Yeah, They Come To Snuff The Roster

Opening day rosters don’t really matter.

Even for veteran players on minor league deals trying to re-ignite their careers or find that one last chance to make a team, if they’ve made it to the last week of camp, they’re going to keep playing and seeking the chance to play the game that’s given them their livelihood, whether it’s in El Paso or with some other organization’s AAA team. There’s even a chance this year that a player who doesn’t make this year’s Padres roster will still be in a major league uniform on opening day, even if he just got off the plane.

Two years ago, with Chase Headley hurt to start the year, the Padres started the year with 37 year old infielder Cody Ransom on the opening day roster. Ransom had just come off a career year in 2012, mostly notable in that it was the first time in his career, at 36, that he’d earned more than 100 at-bats in a big league season. He’d actually been valuable in 2012, posting 1.1 fWAR, and 2013 turned out to be his 2nd best season, but not with the Padres. He went 0-11 with 5 strikeouts in his short stint with the Padres, who then traded him to the Cubs for nothing.

Ransom didn’t see the bigs in 2014, spending the year in Japan. You’d think at 39 and with just 859 career plate appearances since his major league debut in 2001 he’d call it a career, but he signed a minor league deal without a big league camp invitation with the Diamondbacks in late February. If he was a catcher, they’d write an 80’s movie about him. If he were a catcher, it might actually make sense, as those guys seem to play forever.

Opening day rosters can be full of Cody Ransom’s, guys destined for the scrap heap or the DL, players who will have little to no impact on their team that season. For fans, though, opening day rosters are crack, and I’m an addict.

There are so many angles. With just a couple days left to figure it out, the Padres have 34 players left in big league camp, with 32 players with a chance to make the 25 man roster on opening day, and so many scenarios in play. Who is the 5th starter? Will they trade another reliever? What’s going to happen with Carlos Quentin? Not even #BakerKnows.

So who is on the bubble? Fan favorite and music video star Tommy Medica is out, taking Abraham Almonte with him, both cut yesterday along with no-chance guys Jason Lane, Marcos Mateo, and Ramiro Pena, all headed to AAA. Technically Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson are in big league camp, but both are likely hit the 60-day disabled list to start the season, which will be nice for the Padres because it opens up two spots on the 40 man roster, and the team will likely need at least one of those.

Only a few players still in camp aren’t on the 40 man roster, including relievers Chris Rearick and Jose Valverde. Rearick appears to be battling Frank Garces for the LOOGY job, if the Padres even choose to carry one, which they probably will. Garces appears to be winning that battle. Valverde has had a decent spring, but with the logjam at the position, he’s on the outside looking in.

Word on the internet street is that the Padres, who already traded reliever Alex Torres this week, could still trade a reliever before they are forced to set the roster Sunday. The rumor mill suggests Dale Thayer as a likely trade candidate, and he’s the one I’d certainly go with. While he’s been a steady performer with some setup and closing experience, which should give him value to a team needing a veteran reliever, he’s also entered his arbitration years and his performance can be at least matched by a younger, cheaper player.

A bullpen of Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Kevin Quackenbush, Nick Vincent, Brandon Maurer, Garces, and whoever loses the battle for the 5th starter spot sounds good to me. If they don’t make a trade, the situation gets messier, with a talented guy like Quackenbush or the lone lefty in Garces left as the likely options to be cut, at least temporarily. The Padres just claimed rule 5 guy Jandel Gustave, but chances of him making the team are slim to none, with a small chance they’ll make a trade to keep him, or else he’ll head back to Houston.

Speaking of the 5th starter, I think Brandon Morrow will win the job. I don’t think it matters in terms of the 25 man roster though. He and his $2.5 million guaranteed deal will be on the roster either way, and while Odrisamer Despaigne could be sent to the minors, he has value in a swingman role, and I think both players make the team, whether they’re starting or not.

With the rotation and bullpen set, that leaves the 13 spots available for position players. I’ve heard grumblings that the Padres should start the year with 11 pitchers to free up an extra spot for a bat, but it seems unlikely, especially this year as the team starts the season with 10 straight games without a day off. Bud Black gets a lot of credit as a leader, but he’s a fairly conventional manager, and he’s not going to be a trendsetter when it comes to roster management.

If anything strange happens to the roster, it’s going to be caused by the team’s inability to trade Carlos Quentin and ownership not being willing to eat his contract. It’s not that Quentin can’t have value as a pinch-hitter, but his lack of versatility and inability to stay healthy when having to exert himself physically really limits his ability to meaningfully contribute.

The strength of the outfield is Quentin’s strength. The weakness of the outfield is what Cameron Maybin and Will Venable bring. Keeping Quentin doesn’t add to the roster, while keeping Maybin does. In the end it could come down to which extra outfielder they are able to move. If they do find a way to move Quentin or Maybin and their corresponding contract, after all the moves made by A.J. Preller this winter payroll would end up right back where it was this time last year.

In the infield, Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso both seem to be safe in their starting roles for now, with the Padres exploring ways to platoon Alonso against tougher left-handed pitchers. With both Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte having strong springs, prospect Cory Spangenberg is the odd man out and will head to AAA.

Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes will likely share SS duties, and both are needed with Solarte not capable of playing SS in anything other than an emergency capacity. Veteran backstop Wil Nieves seems like a safe bet to have beat out Rocky Gale for the honor of backing up Derek Norris at catcher. Expect Norris to play a lot, at least until Tim Federowicz is healthy again.

All this is subject to change, of course. While Nieves may have built a rapport with the pitching staff, if another veteran catcher gets released and the front office sees him as an upgrade, they could easily make a change. I assume if the Padres trade another reliever it will again be for prospects to rebuild their recently depleted farm system, but you never know. If Preller can package a reserve outfielder and an extra reliever for an average starting shortstop, you have to think they’d make that deal.

With just days before opening day, there’s so much left to decide, but it may not all be done by opening day. A player who will make a significant impact this season could very well start the season in the minors. While the Padres may have question marks at multiple positions, what they lack in certainty they make up for in depth. If things don’t go as planned, there are players waiting in AAA to pick up the slack.

The Vocal Minority is ready for the season to start. Follow me on Twitter, where my favorites are almost exclusively Alan Sepinwall’s TV recaps for HitFix. Why are those public anyway? If I favorite something, it’s for easy access later, not for you check out. Maybe I’m using it wrong.

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