By Nick Recchia:
Photo Credit: San Digo Union Tribune, Getty Images
Left to Right: AJ Preller, Jayce Tingler, Peter Seidler
The history of San Diego sports has been lacking in many things over the years, from competitive teams to strong ownership groups, to just a basic commitment to winning. The Padres in particular even staved off being relocated a handful of times before the city approved the construction of Petco Park after the team made its second appearance in the World Series in 1998. Ownership groups specifically have been a topic that has led to many sour tastes in the mouths of San Diego sports fans over the years. Two other professional sports franchises have packed up and moved up the “5 Freeway” (the NBA’s Clippers & NFL’s Chargers) with ownership claiming a lack of a true fan base while the lone remaining “Big 4” franchise battled on. Talks of “San Diego discounts” have been levied about for years and cheap skate tendencies abounded.
The Padres founding owner in 1969, Conrad Arnholdt Smith tried to initially move the team to Washington D.C. before selling to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and his wife Joan in 1974. The Kroc family kept the team in San Diego and in 1984 the team made its first playoff spot, culminating in a World Series appearance. Ray Kroc passed away in January of 1984 and was honored during the season posthumously with the players wearing RAK patches. The Kroc’s are one of the reasons there is a baseball team still in San Diego. Joan held onto the team until 1990 and after a failed attempt to donate the team to the City of San Diego (MLB rules prohibit public team ownership) she sold to Tom Werner and a collective of 14 other minority owners.
This is really considered the dark ages of Padres baseball where within six weeks of his tenure as lead owner, the Roseanne Barr fiasco occurred at Jack Murphy creating national headlines for all the wrong reasons. The sport began dealing with challenges from revenue differences and contentious feelings between MLB ownership and the MLBPA which led to the strike in 1994. The team ended up blowing up the roster during the 1993 season in a “fire sale” that saw the exits of All Stars Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, and Tony Fernandez among others. It also prevented a possibly historic finish by Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn who ended the strike shortened season with a .394 batting average. Werner exited the majority ownership position when he sold 80% of the team to John Moores in the Winter of 1994.
Moores and executive Larry Lucchino helped get the team to the playoffs in 1996 and pushed the city to approve Petco Park after the whirlwind success of a season the team had in 1998. Even this ownership tenure led astray after a personal divorce and failed ownership sale to former MLB player agent Jeff Moorad and partners who attempted to purchase the team in installments like a layaway purchase. Thankfully, this led to the current group now led by majority owner Peter Seidler.
To truly value and understand the gravitas of where we are now, we had to take the stroll down ugly lane. To say the current leadership from Seidler and his statements this week are refreshing and downright candid, would be the understatement of the last 50+ years. Making a statement when asked how he could afford to do what other teams have mostly not been able (willing) to do, his response was the anti-message of every ownership group before him.
With the team colors changing before last year's abbreviated season helping to create an identity, the fanbase is rallying around a team that has stopped trying to mimic other organizations in looks and has finally felt comfortable in their own skin (jerseys). The organization has given out the five largest contracts in team history over the last five years (Myers, Machado, Hosmer, Tatis, and the man he was acquired for in James Shields) along with an international bonanza during 2016 that saw the team spend north of $80 Million on International Amateurs like Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, and others. The commitment to spending has been consistent but has ramped up after the team’s first playoff appearance since 2006 at a staggering $180+ Million range when the Tatis signing bonus is considered.
Representing a fan base in the USA’s eighth largest city, and a county that alternates between the fourth/fifth most populated in the country, it's hard to play the “poor card” as previous groups have tried to do. As the largest city in the USA with only one “Big 4” professional sports team, the team is in an advantageous position to cash in on rabid sports fans who will be packing one of the most beautiful ballparks in the sport while wearing the brown and gold that identifies the friar faithful. Fans desperate for something they’ve never experienced before...a winner.
By Nick Recchia
3B -Manny Machado
Photo Credit: Mark Collier
In a year of oddities and abnormalities abound amongst society, a bright light in San Diego has been the arrival of the young upstart Padres. With a young superstar in Fernando Tatis Jr., statcast star Trent Grisham and NL R.O.Y. favorite Jake Cronenworth, the team seems young and built to last. The surprise for most fans has been the revelation of the team's three core veterans in Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers. You could argue that the three are having career years respectively.
Wil Myers went from the trade rumor mill over the last two seasons with a proposed albatross contract to a key contributor on a team with post season sights in close distance. His OPS of .918 so far would serve as a career high while his OBP sits in the .350+ range. It's been a reenergized Myers in RF, finally with a position to play everyday and not the proverbial mixed bag of lineups and positions for him to play at. Previous management ideas of Wil playing LF, CF, RF, 1B, and 3B left much to the imagination and ultimately contributed to his confidence eroding in previous seasons. Now with him penciled into RF everyday you’ve seen what grades as an above average RF with 1 OAA (Outs Above Average). Career highs in Barrel % (15.6% - Top 8% of MLB) and a drop in K% from last year to this at 34.2% to 26.2% supports the improvements as sustainable adjustments.
Eric Hosmer has recreated his contract year performance in Kansas City with an OPS of .894 and eight home runs in only 127 plate appearances. His power surge has been stoked by a retooling of his swing this spring and a buy in of the launch angle revolution which has seen his 2020 launch angle at 8.7 degree compared to the previous two seasons at -1.4 and 2.1 degrees respectively. While still below the league average of 11.9, it's a stark improvement over previous campaigns. His ability to get runs home has been a strong suit in his Padres career and this year is no different with him at the time of this writing sitting fourth in the National League in RBI with 32, behind a couple of team mates.
Finally, Manny Machado has looked like a star reborn this year. After a whirlwind offseason last year that saw him finally find a home during spring training and a new home, he finally looks like “Manny”. There is a comfort and relaxation at the plate and in the field that sometimes looked forced last year, trying to justify the mega contract I’m sure. This year, he is settled in and looking better then ever. In fact, his OPS of .948 is currently right behind the .963 OPS he had in his last All Star season with the Orioles in 2018 before being traded up the 5 freeway from Petco. His season should be warranting MVP votes even with Tatis garnering most of the attention. Manny is tied for fourth in the NL with 12 home runs and is by far the most productive third baseman in the NL. His return to dominance has helped propel the team to new heights and has provided needed protection for the youngest superstar in the game in Fernando Tatis Jr. It wasn’t that long ago that people spoke about Manny in the same regard as a 19 year old in 2012 who made his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles.
Now as a seasoned veteran and wise sage of the team at the ripe age of 28, he sees the team he was sold on by AJ Preller in the offseason two winters ago. The hot talent lava has landed with the veterans supporting and leading them. The return of the “Rock Star” GM has helped propel this team even further after the trade deadline and now the team has hunger pains that can only be fulfilled with the “big cake”!
By Nick Recchia
Dinelson Lamet has gone from a relatively unknown power armed signee out of the Dominican Republic to a popular dark horse choice for National League Cy Young award possibility all within the span of six seasons. After a failed agreement with the Phillies in the summer of 2012, Lamet ultimately signed with the Padres in the summer of 2014 for $100k. Signing out of the DR when he was already 21 years old, you could say he was a late bloomer or that luck simply favored the Padres. Either way, most prospects in the DR sign in their high school equivalent years while Lamet put pen to paper at the age of a college junior. This maturity could have benefitted him through his journey throughout the minor leagues.
Now at the age of 28 (July 18th), he has earmarked himself from thrower with potential to a pitcher with some of the best stuff in the game. Not only has his stuff looked even better since his return from TJ surgery (97.2 MPH avg. 4S), his control has peaked up as well as evidenced by his K/BB rate of 4.0. His walk rate has trended down to a career best 2.82 BB/9 while maintaining a double digit K/9 of 11.28. This is allowing him to stay in games longer and be more economical with his pitch counts. This is the evolution from thrower to pitcher. His fastball's main complement has been a slider that has been his go to pitch in the past, yet this slider looks a little different. It’s coming in at a career high average velocity as well at 86.7 MPH while being used at a career high usage rate of 51.2% under the tutelage of pitching coach and slider tzar Larry Rothschild. Along with his sinker, it has resulted in an opponents batting average of .152 while BABIP backs up the weak contact with an expected batting average of .220.
Entering his age 28 season, with a major arm injury behind him and with three seasons after 2020 before he could hit free agency at the age of 31, Lamet looks like a prime extension candidate. Signing for a bonus of $100k when all things are considered from the DR (trainers/agents/etc.), did not set up for life and the fragility of the pitching position has already touched Lamet’s right elbow in his young career. The team could look to extend a burgeoning power arm that is stepping on the national scene on a young exciting Padres team and starting to garner a lot of attention like some of his more esteemed teammates. The team could look to buy out his three arbitration years and get a couple of prime free agency years while Lamet would secure life altering security for his days beyond baseball. A few examples of recent pitchers in his age and service category for example would be Kyle Hendricks with the Chicago Cubs and Sonny Gray of the Cincinnati Reds. Hendricks and Gray both signed four year extensions at the age of 29, buying out their remaining arbitration years while either having vesting or team options for a fifth year. Both deals topping out in the $55-$65 milling range in total value possibly.
Lamet might be unheralded previously, but his presence on the mound and in the rotation looks to have a long term role with the club and an extension makes a lot of sense for both sides to entertain. Fernando Tatis jr is not the only young player the team should have eyes on extending. Lamet is represented by MVP Sports Group which just so happens to be the same agency that represents Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis jr. You have to start somewhere and there’s no better place than an ace in the making.
By Nick Recchia
PHOTO CREDIT: MLB PADRES BLOG
With the news coming out of Los Angeles a couple of hours up the 5 freeway this afternoon that newly acquired Mookie Betts will spend the rest of his career in Dodger blue, a whisper continues in San Diego. A whisper that has lingered among the shadows of Petco Park over the last year plus that AJ Preller is big game hunting. With rumors involving the Padres and all the major names that have changed teams and some that haven’t (so far) alluding to the smoke billowing from the fire that is Preller’s phone. With his typical floppy hat in tow capping off his quarantine head salad, he has a directive from ownership as a clear as can be.
While even Mookie Betts was among the names bandied about over the course of the last year, his prospects as a one and done player was clearly evident. A hired mercenary with one purpose and one year of team control has worked for the Padres before as fans beckoned the arrival of Kevin Brown before the 1998 season as a tipping point for pushing the Padres into the World Series mix. AJ, while knowing this team is competitive in 2020 is balancing a high wire act to appease fans and ownership while knowing his true window opens up in 2021 when MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino help solidify themselves into more full time roles. Another reason the acquisition of Tommy Pham was important was his additional year of team control stretching into the 2021 season.
While some moves can pay dividends around the margins like bringing on an additional reliever with great splits (Hill) and starting a players clock from day one (Gore/Patino), a true game changer is what has eluded AJ up to this point in his tenure as GM. I am not counting the crafty deals for current Padres Fernando Tatis jr. and Chris Paddack. I am talking about the world changer types of deals like the Dodgers pulled by bringing Mookie to Hollywood. To be able to pull off that type of deal to add to the nucleus of Tatis, Machado, Pham, would be paramount to future eclipsing the David and Goliath relationship the Padres and Dodgers share. Too many times it has felt as if the Padres are fighting for the scraps off the table of Dodger stadium with the headlines eluding the picturesque views of Petco Park and the team that many national pundits have decreed as dark horse candidate in this pandemic shortened season. With the pandemic changing the economic base line of many organizations, a newly changing mindset might have gripped ownership groups across MLB not previously mentioned in possible trade scenarios. A player previously made unavailable might suddenly be dangling on the end of a hook to tantalizing to pass up for AJ and ownership. While some stars will be made available this summer (Lindor), it's the ones we don’t see right now that might be the most surprising and impactful possibly. Could you imagine a slumping Chicago Cubs making a Javy Baez available with team control through 2021 or a usual contender falling too far behind early and unloading a player in his free agent year like Houston with George Springer or Oakland with Marcus Semien. Those are the types of difference makers the Padres could add to push them contention in 2020 or beyond depending on the player.
AJ and ownership are committed to make the most of this year and moving forward, so big game hunting will continue with the Padres on the trail of the next Kevin Brown that could come to town and make history. Keep the faith and believe in the process. The next step of that process is to win and get in the playoffs in 2020 where from previous MLB seasons, anything can happen. The 2019 wild card seed Washington Nationals can attest to that as they hoisted their World Series trophy last November.
By Nick Recchia
MLB Draft Studio
Photo Credit: Major League Baseball and MLB TV
As the tumultuous year of 2020 continues, with pandemic, social unrest, and political upheaval all in the current, people have looked to sports for a brief respite. Unfortunately, while some leagues have collaborated with its players to bring sports back to the fans (thanks NBA), others have been arguing in the media about money. When roughly 25% of the nation is unemployed or underemployed, it's a bad look and poor judgement to mediate in the public the battle between billionaires and millionaires about their perceived grievances monetarily. Suffice to say, as the MLB and the MLBPA continue their bitter negotiations, one lone bright spot is around the corner in the MLB Draft, which will be held this Wednesday, June 10th, starting at 2PM Pacific on MLB Network.
Even the draft will look a little odd from its predecessors in it only being a five round affair compared to the 40 rounds it usually is. On top of that, teams will be limited to signing any players outside of the first five rounds to a cap of $20k per player which is sure to push a lot of players back to the college/JC route if not selected within the first five rounds. College baseball will be in its strongest form in decades with the influx of talent that would otherwise have chased the dream of professional baseball earlier than usual. This will have an impact on the draft for the next handful of years as the players that head to a four year university will be draft eligible during their Junior seasons. The 2023 college class will be loaded suffice to say.
But back to the MLB Draft, with the Padres selecting 8th overall. The current draft class seems to be heavy on college pitching and highschool outfielders. We are going to highlight some of the projected players AJ Preller and company might be targeting for their top two picks which are 8th and 34th. The typical Preller draft strategy is to aim for potential which is usually accompanied with more risk than Padres draft pre Preller. Outside the 2016 draft which saw the team draft Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer in the first round, it has been a prep heavy strategy early on. We here at Friar Lounge believe that will continue with the abbreviated 2020 draft.
With the #8 overall pick, the team will target one of the HS OF bats such as Zac Veen or Robert Hassell, a sliding college player (Emerson Hancock) or will take the riskiest selection in popping a HS arm earlier than anticipated to cut an under slot deal to go above at #34 to someone who slides due to signability concerns. A few of the HS arms in reference would be Oregon prep righty Mick Abel or Pennsylvania prep righty Nick Bitsko. Bitsko in particular is a unique case in which he was actually the top prep pitcher from the 2021 class and graduated early to enroll in Virginia, thus making him draft eligible for the 2020 class. He has top of the rotation potential but is a gamble since he never made it to the mound this spring.
Bitsko gives you a combination of top of the rotation potential with the unknown of where he goes in the first round of the draft making him an appealing target to cut a deal at #8 and allowing you to go after another signability prep or one of the few high end college pitchers who are draft eligible sophomores like JT Ginn out of Mississippi State or Cole Wilcox out of Georgia with the #34 selection. Ginn was projected to be a possible top 10 pick before he succumbed to TJ surgery out the gates this college season. I could see a draft day scenario where the cut a deal at #8 with Bitsko that guarantees him top 15 money and allows them to go overslot at #34 to entice Ginn to go pro. The ability for the Padres to bring two pitchers of the caliber of Bitsko and Ginn into the fold in a shortened draft would be a boon to the organization and doubling down on pitching is a sound strategy. The old adage that you can never have enough pitching is tried and true and we will see what direction the Padres go. The one thing that is certain, is that nobody in baseball knows exactly what AJ and co. will do. Tune in and watch the fun this Wednesday.
By Nick Recchia
OF - HUDSON HEAD
PHOTO CREDIT: MARK COLLIER
The MLB June Amateur Draft has been a staple of MLB since the inaugural draft was held on June 8-9 in New York City. A chance for every team to pour over the previous years worth of scouting and relationship building into a chance to draft their next homegrown star. While many stars come from throughout the draft, there are a gluttony of them at the top with less and less the lower you go.
As we speak of the third round in particular, some teams have sparse showings while others can claim future Hall of Famers like the Padres (Tony Gwynn), Orioles (Eddie Murray), and Expos/Nat’s (Gary Carter). Some current contemporaries to strike success in the majors have been Craig Kimbrel (Braves) and JT Realmuto (Marlins) with both making multiple All Star appearances. The Padres this past June feel like they might have struck gold with the drafting of young outfielder Hudson Head.
The Padres made the largest investment in MLB Draft history for a pick in the third round with a signing bonus of $3,000,000. The Padres were evaluating him as a first round talent that slipped to the third round on two accounts. One was his strong commitment to Oklahoma and second was his lack of exposure to the summer circuits. But he burst onto the scene in a big way in 2019 with him hitting .615 for Churchill HS out of San Antonio, Texas with 13 home runs and 34 steals. His combination of speed and power were attractive tools to add to a system blessed with many other top talents.
A young outfielder who possesses the range for CF but the arm for RF gives the team a lot of choices moving forward. His arm topped out at 86 mph during stints on the mound as an amateur. While the swing was inspired by favorites growing up like Ken Griffey Jr. and Josh Hamilton. Growing up in Texas, Hudson was able to see Hamilton perform as one of the best players in baseball during his stint with the Rangers (08-12). His smooth left handed swing with quick twitch muscles supporting it is a good comp for swing path. The frames might be different with Hamilton a hulking 6’4” 240 lbs and Head a lithe yet athletic 6’1” 180 lbs but thunder is produced with superior bat speed the same. Violent collisions with baseballs are the result with a lot more speed and defense to his game.
To start his pro career, he spent the summer after signing in the AZL where he would prove his bat belonged to the tune of a line of .283/.383/.417 across 120 at bats. As evidenced, he acclimated to pro ball quickly and shined during instructs with strong performances during the Don Welke Classic that pitted Padres prospects against top prospects from the Texas Rangers organization. His quick twitch actions lead evaluators to believe he can stay in CF and could be a two way player that can impact the game in many ways.
He will be pushed aggressively up the system as the organization challenges him. A start at Fort Wayne along with fellow 2019 draftee CJ Abrams would see them as two of the youngest players to start in the Midwest League on opening day, whenever that arrives. Hudson’s talent and drive to be “the guy” is something teams want. The player that doesn’t shy away from the lights when they are the brightest. His confidence is not to be confused with cockiness but a simple belief and faith in his abilities and hunger to be great.
By Nick Recchia
Photo Credit: (K.C. Alfred/K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune
When Wil Myers signed his six-year $83 million contract extension in the winter after his first career All Star season in 2016, he instantly became the face of the franchise, whether he liked it or not. It was a turning point in his young career that so far has not yielded the fruits of the investment the Padres made that day. Myers for his part, has never been the charismatic face in front of the camera nor the personality that clings to the camera and shines brightest when the lights are its hottest, even as much as management and the fanbase have wanted him to be. The old adage of hitting a square peg into a round hole metaphor applies here somewhere.
When first acquired in a three team deal in the winter of 2014, Myers was a young player who had just turned 24, days before acquired and was coming off a AL Rookie of the Year campaign two years earlier. A once heralded catcher in the Royals system who was traded to the Rays in the James Shields/Wade Davis deal as the centerpiece for the two veterans, was quickly converted to the outfield where the bat would reach the majors sooner without learning the labored nuances of the catching position. And at the age of 22, he was in the majors with Tampa and putting up a slash line of .293/.354/.478 with 36 extra base hits across 335 at bats. These cumulative numbers led to his aforementioned winning of the Rookie of the Year award in 2013.
An injury plagued season that carried over from the end of 2013 into 2014, led to a souring of sorts on the Rays part and led to his apparent availability that Winter. AJ Preller, fresh to the Padres organization that previous summer was looking for a core piece to acquire and jumpstart the team into competitiveness. What better player to do that than a 24 year old former top prospect and Rookie of the Year with multiple years of team control left? The Padres paid quite the premium with the inclusion of young starters Burch Smith and Joe Ross, and the previous summer’s June Amateur Draft first rounder Trea Turner who at the time was the PTBNL.
All of the other veterans acquired that same winter from Matt Kemp, to Justin Upton, to Craig Kimbrel, were all considered pieces to help make a run to improvement but not a long term cog like Myers was. He was looked at by ownership and the front office as the guy they were going to hang their hat on and ride til the wheels fell off. With the failure of the 2015-16 groups in the rearview mirror by the winter of 2017, the Padres made the investment that Myers would be the piece that remained and was part of the next winning group of Padres which leads us to now.
After the last two frustrating seasons seeing Wil Myers go through lapses of concentration on and off the field, Padres fans and ownership seem to have reached boiling temperature. His OPS each of the last two years are .763 and .736 respectively. His career OPS is .763 over 2,798 at bats. That is a long enough trend to show who a pretty good idea of the player he is even if there is more potential for development left. He is an average to slightly above average major league player who has a career 107 OPS+ which means he is 7% better than his average contemporary. He is being compensated under the pretense of much higher expectations but the reality is he is a good but great player like the pressure that has been thrust upon him his entire career. He has not lived up to those expectations so far but this year could have the ingredients that change the recipe. Whanager Jayce Tingler and his veteran group of coaches, the performance day to day will be governed and managed closely. The players in the pie including Tommy Pham and others expect nothing less than 110% everytime and will have a clubhouse enforcer in Pham not seen since the days of Ken Caminiti in the late 90’s clubs. Myers, the rumor mill darling the last year plus, will likely see himself settle into the right field role and a spot in the lineup no higher than sixth. This reduction in role could reduce stress and expectations and allow Myers to relax into a role that befits him. The role of a good but not great player.
Expect that he will put up a mid 700 OPS, but hold out hope that the right ingredients in this 2020 version of “White Queso” is all that was needed to get the recipe right.
By Nick Recchia
RHP - JAVY GUERRA
PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO PADRES
The Javy Guerra dilemma will soon be the talk of the Peoria Sportsplex, putting the team in an envious position with a nice problem to have. The former Boston Red Sox farm hand who was acquired along with former Padres Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen for closer Craig Kimbrel in the 2015 Winter trade is now the last remaining piece from that trade. The unusual part is that he was acquired as a highly touted shortstop prospect who was coming off a .279/.329/.449 slash line with 41 extra base hits as a 19 year old in A ball. He was the #76 prospect in all of baseball at the time of the trade and instantly slotted in the #3 prospect in the entire Padres system. That is when the story started to change for Guerra.
Starting the following season in Lake Elsinore, Guerra would fail to eclipse anything higher than a .226 batting average in full time duty over the next three seasons. This repetitive inability to show growth in the bat stymied the young shortstop and started to bleed into his defense at shortstop where his glove was once a plus commodity. Coaches claimed to see a frustrated young man who was losing the passion for the game as so many do when inundated with failure so many times. Coming from such highly touted prospect stock previously, the Padres were hesitant to cut ties with Guerra even after a 19 plate appearance cup of coffee in September of 2018 that produced a dismal .125/.263/.125 line.
The following spring training, a new idea emerged from Padres camp which saw the plus armed shortstop, at risk of losing his 40 man roster spot on the mound. A position player conversion is never an easy thing and hardly constituted assured success with someone making the transition with no history of pitching at the age of 23. Most successful converted pitchers like Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers and Sean Doolittle of the Nationals either started the conversion younger or had a history of pitching in the amateur ranks. One former shortstop who began pitching full time at the age of 23 should be very promising in Trevor Hoffman. After the bat stalled for Hoffman, the Reds began the conversion to pitching at 23, eventually finding himself heading to the Padres in a trade for Gary Sheffield during the ominous fire sale era in 1993. Safe to say that was a success with Hoffman being inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2018.
Now obviously that in no means is illuminating to what Guerra’s future holds nor does it portend to assume he is even going to make the opening day roster. But what can be asserted is that Guerra has a high octane arm with very little miles on it and a valuable spot on the 40 man roster this spring. He is also competing for a role in what might be the deepest bullpen in all of baseball. He is armed with a mid to high 90’s fastball that has teased triple digits and a slider with high 80’s velocity and good tilt. It’s been his adaptation and comfort in pitching that has stood out so far in such limited duty. He made his MLB pitching debut late last season in the same year as his conversion, a meteoric rise to say the least.
With a spot on the 40 man roster and no remaining options available, the team will be forced to either carry Guerra, trade him, or risk putting him through waivers which would surely see the team lose him for nothing. The Padres are looking forward to tough questions like these in the near future but only time will tell what baseball has in store for new flamethrower, Javy Guerra.
By: Nick Recchia
INF/RP - JAKE CRONENWORTH
PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
Acquired along with Tommy Pham in the December 5th trade with the Tampa Rays for OF Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards, Jake Cronenworth comes with much less acclaim than his trade counterparts. That being said, he might end up as important an acquisition in the long term for the Padres as Tommy Pham is in the short term. While playing shortstop last year for the Durham Bulls AAA affiliate for the Rays last year, he was not only the team MVP but led the entire AAA International League in batting average and on base percentage, at .334 and .429 respectively. The addition of quality at bats and on base percentage it seems was a combo addition with Pham.
Cronenworth’s background starts as a prep player from St. Clair High School in St. Clair, Michigan where he went undrafted but found his way on the campus of the Michigan Wolverine. During his three years at Michigan, he played shortstop and was the de facto closer for the team, registrering 27 Saves over his career. After a strong Junior season that saw him post a .338/.419/.494 slash line, he was drafted by the Tampa Rays in the 7th round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. After a successful run as a two way player in college, the Rays like most of the teams at the time, chose to have him focus on one position to focus on over another and he did not see himself take the pitchers mound again until the 2019 campaign. When he did return to the mound, he still possessed a mid 90’s fastball and a knee buckling curveball that would flash plus if not always consistent. This would translate in a small sample size to 7.1 innings pitched, not allowing an earned run and striking out 8.
Outside of his power fastball, power at the plate has never been a big part of Jake’s game with 2019 displaying his career high water mark with 10 homeruns. He is a tough out who works counts and grinds through at bats, rarely giving them away. He walks nearly as much as he strikes out as evidence of his BB% of 12.1% vs his K% of 15.3%. His BABIP of .382 is Fernando Tatis(ish) and not sustainable based on his track record so a slight return to the mean is in order more than likely. Even so, you have a multi tooled middle infielder with the ability to scrap through at bats and find ways to get on base. His ability to play a true shortstop defensively gives him a big leg up on other infielders competing for a roster spot this spring.
The big thing that differentiates Jake from every other one of his teammates in camp minus Javy Guerra, is his ability to contribute to both the position player and pitching groups simultaneously. He won’t be expected to offer big innings out of the pen, but if he can spell the occasional breather for the group, it would be incredibly valuable. In games like that, a pen can be worn down for the rest of that series and next sometimes, and even pose an injury risk of a position player out of his element. He is in camp with a path to succeed as a dual threat compliment and a renaissance man who does it all for the new 26th roster spot on your 2020 San Diego Padres.
By Nick Recchia
RHP - ZACH DAVIES
PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
In November of 2019, the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers consummated a four player deal that landed SS Luis Urias and SP Eric Lauer in Milwaukee while OF Trent Grisham and SP Zach Davies heading to Petco. While most of the talk has centered around the heralded position players in the deal, the acquisition of Davies has largely been overlooked by critics of the team that wanted the rotation improved. For every herculean effort Lauer would provide against the Dodgers, he would get shell shocked against the Rockies showing an inconsistent pattern of performance.
Davies is not the pitcher who will wow you with the radar gun readings, but will entertain you in the art of pitching. He will throw to all quadrants of the strike zone, will change speeds and eye levels all while avoiding patterns for the hitter to read into. He will utilize a two seam fastball that sits in the 88-92 range with great lateral run. His change up will compete with Chris Paddacks as the best on the team at 78-81 mph while his 72-76 mph curve is a true eye level changer. His change up and cutter, which usually sits in the 87-89 range, are two useful tools he uses to keep left handed hitters off balance. His splits were about neutral in 2019 with southpaws hitting .254/.315/.436 and right handed hitters batting .258/.312/.395. His pitch usage backs up the pitchability aspect with Davies utilizing his Fastball, Cutter, Changeup mix a whopping 95.7% of the time with his curveball rounding it out. His entire strategy is throwing off hitters timing and comfort level up there since he knows he can’t wind back and throw stuff by guys at this level.
How many six foot 155lb right handers who sit 90 mph on their fastball do you see carve out a career at the Major League level? That is a testament to his pitching abilities. Having a pitcher who can carve up a lineup with guts and guile can only be beneficial to the laundry list of Padres on the pitching staff who do possess that plus stuff. To be able to match guys and guile with pure stuff is what makes pitchers like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Jacob DeGrom some of the best in the business. Having an example in the clubhouse to bounce ideas off of can only be beneficial for young starters like Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and Co.
The Padres, heading into the 2020 season have some decisions to make with the starting rotation and staff as a whole but one thing is sure, Zach Davies will be in the heart of it. Having a pitcher with his moxie and guile in the middle of the rotation would be a difficult match up when sandwiched between power starters like Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards. Ask hitters and they will tell you a pitcher like Davies can ruin your timing (hitters clock) for a handful of games. The Padres hope his calming demeanor and “Bat Boy” nickname fit in nicely on a team with high expectations and pressured situations to come. The baby faced assassin is ready to answer the bell.
By: Nick Recchia
RHP - KIRBY YATES
The Padres are entering an important season in 2020 where they are on the cusp of competing yet still have some spots in the lineup that have long term spots available. Some spots that have been question marks for years (3B/SS) now have long term cogs playing them for the foreseeable future. Spots like second base, the outfield as a whole minus new addition Tommy Pham, and catcher all have young talented players at them yet more potential than production yet. These young players all come with prospect pedigrees and rosey outlooks yet all have warts upon their games that creep up doubt in the back of your mind from Francisco Mejia’s defensive chops to the unknown that is Trent Grisham, and the injury histories of Franchy Cordero and Jurickson Profar. Talent doesn’t play when it's on the injured list.
When you start to near towards the end of February, the Free Agent market is all but dry, Yasiel Puig notwithstanding, and the trade market is seeing prices climb as teams have held tight throughout the Winter to where they are now. The Padres have depth in a number of places from the recently #2 ranked farm system in MLB to a number of young major leaguers in Josh Naylor, Ty France, and Franchy Cordero, to a bullpen that will have as much talent at the AAA level as half the teams in baseball have at the Major League level. This particular area has been reinforced for multiple reasons from shortening the game for a young staff with a history of injuries, to just never having enough pitching. When the team last week dealt outfielder Manuel Margot and prospect Logan Driscoll to Tampa for reliever Emilio Pagan, the depth of the pen reached almost comical levels though.
When talk of reallocating this bullpen depth to shore up other parts of the roster was broached by Padres Chairmen Ron Fowler last week, eyes certainly perked up. Outside of the underrated Pham pick up, the bullpen acquisitions of Pomeranz, Pagan, and resigning of Craig Stammen have been the heavy lifting of the Padres' off-season. It's not unreasonable that Padres ownership has expectations that might have not been met yet but with Preller trying to hold his poker face with opposing GM’s, it's sure more challenging. Preller knows what he has and doesn’t have and other GM’s in this data driven sport are holding firm to their player values and utilizing the owners chirps as leverage. Now to make a trade possible, it takes two GM’s that are capable and motivated to make changes happen. A trade that allows both teams to “win” the trade are usually the right ones to pursue.
One such trading partner for AJ Preller might be Cincinnati Reds GM Nick Krall who has led an unusual spending spree for a team usually bogged down towards the bottom of the NL Central. After trading for Trevor Bauer last July, who is in his final year of team control in 2020, he has signed both 2b Mike Moustakas and OF Nicholas Castellanos to four-year $64 million contracts. This is a team spending money with what they deem as their window of contention opening in 2020. With an offense that will slug in one of the National League’s supreme hitters parks in the Great American Ballpark, a starting staff led by Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer, there are few areas of concern.
One area that might be of interest is the back of the bullpen where current closer RaiseI Iglesias ended the year with a 4.16 ERA due to a HR/9 of 1.6 which led all of their fulltime relievers. The Padres having just acquired last year’s Tampa Rays defacto closer Emilio Pagan, now possess a multitude of options to close out games at Petco. Kirby Yates, one of the best closers in baseball and a developing local favorite, is on the last season of his team control. A closer is a volatile commodity to begin with, but a soon to be 33 year young closer on the final year of his deal, is usually a commodity too rich to hold onto unless you’re pushing your chips all in like Cincy is.
A possible deal could include Padres closer Kirby Yates and prospects for young Reds phenom Nick Senzel who seemingly has been blocked by a number of free agent signings over the last two seasons. This would provide a long term cog for the Padres who would have six years of team control over Senzel who could play CF or 2b and the Reds could slot Yates into the back of the pen, sliding everyone down one spot and giving them their best path of winning the NL Central for the first time since 2012. It takes two to tango and we shall see if a move like this benefits both GM’s moving forward.
By Nick Recchia
PHOTO CREDIT: BASEBALL SAVANT
There are some players who matriculate to the majors after a handful of years while others are meteors that you can see from miles away screaming on their path to the show. Tommy Pham, for the surprising career he has had so far, was neither. Drafted out of Durango HS in the 16th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft, Pham like many young players struggled in his first rounds of pro ball. Having over 3,000 plate appearances at the minor league level while spending parts of his first twelve seasons in the minors before a breakout campaign for the Cardinals in 2017 kept him up for good and even garnered him some MVP votes. His .306/.411/.520 slash line has been the highwater mark so far in his career, but also shows the potential that is possible in that 6.2 WAR season.
The Padres new left fielder, acquired from the Rays this offseason along with infielder Jake Cronenworth for outfielder Hunter Renfroe, second baseman Xavier Edwards and a PTBNL, fits the Padres biggest offensive deficiency, which has been a lack of on base percentage up and down the lineup. His career OBP of .373 immediately slots in near the top of the lineup along with Fernando Tatis who himself had a OBP last year of .379. Having these two as table setters who can also do damage changes the complexion of the lineup in front of Manny Machado. Manny has two potential 20/20+ guys in front of him causing havoc and damage which should provide more offense and dangerous situations for opposing pitchers.
Outside of the statistical output Pham brings to the team, is the grit and competitive fire he jolts into the clubhouse. This is someone who has been a fan favorite wherever he has gone and is revered by the Tampa Rays clubhouse as the guy who kept the team accountable and on it at all times. That has been something lacking on previous teams which reflects on the organization and the stigma of the laid back culture of San Diego as a whole most of the country assumes about us. His drive and persona of someone with a chip on his shoulder bodes well for a team who is consistently dogged by National media. The team needs a fire that propels them from potential to production and what better person to do that than a player who helped the Rays continue to do the same thing the last couple of years. .
As an organization on the rise and with aspirations of playoff baseball soon, you want players that have had some experience to help bring along the young guys. That started with bringing in Eric Hosmer and continues currently with Pham. Some players scintillate during the regular season only to fizzle under the focus and spotlight of the postseason. Over his career with the Cardinals and Rays, he has been every bit the star in the playoffs as he has during the regular season with a .333/.355/..633 slash line and three home runs over 31 plate appearances. He not only exceeds in this role but seems to take his quality of play to a whole other level.
Diamonds are forged through intense pressure and stress over many years. It took Tommy Pham until the end of his age 29 season to finally settle in as a big leaguer. Never being given anything easy in this game has made him the star he is today. Diamonds are their most magical under the brightest of lights and this one is no different.
By Nick Recchia
LHP - MACKENZIE GORE
Photo Credit: Mark Collier
As the Kris Bryant contract grievance has finally concluded, it reminds Padres fans of an important decision the front office made at the end of camp last year. With what has been status quo for a number of years, to hide your MLB ready prospects down in the minors under a false pretense to delay their service clocks, the Padres bucked the trend and in a big way. As the team left Peoria, it informed two very heralded prospects that they would join the big league club for the opening day in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and starting pitcher Chris Paddack. The club could of claimed how the young shortstop needed to work on some additional “seasoning” at the AA/AAA level or how Paddack needed to refine his breaking ball but instead, opted to bring with them two individuals who could contribute to making the big league team better from day one, regardless of the financial ramifications it could pose down the road.
It was a bold move to punt an extra year of team control over what many times is a handful of additional weeks in the minors to begin the season. With that being said, ownership and the front office were transparent in their approach of putting the best talent on the field possible. This approach will be tested again this spring with top prospect MacKenzie Gore, fresh off the 2019 MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year award as the top pitcher in all the minor leagues. As the top pitching prospect in baseball and reaching the AA circuit last year, there is little left to prove in the minors with four plus or better pitches and the guile that belies his youth, not turning 21 until this February 24th. Paddack ended the 2018 season at AA just as Gore did in 2019 and with less of a repertoire then the younger Gore.
Yet there are questions that have arisen since the dawn of the 2019 campaign like the explosion of contract dollars high level starting pitching has received during this offseason. Pitchers that are elite, always are well rewarded during this process but the game changed this year with multiple pitchers breaking the all time free agent contract given to a starting pitcher, and both by a wide berth. San Diego native Stephen Strasburg received a seven-year , $245 million deal ($35M AAV) to resign with the Washington Nationals while the New York Yankees broke open the piggy bank to sign former Astros hurler Gerrit Cole to a record setting nine-year deal for $324 million ($36M AAV).
Due to these aforementioned contracts, it makes you really analyze the worth of keeping Gore down in the minors for what amounts to early May typically. That “extra” season of control you’d receive could be valued at $35 million or more if Gore is every bit the quality of pitcher most pundits believe he will be. For an organization that will have to find ways to already pay budding stars Tatis and Paddack sooner than later based on the actions of last spring, it might be prudent to benefit from such extra “seasoning” you could deploy at the AA/AAA level in the opening weeks of the 2020 season. We shall see if AJ Preller is compelled to seize the day again with catapulting Gore into the starting rotation from day one to help this team win or a more reserved approach. A GM is motivated more than ever when his job is on the line. Let’s see if we continue to zig when others zag.
By Nick Recchia
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia
The old adage of where there’s smoke there’s fire certainly seems to apply to recent rumors regarding the Padres and Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts. There seems to have been dialogue between the two teams dating back to the Winter Meetings held earlier this year here in San Diego. At first glance, the two teams look like odd partners between recent team history and the simple fact that Mookie Betts is such an iconic player in the midst of his prime. This is not the type of player a big market club like Boston is accustomed to making available for trade and certainly not due to financial concerns. There has been rumblings over the years that Betts hasn’t been amenable to signing long term in Boston which has left the team in a precarious spot whether to trade the homegrown star or fear letting him walk for nothing more than a compensation pick in the amateur draft. Safe to say new Boston GM Chaim Bloom, has his work cut out for him. It seems like a trial by fire initiation will be the recipe for his first offseason in Boston at the helm.
The Red Sox, in a year where there payroll was well over $230 million already, paid a $13 million luxury tax bill for the 2019 season, which saw them not make the playoffs a year after winning the 2018 World Series. Though Boston ownership has claimed it is not a mandate and simply a benefit if possible, lowering payroll seems imperative since the biggest additions to the team so far has been SS Jose Peraza and LHP starter Martin Perez. They would like to drop below the luxury tax threshold like the Yankees and Dodgers have done in recent years to save money and allow for more payroll flexibility moving forward.
Another facet I believe that is coming into play as well is if they keep Betts and he does walk, there is not a ready made young player that could come close to filling that role. The farm system has paid off in recent years with players like Betts, Bogaerts, and Devers but from these graduations and trades for players like Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale, the farm system has been left fairly barren with only one prospect in the top 100 of the 2020 MLB.com prospect rankings. The team could also be left missing some high end draft picks depending on the penalties that come down from MLB regarding the 2018 sign stealing investigations that are currently ongoing. The Houston Astros in comparison are penalized their 2020 and 2021 1st and 2nd round picks. This is sure to be on the mind of Bloom when projecting the multiple “what if”s” his franchises future.
With tumultuous history between the two teams regarding the Drew Pomeranz trade possibly mitigated by the firing of then GM Dave Dombrowski and the arrival of Bloom, maybe this is water under the bridge. There are some holdover front office executives that remain from the previous regime but a frigid relationship thawing now would prove advantageous for both parties involved. Bloom has the wherewithal to make a bold statement as the new GM of the Red Sox and AJ Preller has the marching orders from Ownership to show improvement or possibly be shown the door. Motivations abound for both organizations to leave a transaction of this magnitude as winners where it can be a turning point for a team in either direction.
To acquire a player of Betts ilk, it will take something that the receiving team deems as painful, as it should for a 27 year old former MVP in the apex of his career. The Padres and Red Sox both know the stakes involved and leading into the end of January. Baseball will quickly be upon us in the coming weeks with the crack of the bat and the snap of the glove flooding ears in Peoria and Fort Myers respectively.
By Nick Recchia
RHP DINELSON LAMET (Photo Credit: Mark Collier)
After a 2019 season in which the San Diego Padres were 70-92, including a dreadful September in which the team under Andy Green performed a whimpering 7-20 record, you’d expect dramatic changes in terms of roster construction. What has resulted, has been an uninspiring offseason at first look, with the only notable acquisitions being for OF Tommy Pham and a four year free agent deal handed out to former Padre LHP Drew Pomeranz, with this round slated to come as a multi inning relief weapon out of the pen. Outside of these deals, a swap of young players which saw 2B Luis Urias and LHP Eric Lauer head to Milwaukee for OF Trent Grisham and RHP Zach Davies and a buy low candidate in IF Jurickson Profar.
There has not been the acquisition of a vaunted top of the rotation arm to lead the young staff as has been rumored for the last couple of seasons nor any changes to the rotation minus the Lauer/Davies swap which seemed to trade a higher ceiling pitcher in Lauer for some security in a higher floored pitcher in Davies. Names have been bandied about from rumor mill stalwarts like Noah Syndergaard and Corey Kluber to surprising names like Mike Clevinger and Jon Gray. Even the free agent scene, with much hype going into the offseason left the Padres looking shocked at the prices being tossed around. When they realized that hometown star Stephen Strasburg, he of the 2019 World Series winning Washington Nationals was going to command a contract in excess of 200+ million, the Padres quickly bowed out. Other starting pitchers ended up with terms that were certainly in favor of the agents and players with the market’s competition bidding up prices for starting pitchers in the next tier like Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Hyun Jin Ryu who though quality starters, would not be confused with an “Ace” label on a playoff contending team at this point in their careers.
The team has been playing a long game with the last two offseasons worth of additions but this offseason, amongst talk by Padres Co-Owner Ron Fowler that “heads would roll”, has added urgency to show improvement. So if you’re not adding a glut of talent externally to a team that finished 19 games back of the Brewers for the second Wild Card, where is all of this additional winning going to be coming from?
Starting with the pitching staff, a full season of Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and Garrett Richards in the rotation would go along way to solving much of our pitching woes. A supporting cast of young pitchers will compete in Spring Training for the final two spots in the rotation among Joey Luchessi, Cal Quantrill, Zach Davies, and an outside shot for prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino. The bullpen is locked and loaded with a three headed monster in the back of the pen in Kirby Yates, Drew Pomeranz, and young fireballer Andres Munoz. LHP’s Jose Castillo and Matt Strahm will be complemented by RHP’s Pierce Johnson and Craig Stammen with one of the starters who failed to crack the rotation serving as the long guy. Safe to say, the AAA pitching staff at El Paso will be as talented a staff as they’ve had as a Padres affiliate in 2020. Arms like Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, Ronald Bolanos and possibly even MacKenzie Gore will start for El Paso to begin with bullpen pieces being filled with talented guys who don’t crack the big league pen. 40 Man roster pieces that would seem to be in this group due to depth at the major league level could include David Bednar, Gerardo Reyes, and Trey Wingenter among others.
The offense begins with keeping the phenom on the field for the entire season. Fernando Tatis jr. played only 84 games, though amassing a .969 OPS over 334 at bats. Having your best player on the field the entire season is a good start to a good season but not the only thing. The team desperately needs Manny Machado to recreate some of the magic he had in Baltimore, and have added some familiarity around him in new coaches Wayne Kirby, Ryan Flaherty, and Bobby Dickerson, all with ties to Machado’s days in Baltimore. Think of it as a way to maximize the investment the team has made in him. A return to form for him would take a lot of pressure off of his peers. Eric Hosmer needs to make his best impersonation of a league average first basemen and Wil Myers, if still on the roster needs to try and figure out some level of consistency like his 2016 first half. The honest view of Wil is he is neither as bad as he was last year nor as good as he was in the first half of 2016, but somewhere in the middle could still be a useful use of a roster and lineup space. Tommy Pham is claiming that he played through most of the second half last year injured yet toughed it out to stay on the field. While admirable in that regard, it also does explain the defensive metrics nose diving. His addition to the lineup in 2020 is huge with his ability to get on base at a career .373 clip. Other young players will need to prove in 2020 that they belong on the major league level and with a team in desperation to snap a losing season streak since 2010, you’d have to imagine the leash will be short. Trent Grisham, Francisco Mejia, Jurickson Profar among others have high expectations on them this season with pressure on all levels of the organization to perform. Much of the performance this season in fact will hinge on players with two years of service time of less to catapult the team into the 87-89 win range which is what a 2020 Wild Card berth is expected to require.
Now if everything breaks right for the Padres, internally you’d have health through the big league roster and a couple of breakout performers from the young players and some career years from the veterans, but rarely that happens without a team having to augment the roster at some point throughout the season. Nothing like boosting a playoff run by adding a 27 year old former AL MVP in Mookie Betts or a former NL MVP and local star in Kris Bryant to solidify the lineup. More than likely, a number of players not talked about now or even available this offseason might be part of a “reimagining” of some teams roster and could headline the stretch run of the next Padres playoff team.
AJ Preller will have more than enough motivation to add to the roster if the Padres get close to the break and are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. With one of the top farm systems in the game, a hungry fan base, and a determined ownership group, the Padres will be in on any and all the big names come July, if not before. One thing is for certain, Preller’s job is on the line in 2020, and you can be sure he’ll be ready to pounce on the big deal come July.
By: Nick Recchia
Having a strong bullpen is not a new concept for the San Diego Padres nor a new found mantra, but rather a continuation of a success the team has experienced over the last couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt to have a Hall of Fame closer during that run in Trevor Hoffman but a lot of great pen pieces were low key roster additions that supplied a glut of Padre All Star appearances over the last decade especially. From current closer Kirby Yates, to former closers Brad Hand, Heath Bell, and Huston Street, the Padres have always valued bullpen weapons and the 2020 group looks to raise the bar to possibly historic proportions. Before looking forward to much, let’s take a look back a little at the last great Padres pen historically speaking which was the 2018 group which had a collective 8.7 fWAR. This group consisted of holdovers Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, and Matt Strahm as well as former closer Brad Hand among others.
The 2020 group will be led by 2019 All Star and inaugural All MLB 1st Team award winner Kirby Yates, who had one of the best seasons of a closer in recent MLB memory. He pitched to a 1.19 ERA over 60.2 innings to go along with 101 strikeouts. He converted 41 out of 44 save opportunities. Since the development of his vaunted splitter in 2017, You’d be hard pressed to find a better performance out of the pen in MLB. He will be set up this year by new and old Padre Drew Pomeranz. Coming to San Diego on a four year free agent deal this offseason, he will see if he can continue his second half dynamo performance he performed as a Milwaukee Brewer where his average fastball velocity climbed into the 96mph range and his curveball kept the same bite but at more of a 84-86mph range. Shelving his other pitches in deference to these two, reimagined Drew into maybe Andrew Miller lite, which is certainly what AJ Preller and front office are hoping after guaranteeing him $34 million dollars over the course of the next four years. His set up partner will be a young right hander from Los Mochis Mexico who stepped onto the scene last year as a 20 year old and never looked back once called up. Andres Munoz has what might be currently the most electrifying fastball in the major leagues, consistently touching triple digits while also creating awkward swings with a developing slider that is almost impossible to lay off when geared up for the heater. He will spend the entire 2020 season as a 21 year old and will look to build off of an impressive 2019 where he had a 11.7 K/9 and allowed opposing hitters to bat a measly .188 against.
The man to not sleep on in 2020 after missing most of the 2019 season will be big left hander Jose Castillo. His mid to high 90’s fastball from the left side to go with a slider that has a 40%+ swinging strike rate is an imposing figure on the mound and looks to settle as another late inning weapon for new Manager Jayce Tingler. Former major leaguer and Japanese import Pierce Johnson will look to carry over his development from the Nippon Baseball League to Petco Park. He possesses a mid 90’s four seamer as well as a true 12-6 curveball. Many observers in San Francisco, which was Johnson's last MLB home in 2018, felt like the team gave up to early on his development only to see him now come back to a Division rival. He signed a two year deal worth $5 million dollars with a team option for a third year and will be given every opportunity to win a job in this bullpen. Matt Strahm looks to have settled into the bullpen for 2020 with a skill set that allows him to pitch in any role asked of from “opener” to long guy, to someone who has pitched set up innings when needed over the last couple of seasons. His repertoire and velocity both played up after returning from the rotation last year once back in the pen. The return of Craig Stammen will be key to a successful pen with his two seamer and ability to induce ground balls with runners on base. Due to the depth of the rest of the pen, he will be liberally deployed earlier in games in a fireman role.
The eighth spot in the bullpen using traditional logic would be one of the starters who fail to crack the rotation by the end of spring since long time long guy Robbie Erlin is no longer in the organization. Any number of starters could be in this role possibly with Cal Quantrill coming out of the pen last year for a good amount of the season even with his starter pedigree. The team could also zig where others zag and look to carry another flame thrower like Trey Wingenter, Javy Guerra, Gerardo Reyes, or even former Rule 5 pick Luis Perdomo.
One thing is for certain, as good as Padre bullpens have been previously, the depth and talent of the 2020 might be a group unrivaled in organization history. We will see if this talented group can shorten the game and help the Padres get into October baseball.
RP - ANDRES MUNOZ Photo Credit: Mark Collier
The 2020 MLB offseason is in full gear with the top catcher and reliever both off the board a full week before Thanksgiving. The Padres have been from all reports in many different conversations from the starting pitching front, to every position other then third, short, and first for obvious reasons. While the “hot stove” has started to churn early, it seems the trade market is still finding its footing which is sure to pick up steam as we march towards Dec. 9th-12th in San Diego as the GM Meetings come to town. As the host city and with a mandate from ownership to begin moving towards contention and out of the cellar of the NL West, AJ Preller is motivated to make a splash with the resources to do so.
Going into the offseason, the team has acknowledged that there are too many question marks across the roster to breakthrough into a playoff spot without significant growth internally and some key additions in the lineup and in the starting rotation. The glaring spots last season where the team seemed inefficient and futile sometimes were the ability to hit right handed pitching and a starting rotation unit that could be depended upon to eat a serious amount of innings. Collectively as a team in 2019, the Padres hit .234/.301/.404 vs RHP while hitting .249/.330/.430 against southpaws. The only projected 2020 opening day starters as of right now would be first basemen Eric Hosmer who has his own platoon splits that are dreadful and switch hitting catcher Francisco Mejia. Hosmer had a .600 OPS versus southpaws which deeply hurt his overall value, especially as a first bagger, but not to digress. The obvious spot to improve would be in the outfield where Hunter Renfroe regressed from his first half performance with a .161/.263/.299 slash line over 205 plate appearances to finish off the second half. Unfortunately, Manuel Margot and Wil Myers never really got started with both disappearing for large swaths of the season mired in prolonged slumps that seemed to last months as opposed to days or weeks. Keep in mind, that Preller is not necessarily looking for a left handed hitting outfielder but simply a hitter that can hit both handedness of pitcher. On the free agent market, outfielders that are most relevant to this cause would be corner outfielders Corey Dickerson, Marcell Ozuna, Nicholas Castellanos, Kole Calhoun, and Yasiel Puig, all with the deficiencies ranging from defensive chops, contract demands, or in Puig’s case, clubhouse chemistry/fan reaction. The trade market seems more preferable with possible names bandied about such as CF Starling Marte and COF David Peralta among others.
Starting pitching is a much more robust market on the free agent side of things then previous years with multiple impact pieces available for nothing more than money and our third highest draft pick which as of now seems to end up somewhere in the mid-high 70’s. At the top of the market you have Gerrit Cole and hometown boy Stephen Strasburg, both sure to come away with six plus years at high AAV’s of thirty or more per season. This duo is followed by a large group of starters that in most years would be battling for the best starter available between Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dallas Keuchel. Even the group after this consists of useful hurlers like Kyle Gibson, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood. The Padres projected 2020 rotation as it stands consists of a combination of RHP’s Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Garrett Richards, and Cal Quantrill, and lefties Joey Luchessi and Eric Lauer. With almost of these pitchers coming off of partially missed seasons or inning counts, there is a lot of uncertainty regardless of the pure talent. A wild mustang is a thing of nature but not dependable in its actions which sums up the current staff. The high water mark for innings pitched on the team last year was 163.2 IP by Joey Luchessi, which replicated in 2020 will result in another losing season. One thing most top starters have in common that the Padres have interest in is they take the ball every fifth day and keep their teams in the game. Case in point, Cole, Strasburg, Bumgarner, and Wheeler all pitched 195+ innings over the course of the 2019 campaign. This is valuable for a young team that needs to ease young pitching into the majors. Another name to keep an eye on would be Rancho Bernardo HS alum Cole Hamels. Even in an injury marred season that saw an oblique injury put him on the shelf, he still put up a 3.0 WAR season. A willingness to sign a one year deal as has been reported also make him an enticing sign to a rumored 14 different teams.
As you can see, the Padres have their hands full, but with a GM and ownership group eager to lay claim to San Diego as “the team” in the region, the farm system and financial resources to boot, this is not your dad’s Padres. But to convince him, it’s going to take something this team hasn’t ever seen, a consistent winner not happy to be the little brothers of the NL West. We’ve all heard the talk about prospects and potential, but winning is done on the field and reflected in the standings. 2020 is the time for this group to show it walks the walk as well.
PHOTO CREDIT: MARK COLLIER
Longtime baseball enthusiast who tries to incorporate new age analytics into old school baseball strategy and how the two can coexist in winning harmony. Also a minor league aficionado who delves deep into the farm to share the love of the game from the lower rungs of the minor leagues and up. Always up for sports talk.