Is This It?

Let me start by talking a little bit about where I come from. I grew up in a small house built in the 1950’s (which means no AC or insulation) in southwest Poway, in one of the neighborhoods off of Pomerado Road that’s an easy walk to the elementary school, the middle school, and the 7/11 in-between. People often think of Poway as that place in North County with horse trails where the athletes live, but this part of town is where people go to get into a decent school district without paying too much of a premium. That’s why we moved there when I was 5, at least.

My dad (who I love very much) has a big personality. He loves to chat, can talk your ear off for hours on end, and he’s very well-liked, but growing up with his personality in such a small space, I always felt like I had a hard time expressing myself. Add in a bit of a speech impediment, an older brother (who I love very much) who had a tendency to not realize how loud he was speaking, and a younger sister (who I love very much) with a flair for the dramatic, and I ended up with a personality much more like my mother’s (who I love very much): soft-spoken and often choosing not to share my thoughts, even though I definitely had them.

When I spoke, and when I speak still, I tend to gravitate toward one-liners, whether it’s in a joke or, equally as likely, a passive-aggressive way of expressing my dissenting opinion or grievance disguised as a joke. Before I learned the art of essay writing in high school, these quick jabs were my main outlet, my way of expressing myself and letting people know that I was actually there in the room too, not just a sweaty ball of adolescent hormones stuck to the furniture.

To this day, I have a deep-seated love and appreciation for a quality passive-aggressive one-liner. One of the all-time greats is “is this it?” Those three tiny words, thrown like a jab, spoken with no angst of voice, just a hint of confusion, and a dash of deflation, hit their target like a hay-maker. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a true knock-out punch when perfectly placed.

So today I say to my beloved San Diego Padres: is this it?

A lot of talk this off-season has been about whether the Padres would be committed to rebuilding or trying to compete in 2016. I felt like I was one of the few who thought they might be able to do both, putting together a decent-to-good roster that had an outside shot to surprise (which, given the divisional competition, is all they were ever going to have), while also rebuilding the farm system through a big draft year and decreased competition for international signings come July.

Even with a small payroll increase to $120 million, the team could really make a lot of waves over the off-season with trades and free agent acquisitions, keeping the excitement going among the fan base without sacrificing the future of the franchise. That seemed like the plan. I felt like I understood it better than most and was on board.

Things started big when AJ Preller traded last spring’s big exclamation point acquisition Craig Kimbrel for 4 prospects, including CF Manuel Margot and SS Javier Guerra, now considered the team’s top 2 prospects. Even on a team trying to compete, the Padres didn’t need a closer like Kimbrel, and by getting rid of both he and Joaquin Benoit, the team saved almost $20 million that could then be spent on improving the team for 2016. With pretty decent internal options to take over the closer and setup roles in the bullpen, these were great first and second steps.

The Padres, however, did have a number of holes to fill. Their best player, LF Justin Upton, was a free agent, and with no one in the system particularly ready to replace him in left field and no power bat seeming to emerge anywhere else in the lineup, that left a big hole to fill. They also still desperately needed a legitimate shortstop, and the loss of Ian Kennedy to free agency created a hole in the rotation as well.

Well, we got a shortstop. The Padres signed 34 year old free agent Alexei Ramirez to a 1 year deal worth $3 million, with a $4 million mutual option and a $1 million buyout for 2017. Ramirez should adequately fill that hole for a year, maybe two, while the team hopes that prospect Javier Guerra, not a sure thing by any means, is ready to take over maybe at some point in 2017. It’s not a signing that makes a big splash, but it should fill the hole.

In trading Jedd Gyorko for CF Jon Jay, the Padres may have improved their outfield depth, but Jay seems more like a platoon option with Melvin Upton in CF than an everyday player. The Padres also acquired power-hitting OF Jabari Blash via the rule 5 draft. Blash split last year between AA and AAA, hitting 32 home runs, but has never played a single game in the majors, and at this point he seems to be penciled in to be the team’s everyday left fielder.

Other options for LF include Rymer Liriano, who may actually be on the DFA chopping block when Ramirez and newly-signed arrow slinger Fernando Rodney are added to the 40 man roster, and Hunter Renfroe, who has less than 100 plate appearances above AA and probably needs at least a half year of AAA seasoning before he’s ready, if he’s going to be. Let’s just say it’s a safe bet that people who are downplaying Justin Upton’s year in San Diego will be begging for anything resembling it come summertime.

Losing Ian Kennedy as 4th starter wasn’t a huge loss. While the World Series winning Royals are expecting a serious rebound from him, he had a bad 2015. That said, the Padres current options to not just replace him but to also fill the 5th starter role come in the form of reliever Brandon Maurer, oft-injured starter Brandon Morrow, reliever Carlos Villanueva, reliever Drew Pomeranz, swingman Odrisamer Despaigne, and minor leaguer Robbie Erlin. Best of luck with that.

Three big holes, very few fixes. No big trades. Is this it?

Update: just minutes after this posting, the Padres designated Rymer Liriano for assignment to make room on the 40 man roster for Alexei Ramirez.

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