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.
Padres Ready To Pounce
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
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.