“Dana, I’m what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, “Where are we going?” And it starts to get better.” – Calvin Traeger, Sports Night

Towards the end of the second and last season of the great, short-lived Aaron Sorkin dramedy Sports Night, fictional sports network CSC is bought out by a holding company named Quo Vadimus, owned by the character quoted above. Quo Vadimus is Latin for “where are we going?”, a question Padres fans should be starting to ask themselves as we wind down the 2013 season and start looking ahead. In a series of posts, I will ask that question and hope to provide some answers. I’ve already discussed the outfield and infield. This installment will focus on who should stay, go, and be added to the Padres starting rotation.

The Current State Of The Padres Rotation

You can’t really talk about the current state of the rotation without first discussing where it was to start the season. Three of the five members of the opening day rotation are gone; Clayton Richard and Jason Marquis to injury and Edinson Volquez to the Dodgers after the Padres designated him for assignment. Only one member of the rotation has stayed in it from beginning to end: the team’s most reliable starter, and at times its stopper, Eric Stults.

Tyson Ross started in the rotation, was injured, went to the bullpen, came back to the rotation after the all-star break, and has excelled. Andrew Cashner started in the bullpen, moved to the rotation, and has improved greatly as the year has gone on. Robbie Erlin spent most of the season in AAA Tucson, but received spot starts with the big league team before being promoted for good in late August. Burch Smith got drilled early in the year in his first call-up, but has fared much better in three September starts.

The Padres made a big deadline splash to add Ian Kennedy from the Diamondbacks in a KT special. He has #2 starter potential and has pitched well at Petco Park, but he’s had less than spectacular results on the road, and ultimately remains a significant wild card. Other pitchers, like Sean O’Sullivan, Tim Stauffer, and Anthony Bass may still have dreams of starting for the Padres, but it seems unlikely any of them will have the chance to do so on a full-time basis going forward.

Where Are We Going?

The rotation is probably the most interesting area of the roster to look at going into the 2014 season. Several spots seem to be set, but there could be an offseason addition or another trade before the start of next season. The big point of debate is that there are only five rotation spots available, and there are more than five guys who seemingly deserve a chance to start for a major league team. For once, the Padres have depth and legitimate options.

I’d guess that Andrew Cashner’s spot in the rotation, possibly as the opening day starter, is set. Josh Byrnes has to be feeling good right now. He traded a promising young first baseman with power in Anthony Rizzo for Cashner, who was a power pitching prospect at the time that had showed very little ability to stay in a starting rotation without injury. It was a big risk, but right now Cashner is looking like the better player. Going forward? Impossible to say. It’s very unlikely Byrnes trades Cashner, and more likely he tries to lock him up through his arbitration years.

I think the jury is very much still out on Cashner. While he’s exceeded expectations in 2013, his health is still a concern, and his all-out style of play could lead to non-pitching injuries as well. If healthy over a full season, making 30+ starts, he could very well be a 4 fWAR pitcher and a genuine #2 starter. I still need to see it to believe it though.

I have similar thoughts on Tyson Ross. He’s been very tough to hit since rejoining the rotation in the 2nd half of the season, and he has 3-4 fWAR potential as well, but is his 1.5 fWAR over a half-season sustainable? I think he’s locked into a rotation spot as well.

I think it’s highly likely that both Eric Stults and Ian Kennedy are back in 2014 as well. Stults was a star for half the season then stalled out, but at 2.5 fWAR, he’s earned another shot. Kennedy was a stud before and the Padres will want to see if he can regain that with a little of that Darren Balsley magic that probably doesn’t actually exist. If nothing else, there has to be a thought that he’s not nearly as bad a pitcher as he was this year, and could be a mid-rotation talent going forward.

So who gets the 5th spot? Robbie Erlin has shown himself well and deserves a chance. Burch Smith has more potential than Erlin but also less polish. Will Cory Luebke finally be healthy by spring? What about Joe Wieland? That’s four guys aiming for one spot, and doesn’t even mention the guys who haven’t gotten a previous call but might deserve one.

How long will the Padres keep Matt Wisler in the minors next season if he starts 2014 pitching like he did this year? Right now, he’s the closest thing the Padres have in the minors to an ace, and he just turned 21 earlier this month. Is he the next Mat Latos? And how much longer until Keyvius Sampson gets the call? He’s still just 22 years old, and he killed it in AA this year.

Who Should They Sign?

I think the Padres might look to add another starting pitcher, and they’ll have some room in the payroll to do so if they choose to target the rotation, but if they do, they need to make sure that who they sign is a clear upgrade over what they already have. We heard that a lot last year when it wasn’t true, but this time they really do have talent and depth at the position and shouldn’t settle on a mediocre veteran. They don’t need a Jason Marquis to eat innings for them in 2014.

As for what happens to Marquis and Clayton Richard? Marquis is a free agent, and Richard is entering his last year of arbitration. Marquis should be allowed to leave and Richard should be non-tendered and thanked for his contributions, especially to this guy (he’ll know what I mean).

Who Is On The 2014 Roster?

Andrew Cashner 1st year arb-eligible ($2 million)*
Tyson Ross pre-arb ($500k)
Ian Kennedy 2nd year arb-eligible ($6 million)
Eric Stults 1st year arb-eligible ($2 million)
Robbie Erlin pre-arb ($500k)

*All salaries in parentheses are estimations

As sure as Tom Garfinkel will insert himself in the middle of every group picture, The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. Follow me on Twitter. I’ll try to only tweet about the Chargers on game days, and I won’t spoil Breaking Bad for you.

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