him at 1B. But this is a team that needs to make as few mistakes as possible, and I’m not sure Grandal is the best man for that job behind the plate.

  • Laurence Adams

    Im sorry, but whats the logic in trading Rivera/Hedges, and retaining a guy in Grandal who is still relatively questionable with his knee?…that makes no sense, especially, when the pitching staff raves about Rivera and how effective he’s been defensively.

    this team needs offense, period…Rivera is not an offensive liability.

    at this juncture, where improving this team is involved, ANYTHING GOES..seriously, Preller needs to be doing anything he can to make this team better. And I dont care who he trades, if it improves the team. If its Gyorko, Im fine with that…if its Cashner, Im fine with that..

    the only guy who I would remotely call “a lock” to stay here, is Ross..and even he’s up for grabs, in my opinion, if Preller hears a trade idea that can make us better.

    the Padres are not in a position to act like they arent desperate…they are quite desperate. So they need to be listening to any and everybody out there.