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Sunday, March 30, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Diego Padres

Wild on Sports
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MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Diego Padres
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
A nearly identical year to the previous. Injuries in the rotation. Some rookie surprises in the field (Logan Forsythe in 2012, Jedd Gyorko in 2013) and also some complete meltdowns (Nick Hundley in 2012, Cameron Maybin in 2013). Above .500 in the second half of the year. Everth Cabrera only plays a half season; in 2012 it was an injury, in 2013 it was steroids. Perhaps this current version of the Padres is epitomized by Yonder Alonso, an unusual and intriguing talent who nevertheless amounts to a below-average bill of goods.

Winter Grade: B-
Coming: Josh Johnson, Seth Smith, Joaquin Benoit
Going: Luke Gregerson, Jason Marquis
Unfortunately, the most interesting addition to the roster, Johnson, will miss April with another injury. Before that, he looked like a great buy-low opportunity for the Padres; Petco Park has been a great place for pitchers to recover their former glory and rebound (see: Randy Wolf, Aaron Harang). He still could post a sub-3.00 ERA if/when he returns. Seth Smith was a questionable addition although the signing of Tigers’ setup man Benoit cancels out the loss of Gregerson. The Padres could have used another pitcher or two although they have quite a handful of potential fourth starters close to the majors; some of that depth was used to acquire a nice left-handed reliever, Alex Torres, from Tampa.

Wild Card(s):

On this team, it feels like EVERYONE is a wild card. There aren’t many reliable performers on this roster. Even their requisite ‘star’, Chase Headley, is coming off a year in which he hit .250 with 13 HR. If Carlos Quentin and Everth Cabrera match their 2013 performance over a full season they will turn some heads, perhaps. Ian Kennedy is a solid rebound candidate, and so is Josh Johnson post-April. Two players who may be overlooked at this point but have some star potential are catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Tyson Ross. Grandal was suspended for 50 games at the start of last year and never got going. But in 2012, he hit .297 with 9 HR in 60 games, and his minor league track record suggests he could be one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. If you dare to dream, Grandal could still be a poor man’s Buster Posey, or a rich man’s Miguel Montero. Or he could just be himself. Meanwhile, Ross was dominant as a starter
last year, with a 3.06 ERA and 95 K in 16 starts, despite a 3-5 record, which is the lineup’s fault. Maybe he’s their best starter since Mat Latos? It wouldn’t be too much of a reach.

Key Contract Years: 
Chase Headley. The Padres are in a bind with him. Although his big 2012 was a career outlier and he’s unlikely to see that kind of power spike again, his change in performance makes him difficult to value. Most likely, he is more of the high OBP, average power player that he was last year and in the years prior, but then what is that worth? Headley has also done much better on the road in his career than at home; will a team like the Yankees overpay with the expectation that once freed from Petco Park he’ll be an MVP?

Rookies: Burch Smith has some big league experience, and Matt Wisler has better stuff and is not far behind. Neither has made the opening day rotation, but that could change quickly. Both have the potential to be no. 3 starters, with big fastballs and potentially solid secondary offerings.

Key Questions: 
Can Chase Headley be a star?
If not, what will the Padres do with him?
Are they going to attempt to re-sign him?
Should they trade him?
Is there anyone on this team worth signing long-term and identifying as a franchise cornerstone?
Who, other than Ian Kennedy, is capable of pitching over 150 innings for this team? (Don’t say Eric Stults, a lefty journeyman who probably got lucky last year)

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
There is good pitching depth but overall no stars in the Padres’ minor league system. The top prospect, catcher Austin Hedges, is a solid defensive catcher but his offensive skills are a work in progress, so he is reasonably far away right now even if he starts the year at AA. Some of their best pitching prospects keep getting hurt: Casey Kelly and Joe Weiland could be big leaguers, but they have to stay on the mound first. The Padres haven’t been bad enough to draft near enough to the top to get premium signees.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders
There’s just not enough star power here. The rotation has depth but none of the younger arms have established themselves as capable full season arms, and the two veterans Kennedy and Stults are back-end innings eaters. The lineup will always suffer due to Petco Park and although GM Josh Byrnes has assembled a reasonably capable group of position players, their best power hitters (Carlos Quentin, Headley, Gyorko) will have to step up their game this year.

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