Padres may struggle to avoid the cellar
The Padres are coming off consecutive 76–86 seasons and a seventh straight season out of the playoffs, so naturally the fan base is getting restless. Ownership has promised to increase the player payroll by as much as 20 percent, and general manager Josh Byrnes has added starter Josh Johnson, reliever Joaquin Benoit and outfielder Seth Smith. Now it’s up to the team to deliver. It’ll take a Herculean effort to contend in a division led by the big-spending Dodgers.
This could truly be the team’s strength if it can stay away from the spate of reconstructive surgeries that have sidelined several promising young pitchers. The projected starting five are Andrew Cashner, Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and lefty Eric Stults. “We have the makings of a very solid rotation,’’ says manager Bud Black. Cashner, obtained for Anthony Rizzo two offseasons ago, has solidified his spot atop the rotation after starting last season in the bullpen. He’s taken a few mph off his fastball and is throwing with more control. Johnson was San Diego’s first offseason free-agent signing, getting a one-year, $8 million deal. The team received some bad news late in spring training when Johnson suffered a strained flexor tendon. He will miss the first six to eight weeks. The Padres were hoping to get the healthy version of Johnson, who was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2009-10 and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010. Johnson had bone spurs removed from his right elbow on Oct. 1 after going 2–8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with Toronto last season. So 20 to 24 healthy starts may be the best the team can hope for this season. The Padres got Kennedy from division-rival Arizona at the trade deadline, and he bounced back from a rough start with the Diamondbacks to go 4–2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts in San Diego.
Byrnes added Benoit a few weeks after swapping setup man Luke Gregerson to Oakland for Smith. Benoit, who was Detroit’s closer last season, will fill Gregerson’s role and is insurance in case closer Huston Street goes on the disabled list. Street has been on the DL three times the last two seasons. Benoit had 24 saves in 26 chances in his first season as the Tigers’ closer. He was given a $15.5 million, two-year deal. Street had 33 saves in 35 chances last year. He is in the final year of a $14 million, two-year contract, with the Padres holding a $7 million option for 2015. The rest of the projected bullpen includes Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Tim Stauffer, Alex Torres and rookie lefty Patrick Schuster.
This is another area that should be strong, featuring shortstop Everth Cabrera and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who had a solid rookie season in 2013. Cabrera was San Diego’s only All-Star last season, but he also brought the franchise the wrong type of publicity when he was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera tearfully accepted responsibility, saying he took a substance to help hasten recovery from an injury just before spring training of 2012. Cabrera no doubt will be motivated to have a strong season. Among big-league rookies, Gyorko ranked first in home runs (23), on-base percentage (.301, tied with Nolan Arenado) and slugging (.444); second in RBIs (63); third in doubles (26) and fifth in hits (121). He led the team in RBIs, becoming the first rookie second baseman to lead his team since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. His .992 fielding percentage was the best-ever among major-league rookie second sackers, while his four errors were tied for the fewest among qualified players (min. 108 games).
The Padres are running out of time deciding what they’ll do with third baseman Chase Headley, who will be eligible for free agency after the season. Headley dropped off significantly following his breakout season of 2012, when he won his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler had a rookie owner misstep when he said early last season that he had given Byrnes permission to begin negotiations that would make Headley the highest-paid player in club history. Headley countered by saying he didn’t want to negotiate during the season, then struggled on the field, with a drop across the board from his career-high numbers in 2012. Yonder Alonso returns at first base, where he made 86 starts. He hit .281 in 97 games, with all six of his homers coming before a hand injury landed him on the disabled list from June 1-July 11.
Cameron Maybin missed all but 14 games last year, and was eager to enjoy a healthy season in 2014. But a torn biceps tendon suffered early in spring training will sideline him for the first couple of months. Maybin has yet to pay off on the $25 million, five-year deal he signed during spring training 2012. It was injuries to his right wrist and left knee that led to long stints on the disabled list in 2013. Center fielder Will Venable hopes to continue the success that netted him a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. Left fielder Carlos Quentin looks to stay healthy. And right fielder Chris Denorfia will no doubt continue playing the hustling style that has made him a fan favorite. Smith was acquired from the A’s to provide a left-handed complement to Denorfia in right. Smith won’t add much defensively, but he can hit right-handed pitching. Venable, the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, had career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2013. He also flashed some nice leather, including making a diving, game-saving catch against the Giants on June 17. Quentin, meanwhile, was limited to 82 games, third-lowest in his career, mostly due to knee injuries. He missed the final two months and had another surgery to clean out his right knee. He also served an eight-game suspension after slamming into the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke after being hit by a pitch in the shoulder on April 11. Denorfia played in a career-high 144 games, making a career-high 105 starts, including 51 in right, 36 in center and 18 in left. He set career highs with 132 hits, 10 homers and 47 RBIs.
Nick Hundley once again will be starting catcher heading into the season, this time due to Yasmani Grandal’s surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. Grandal was hurt in a collision at home plate with Washington’s Anthony Rendon on July 6 and had surgery a month later. With a recovery time of 9-to-12 months, he’s not expected back before May at the earliest. Grandal, one of four players acquired from Cincinnati for Mat Latos in December 2011, started the 2013 season with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. He had just one home run and nine RBIs in 28 games. In 60 games as a rookie in 2012, he hit eight homers and drove in 36 runs. Hundley enters the final year of a $9 million, three-year deal signed during spring training 2012. The Padres hold a $5 million option for next year. He played in a career-high 114 games in 2013, setting career-highs with 87 hits, 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. He threw out only 25.7 percent (28 of 109) of attempted base stealers.
Hundley likely will be relegated to the bench when Grandal returns from reconstructive knee surgery. Alexi Amarista can play both the infield and outfield. When healthy, Maybin could play his way back into the starting center field job. Smith and Denorfia can both be effective off the bench when not starting. Kyle Blanks hopes, once again, to prove himself worthy of a roster spot. He hit s.282 and slugged .456 against lefties last season, but struggled in the second half. Ryan Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez are battling for the final roster spot as a backup infielder. Neither brings much offense to the table.
Black returns for his eighth season, and his job appears safe despite never having led the Padres into the postseason. The new ownership group liked Black so much that they exercised his 2014 and ’15 options late in 2012. The owners — including the third generation of the O’Malley family — seem to be loosening the purse strings and allowing Byrnes to spend money.
Standing pat last offseason meant standing still in the NL West. Byrnes was busier this offseason, when he bolstered the rotation, bullpen and bench. The everyday lineup remains the same. The Padres have to get off to a strong start if they hope to contend, unlike the 5–15 start last year that left them dead in the water by mid-April. Any prolonged team offensive slump or struggles by the rotation will do them in as well. In reality, they’re probably still a year or two away from making some noise.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Team’s only All-Star in 2013 will be motivated after serving 50-game drug suspension.
RF Chris Denorfia (R)
Fan favorite can play all three outfield positions and is solid at the plate.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Will he stay or go? Offensive numbers dropped off dramatically after career year in 2012.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
If his knees are healthy, Padres hope he can get 450-500 plate appearances.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Needs to rebound from hand injury that limited him to 97 games in 2013.
2B Jedd Gyorko (R)
Impressive rookie season in the field and at the plate showed that this kid can do it all.
CF Will Venable (L)
Solid in the field and is coming off career year at the plate that netted him an $8.55 million extension.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Enters last year of his contract as starter while Yasmani Grandal rehabs from knee surgery.
UT Alexi Amarista (L)
Solid utilityman, but not a good sign for Padres that he made 53 starts in center field.
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
Looking for redemption after drug suspension, ACL tear limited him to 28 games in 2013.
INF Ryan Jackson (R)
Has only 25 major league plate appearances and carries a .083 batting average.
OF Cameron Maybin (R)
Hurt most of 2013 and has yet to really pay off after getting five-year, $25 million deal two years ago.
OF Seth Smith (L)
Left-handed bat off the bench came at the expense of setup man Luke Gregerson.
1B/OF Kyle Blanks (R)
Probably his last opportunity to prove himself to the Padres.
RH Andrew Cashner
Hard thrower solidifies his move from bullpen to top of rotation.
RH Ian Kennedy
Appears to be on rebound; went 4–2 with 4.24 ERA after being acquired in July 31 trade with Arizona.
RH Tyson Ross
Solid back-of-the-rotation guy who had 2.93 ERA in his final 13 starts last year.
LH Eric Stults
Led Padres with 11 wins, 13 losses, 33 starts and 203.2 innings while recording 3.93 ERA.
RH Josh Johnson
Newcomer looks to return to 2010 form, when he led NL with 2.30 ERA with Marlins.
LH Robbie Erlin
The Padres won four of his five starts down the stretch last season. The lefty had a 1.97 ERA over that period and held hitters to a .227 average.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
Enters final year of contract; had 33 saves in 35 chances in 2013.
RH Joaquin Benoit
Ex-Tigers closer takes over setup role from Luke Gregerson; insurance if Street gets hurt.
RH Dale Thayer
Solid middle reliever set career highs with 69 appearances, 65 innings, 64 strikeouts and 3.32 ERA.
RH Nick Vincent
Local product was 6–3 with 2.14 ERA in 45 appearances; looking for first full big-league season.
RH Tim Stauffer
Crafty veteran has made transition from starter toreliever; 3–1 with 3.75 ERA over 69.2 innings.
LH Alex Torres
In 58 innings with Tampa Bay last season, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA and 0.897 WHIP with 62 whiffs.
LH Patrick Schuster
If he breaks camp with Padres, it’ll be a big jump for Rule 5 draftee who was in High-A last year.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Renfroe, OF
It was a busy summer for Renfroe. A few days after the Padres took him with the 13th overall pick in the June draft, he helped lead Mississippi State to the College World Series. Renfroe hit .345 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in 66 games for the Bulldogs. After signing with the Padres for $2,678,000, he began his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene, where he hit .308 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Class A Fort Wayne, where he hit only .212 in 18 games. He’s slated to start 2013 with Class A Lake Elsinore. Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino sees Renfroe as a five-tool player whose success in college makes him “a unique player.”
LHP Max Fried (20)
Promoted to Class A Lake Elsinore after going 6–7, 3.49 ERA, with 100 strikeouts in 118.2 innings at Class A Fort Wayne.
C Austin Hedges (21)
Top defensive catcher in 2011 draft class slated to start season at Double-A San Antonio.
RHP Matt Wisler (21)
Going 2–1, 2.03 ERA at Class A and 8–5, 3.00 ERA at Double-A merits promotion to Triple-A El Paso.
OF Rymer Liriano (22)
Working his way back after missing 2013 season following reconstructive surgery on his right elbow; slated for Triple-A El Paso.
RH Casey Kelly (24)
Key player from Adrian Gonzalez deal three years ago continues rehab from Tommy John surgery.
RHP Burch Smith (23)
Made big-league debut in 2013, but was an uneven 1–3 with a 6.44 ERA in four stints.
Beyond the Box Score
Local prospect Minor-league first baseman-outfielder Alex Dickerson, who went to suburban Poway High, was acquired by the Padres from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for righthander Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jaff Decker. Dickerson was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a postseason All-Star in 2013 after batting .288 (130-for-451) with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases with Double-A Altoona. In 2012, Dickerson was named the Florida State League Player of the Year after batting .295 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.
Winfield represents Hall of Famer Dave Winfield left his position as executive vice president-senior advisor in the Padres’ front office to become special assistant to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s new executive director, Tony Clark. The move isn’t a surprise, considering that Winfield spent 15 seasons as a player representative during his 22-year big league career, which started with the Padres. After retiring, Winfield served as a founding member of the advisory board of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a not-for-profit founded by active major leaguers in 1996.
Breeding ground Two members of the Padres’ organization were hired as big-league managers this offseason. Brad Ausmus, a special assistant to general manager Josh Byrnes, was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers on Nov. 3. Four days later, bench coach Rick Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Roberts rises Dave Roberts was promoted from first-base coach to bench coach after Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Roberts was the first-base coach for the past three seasons and had also served as the Padres’ baserunning coach since the beginning of the 2011 season, with the club having recorded an MLB-best 443 stolen bases during that time. Roberts will always be remembered for his stolen base that helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, leading to the club’s first World Series title in 86 seasons. Jose Valentin replaces Roberts as first-base coach.
Woof When the Padres’ Triple-A team moved from Tucson to El Paso, officials felt it needed a new name. A contest produced a woofer of a winner: the Chihuahuas. The other finalists were the Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. The Chihuahuas are El Paso’s first affiliated pro baseball team since the Double-A Diablos, an Arizona Diamondbacks farm team, left after the 2004 season.
Transfer of power In an interesting twist, the Padres swapped presidents with the Miami Dolphins. Well, sort of. Not long after Tom Garfinkel was forced out as the Padres president, the team hired Mike Dee, who held the same position with the Dolphins. Not long after that, Garfinkel was hired by the Dolphins to replace Dee. Garfinkel had joined the Padres when Jeff Moorad began his failed attempt to buy the club on a layaway plan. Dee was with the Padres from 1995-2002, joining the club as director of corporate development before several promotions that lead to his appointment as senior vice president of business affairs. Dee moved on to the Boston Red Sox and then the Dolphins.