For a long time I assumed this season would go down in history as the worst season EVAR. At the very least, the first few months could be considered the worst months EVAR. But things changed. Josh Byrnes got fired. Prominent Padres got traded. And the team started winning (at home). In the end, the team ended up finishing with more wins than they have in the past few seasons, ending up with 77 wins. As painful as the early months were, as terrible as the front office has performed in their most basic job functions, and as downtrodden as this fan base has been, the Padres still ended up improving their on field performance. Amazing. As this uneven season has come to an end, it’s time to take a second to review how the team did and what is needed to keep on improving next season.
First Base: The Yonder Alonso era mercifully seems to be over. Alonso came into camp looking like he successfully followed the Subway diet, but unfortunately, being svelte did not contribute to performing better or staying healthy. In my opinion, much of the reason for the team’s steadfast determination to keep playing Alonso was due to Byrnes trying to prove the success of the Latos trade. Like a gambling man, Byrnes kept thinking if he played one more hand of Alonso, he could hit blackjack. What he didn’t count on was the fact that Alonso totally sucks at hitting. Luckily for us, Alonso ended up getting hurt, and the team rotated in local dreamboat Tommy Medica and the other Byrnes project, Yasmani Grandal. Neither of them lit the world on fire, but neither of them made me want to eat glass while watching them play. So they got that going for them… which is nice. Grandal showed a little power, but his hitting abilities look way more impressive behind the plate than they do at 1st. And Medica’s no undershirt look is second to none, but he was inconsistent and seems to be marginally solid but without a high ceiling.
Prognosis: Upgrading 1st base would be one of the easiest fixes for the offense. Unfortunately, there’s not too many great options out there on the free agent market. Personally, Adam LaRoche doesn’t excite me. Mike Morse, if he’s not retained by SF, would be a decent option. Despite Mike Dee’s apparent wishes to “compete” every season, I am not envisioning 2015 as a World Series year for this team. I’d be OK with just starting Medica next season. So would my wife.
Second Base: I think most of us expected big things out of Jedd Gyorko this season. At the very least, I thought he’d continue his path of being a non-sucky Dan Uggla. The Padres thought so too, as they signed him to a long term extension. Then things really started to fall apart for Jedd. Between injuries and an inability to reach base, hitting below .200 for much of the season, Jedd did not play up to his contract. It’s probably not a popular thought, but as a dad of an 8 month old, I have trouble functioning at my desk job sometimes. Jedd had twins and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all of those new responsibilities affected him in a way that affected him on the field. With his long term contract, Jedd is an important part of the future. The biggest question with him is whether the Padres move him over to 3rd to fill Chase Headley’s spot, or keep him at 2nd.
Prognosis: My preference is for Jedd to stay at 2nd. I don’t believe his stats play as well at 3rd base offensively. Let’s not forget all of the questions about his range and defensive capabilities in general when he first came up. He has proven them largely wrong, but I question whether that will translate to a more demanding defensive position like 3rd. Adding a big FA like Pablo Sandoval would be huge since it would keep Gyorko at 2nd, a position he can be well above league average offensively at. It remains to be seen just how much Dee and Fowler want to open the purse strings though.
Shortstop: Going into the season, I was fairly unsure about Everth Cabrera. Sure he was an All Star in 2013, but he’s never shown the ability to keep it going for multiple seasons. Throw in some performance enhancing drug suspensions and Cabrera was a wild card. True to form, Cabrera played terribly, had trouble staying healthy, and then had a bizarre arrest deep in East County. In his place we got Alexi Amarista. When I first considered Alexi at SS, all I could think about was how awful he was. I just pictured his hilarious circuitous routes in CF happening at the SS position. In the end, Alexi turned in a… decent… performance at SS. His defense was certainly well beyond what I could have expected, with Bill James even listing him as the 1st best defensive shortstop using somewhat questionable statistical analysis. His hitting still sucked. Like bad. But when you go into it thinking he’ll be worst player in the history of MLB bad, and he turns in a just regular horrible hitting performance, you sit back and think – well, things could be worse. Long term, Alexi Amarista proved to be a very useful backup, but not the answer as a starting shortstop. As The Sacrifice Bunt skillfully put it this week, Alexi’s strength is his versatility. Pegging him as the starting SS steals away the benefit of that versatility.
Prognosis: I think there are serious issues with both Cabrera and Alexi at SS. Cabrera has more upside, but at this point, his character issues, suspension issues and inconsistency make him a huge risk. The free agent options are not good, once you get past Hanley Ramirez. You could buy low on JJ Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera is an intriguing option coming off a close to league average offensive season. Beyond that, you could roll the dice on Jed Lowrie or Stephen Drew. I think its questionable if the marginal gain with those options is worth the investment. I’d personally prefer the team just throw Jace Peterson out there until the All Star break and see what he does. If Bud continues to refuse play Jace, I guess I’d prefer giving Everth another go, but I won’t be ecstatic about that.
Third Base: Possibly the most divisive player in years, Chase Headley started the season still here in what can only be described as the result of a total misjudgement on both the team’s side and Chase’s side. Headley underperformed again to start 2014, showing the dependable defensive skills and waning offensive skills we have come to expect. There is no doubt in my mind that 2012 was the anomaly, and that skilled fielder, average bat is Chase’s true skill level. Faced with the prospect of losing him to free agency, or worse in the eyes of AJ Hinch and the rest of the triumvirate of not ready for primetime players GMs, he would accept a qualifying offer. Hinch shipped Headley out for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula. Solarte notably had a really hot April for the Yankees and then a league average rest of the season. This continued with his time in SD, showing himself to be capable with the bat, OK in the field, but really, long term, looking more like a future utility player. The questions remains if Jedd Gyorko will move over to 3B, or if the Padres will seek out a new 3B, or just stick with Solarte. Solarte is adequate, but is not a championship caliber 3B.
Prognosis: I still do not believe Gyorko should be this team’s 3B. He carries more surplus value at 2B. I would not be excited to see Solarte as the starting 3B, but in all truth, wouldn’t be surprised to see it. Cory Spangenberg came up in September and showed himself to be very capable, but I have no idea where Preller wants him to play. If it’s 2B, then sure, move Gyorko over. If it’s at CF, thank Christ, see you later Cameron Maybin. Where Spangenberg plays is a wild card that will affect several positions. The marquee 3B name (besides Chase Headley) is Pablo Sandoval who would be a welcome addition, but would certainly carry a steep price.
Outfield: On paper, going into the season with Quentin, Maybin and Venable didn’t seem so terrible. But seriously, who thought Quentin would actually play? That’s like hoping nobody notices your raging boner after watching Unhappily Ever After reruns, it just doesn’t happen. Maybin had a bout of usage of banned substances to go along with his regular course of injuries and mediocrity. And Will Venable. Oh let me tell you about Will Venable. After his career year, let’s just say he came down to Earth. Like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. While Will has been enraging us fans for years now with his teases shattered by terribleness, this season almost felt like no feeling to me. Like what else was I supposed to expect other than Vill Wenable suckiness. Seth Smith luckily had a great first half, which for some reason the front office rewarded with an extension. For a guy I assumed would be a platoon or 4th outfielder, The Final Piece (TM), endeared himself to us as our one league average hitter. Thank christ, Everth Cabrera got hurt, ensuring that Alexi Amarista would no longer sully the hallowed grounds of CF with his circuitous routes. In AJ Preller’s first big move, he called up Rymer Liriano to get some real experience in RF. He showed a few glimmers of awesomeness to get excited about, but that glimmer was surrounded by sub-mediocre hitting. Liriano clearly has great natural ability, but he needs some more work to adjust to Major League pitching.
Prognosis: There are a few intriguing OF options in free agency. Melky Cabrera, Mike Morse, and of course, Yasmany Tomas. AJ Preller appears to be going hard on Tomas, which is intriguing because Tomas is such an unknown. I think out of all the free agents, Tomas is the most likely big name to possibly be signed, and as a result, be the first 9 figure signee by this team. Of course, if they don’t sign him, the outfield could be a mess. Seth Smith seems to be a regression candidate, Cory Spangenberg is still somewhat of an unknown in CF (if he gets put there), and Rymer Liriano looked lost most of September.
Now that we’ve got the position players out of the way, I need to refuel with some Stone Xocoveza and build the energy to cover the pitching, manager and front office. And who wants to read more than 1500 words at a time anyways. So, to be continued…