The upcoming 2016 season for the Padres is not going to be a good one. Besides projection systems universally panning the Padres’ chances of playing even .500 ball, Las Vegas odds – where the money is actually placed where the mouth is – say they’re destined to be the third worst team in baseball. By definition, it doesn’t get much worse than that.
But, alas, the Padres appear to be moving full-steam ahead with “competing” (*wink*) in 2016, with principal owner Peter Seidler recently drawing ire for entirely dismissing a potential rebuild.
So what then? If we know the Padres are not going to contend for the World Series and the guy in charge isn’t going to act accordingly, what is there to realistically root for?
Player development and a forced hand.
The Padres didn’t trade Justin Upton (and others) at the 2015 trade deadline in part because, according to media outlets, the Padres thought they had a chance to catch fire and make a postseason run. While Craig Kimbrel still fetched several reasonable prospects this offseason, the Padres received just the 25th pick in the upcoming draft in exchange for losing Justin Upton. Not bad, but definitely not a maximization of his worth, let alone others they could have shopped had they rightfully dismissed their chance to get back in the race.
In 2016, one of the best of the realistic scenarios for the Padres is having their trade deadline hand forced upon them. If they’re far behind in the standings come July 31st, they couldn’t even trick themselves into hanging on to Andrew Cashner, for example, instead of flipping him for a better-than-a-comp-pick package. Same goes for cutting ties with potential overachievers that could make a lot of sense long-term to get rid of: James Shields or Melvin Upton. Let alone the obvious dumps: Jon Jay, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Morrow, Alexei Ramirez, and any other short term player that could fetch tangible value for when the Padres might actually compete.
Compared to being in “that dangerous grey area” where their attempt to tread water at .500 combats their long-term chances, I find a forced hand far more palatable. Especially if it means more playing time for young players like Jabari Blash, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, and possibly Jose Rondon.
More important than how the Padres extract value out of their current roster, though, is the development of key long-term pieces. While it’d be great to see Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp have bounceback seasons to make their contracts movable (or at least keepable), it’d be a lot better to see Wil Myers and Cory Spangenberg break out. Both will be Padres for the foreseeable future and have a chance to flirt with 4+ W.A.R..
Last year, only Spangenberg meaningfully exceeded his ZIPS projection. Upton did by a small margin, while many Padres were basically spot-on: Norris and Alonso, for example. While the Padres may have had a little bad luck, it’s realistic to assume that only a few players will meaningfully outperform their projections again. That’s what happens to most teams.
Since I’m predicating this post on being “realistic” with just two players able to significantly outperform projections, who better than Myers and Spang? I’m sure we’d all agree that we’d rather see Myers break out than have Jon Jay put up 3 W.A.R., for example. Jay is gone at the end of the season and probably won’t bring back much value in a trade even if he’s having a career year. Myers isn’t and it’d be a big positive for the Padres to develop a BIG BAT going into 2017 and beyond.
The same thing goes for the minor league system. Some guys will progress, some won’t. I’m even willing to buy the argument that bringing in a new regime, bringing in Logan White, and shaking up the development staff may result in an un-Padres-like season of minor league development. So let’s say the same thing applies here: some minor leaguers will progress, with maybe even one or two aggressively progressing.
If, again, we got to pick two to break out in this scenario, the first selection is obvious: Javy Guerra. Guerra is reportedly the highest upside prospect in the system and plays shortstop, so that’s a no-brainer. The second break out candidate is where it gets interesting.
Personally, I prefer Renfroe as the number two. A break out for him would mean he becomes a middle of the order contender as soon as 2017, while playing an adequate right field. I think Renfroe’s skillset is harder for the Padres to acquire than Margot’s, who would be the closest contender. Additionally, Margot’s floor is higher than Renfroe’s; the Padres receive the most combined value in the scenario where Renfroe is the beneficiary of a 2016 break out.
While I’d be stoked to see Austin Smith break out or another ace develop, hitting is at a much larger premium for the Padres organization. PETCO Park can attract arms, even if they’re just temporary, while the attrition rate for pitchers makes them a less worthy investment of one of my “break out” genie lantern wishes.
If all that happens, then the 2016 season will have been a success long-term. The Padres would have two legitimate offensive players on the major league roster, maybe three given Renfroe breaking out, with a potential plus shortstop waiting in the wings. They would have acquired a few lottery tickets from dumping short term assets, perhaps more from a Cashner trade, and could legitimately start talking about regularly playing .500 baseball in the not-too-distant future. If they had another preferable, but realistic, 2017 on top of it, they could even start thinking about *gasp* the playoffs.
Compared to the crazy scenarios that would cause the Padres to contend in 2016 – 99th percentile performances out of at least five Padres, coupled with injuries to multiple key Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks – this is the most positive, realistic outcome for the 2016 Padres.