Around the same time last year, I penned an article on the most positive, realistic outcome for the 2016 Padres. Rather than writing about how the Padres could be good, which was improbable, it focused on positive things that either didn’t require much luck or were considered probable.
The scenario included a break-out season from Myers or Spangenberg, un-Padres like (but still realistically modest) minor league progression thanks to a new regime including Logan White and Sam Geaney, value reconstruction for at least one bad contract (among Shields, Kemp, Upton), a forced hand prompting a rebuild, and subsequent deadline movement of Andrew Cashner and other short term pieces.
Holy shit was that a prophetic post!
I say that not to toot my own horn, but to stress to Padres fans that there are achievable, positive goals in lost seasons, so long as we stay in the “realistic” universe.
As we move into the season, the odds of the Padres winning the division are just as improbable as they were at the beginning of last year. Although there’s a position player group with a feasible chance of being average to slightly-above-average, the pitching staff may be our worst ever. I’ll be pretty shocked if the cumulative value, in terms of Wins Above Replacement, of all starts made by Padres starters in 2017 exceeds Ian Kennedy’s Padres career: 4.5. To be competitive, you need several starters putting up that total in a season, let alone the entire staff combined.
However, there are many major differences compared to 2016: the Padres have zero bad contracts to move, have almost no short-term pieces to audition and trade at the deadline, are blessed with a more cognizant ownership group – even Ron Fowler admits they’re probably going to suck – and have a Major League roster with more young talent than any roster since the Moores era. And Mike Dee is, thankfully, gone.
With that backdrop, there are a lot of positive things that are realistically achievable in 2017. Let’s enumerate them.
First and foremost, there’s a pretty good chance that one of the young Padres on the 40-man roster will put together an awesome year. That isn’t because the Padres are better at developing talent (although that may be true), but because they have a bunch of intriguing young players with upside: Margot, Hedges, Renfroe, and Spangenberg to name a few. As I wrote last week, the odds that one particular player performs at his 90th percentile is, by definition, just 10%. But the odds that at least one out of a handful hits his 90th percentile is not small; there’s a 57% chance that one of eight does and a 19% chance that more than one does.
In short, there’s a better chance than not that one young Padre ends 2017 as a major piece of the Padres puzzle going forward. If that player is Margot, Hedges, or Myers, it would meet the definition of “star player”, given their rather impressive 90th percentile projections.
Second, there’s a realistic chance the Padres are really, really bad. Embrace it. Finishing at the very bottom of the 2017 standings ensures the Padres an opportunity to acquire their own version of Kris Bryant in Clemson’s Seth Beer. (Yes, his last name really is Beer.)
Beer isn’t a prodigious talent like Bryce Harper or Alex Rodriguez, but he is a possible 1.1 selection with bonafide major league slugger credentials. And there actually are some similarities to Harper: both are prototypical middle-of-the-lineup corner outfielders that graduated high school early to get a jump on their collegiate careers. While Harper went the JUCO route to immediately become draft eligible, Beer did it to start his career at Clemson early.
But that’s kinda where the comparisons end. Beer will probably be confined to first base in the pros and draws more comparisons to a Pat Burrell than a Bryce Harper. That may not sound super exciting, but there’s something to be said about being able to plug-and-play a draft pick directly into your lineup whose more reserved comps are still successful major leaguers like Pat the Bat.
Some other comparisons to consider besides Bryant and Burrell are Darin Erstad, Jose Cruz, and J.D. Drew. All five were projected corner outfielders (or worse) that were top five selections in the MLB Draft. But Beer actually ranks favorably compared to these fives in terms of freshman year production:
Beer may not end up the first pick in the 2018 draft, but picking first would allow the Padres to have their pick of the litter, including Beer. And whoever gets him will have a middle-of-the-lineup bat by 2019. Hopefully it’s the Padres. But they can only assure themselves that by being really, really bad.
I will be rooting for them to lose, in the name of winning a World Series, and I will not apologize for that.
Third, the Padres need another year of solid development at the minor league level. They have so much talent below AA at this point that it’s hard to envision a scenario where merely league average progression doesn’t result in having at least one future ace between Quantrill, Espinoza, and Morejon. Like the 90th percentile breakout math from above, the Padres have so many legitimate minor league prospects that even if one of those guys blows out his arm, another one is bound to take a big step forward.
Same goes for all the international talent they just signed and the other high-upside guys that litter the system. For every one or two Gabriel Ariases and Eguy Rosarios that flounder and disappear, there’s a Diego Ornelas or Luis Almanzar that could become our version of Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman. For every one or two Mason Thompsons and Michael Gettyses that don’t turn the corner, there’s a Tre Carter or Fernando Tatis Jr. that could turn into a serious top prospect. At this point it’s a numbers game, and the sheer volume of talent the Padres now possess suggests that even basic minor league progression will replenish MLB’s top 100 prospect lists with Padres property once Margot and Renfroe officially exhaust their eligibility this summer.
Fourth, although the Padres don’t have nearly the same number of short-term pieces to potentially move as they did last year, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. In particular, there are bullpen pieces that a contending team could find valuable: Brad Hand, Carter Capps, Ryan Buchter, and maybe even Kevin Quackenbush.
Trading these guys makes sense for a few reasons. Of all the positions on the baseball diamond, relief pitcher is probably number three on the list in terms of prospect proximity/arrival time, trailing just catcher and corner outfield. If you want a reminder, just go look at San Antonio or Lake Elsinore’s statistics from 2016. A lot of those arms – Maton, Jester, Wingenter, Wieck, McGrath, Torres – are future Padres that could conceivably see time at the Major League level this season.
Additionally, it’s not hard to imagine Hand, Capps, Buchter, and Quack losing their value before the Padres are good again. The turnover at relief pitcher is higher than nearly any other position and each one of those guys has a clear flaw: Hand had a negative career W.A.R. before last year, Capps’ delivery could be deemed illegal, Buchter is already 30 years old and walks more batters than you’d like, and Quackenbush hasn’t been good in a few years now.
If at any point you can get a reasonable prospect – obviously, it’d take more to acquire Capps or Hand than the other two – for one of those expendable pieces, hopefully A.J. pulls the trigger. I think it’s realistic to expect at least one of those guys to get dealt in 2017, as Fernando Rodney was last season. (It may be less realistic to expect another Paddack, though.)
And finally, maybe there’s a chance that new team leader Erik Greupner isn’t completely terrible. For every doubt I have given his long tenure with the Padres, and how utterly terrible they’ve been off-the-field during those years, maybe he actually gets it. Maybe he was a lone dissenting voice when the Padres chose an impossible-to-navigate ticket purchasing interface. Maybe he thought the new radio deal was poorly thought out. Maybe he was against compromising team history by moving the Hall of Fame numbers to build a neon sign.
I doubt it, but the jury is out. At the very least, Greupner deserves an open mind and a fair opportunity to make his imprint.
Realistically, that could mean more creative budget-conscious ticket packages during the inevitable twenty-games-under-.500 doldrums that are bound to occur. Or better yet, restoring value to the practically extinct 21 game package. It could also mean a revised promotions schedule before it’s too late, as former Padres president Tom Garfinkel famously did back in 2013. It could mean making a substantive effort to market an individual player, like Wil Myers.
For a long, long time the Padres have had a team president that allowed (or created!) ideas with a poor optical message to come to fruition. Among my personal favorites are the faceless advertisements, letting Wayne Partello deliver a presentation on turd polishing, and this incredibly dumb mini-game package from the Garf era, in which package two is literally the same as package one, except pre-picked:
I don’t know how the fuck that stuff got approved, but there’s someone new with overlord powers to ensure something like them never sees the light of day. Veto that shit, Erik. Everything that the Padres do off-the-field is now a direct reflection of you. We’ll hold you to it, but we are sincerely rooting for a successful front office off-the-field for the first time since… the 90s.
It shouldn’t be unrealistic for Greupner to prove himself capable of preventing the Padres from being a national embarrassment. It shouldn’t be unrealistic to expect a competent business unit. Most teams have one and the Padres just got themselves a “new” leader. And should Greupner prove incompetent, they may just have to throw a handful of zeroes on a check they write to Jagoff or me, because this shit is getting ridiculous.
And that’s it! The most realistic, positive outcome for the 2017 Padres is a breakout from one of their young major leaguers, a successful tank for Seth Beer (or whoever else scouting prefers at pick 1.1), continued minor league progression, successfully dealing a bullpen arm or two, and the emergence of competent leadership off-the-field. If they can do all of that, which seems realistic enough, 2017 will be the second straight successful season for the Padres. And I would cease to feel like an optimistic jackass when debating Jagoff about 2019 being a reasonable target for when the Padres might finally be good again.