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San Diego Padres 2016 Preview and Prediction

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

General manager A.J. Preller went for the “wow” factor with a wild shopping spree last offseason, and the Padres responded with an uninspiring, underachieving season that left fans more than disappointed. Preller is shaking things up again as he continues to put his stamp on a franchise that has gone nine years without a postseason appearance. Some outsiders call it a rebuilding; rookie manager Andy Green calls it a “redesign.” Rather than going for big names like he did a year ago, Preller is attempting to rebuild the farm system that he depleted with his many moves in December 2014.

Some believe Preller erred by firing Bud Black in mid-June and replacing him with interim manager Pat Murphy, who had no big league experience of any kind. Murphy couldn’t get through to the players, and the Padres were worse than they were in 2014, going 74–88 and finishing fourth in the NL West. After firing Murphy at season’s end, Preller pulled another surprise by passing over veteran skippers and choosing the little-known Green, the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 38-year-old Green takes over a clubhouse that lacked chemistry and leadership. Unfortunately for long-suffering Padres fans, that playoff drought is likely to reach a decade.

Rotation

This was supposed to have been one of the team’s strengths last year after the addition of ace James Shields. But when the pitching was going well, the hitting wasn’t, and vice versa. Shields even said midway through the season that it should be expected that a roster would take a year-and-a-half or so to jell. While that’s not what the fans wanted to hear, it appears Shields was right. Barring more offseason peddling by Preller, the top three spots in the rotation should be Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Shields and Ross were workhorses, each making 33 starts and reaching the 200-strikeout plateau. Cashner had a mystifying season, going 6–16 with a 4.34 ERA. With Ian Kennedy testing free agency, there will be plenty of competition for the final two spots among Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea, Odrisamer Despaigne and Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz came over from the A’s in the trade for Yonder Alonso and can either start or come out of the bullpen.

Bullpen

In the span of two days in November, Preller acquired six prospects in two separate deals that moved setup man Joaquin Benoit to Seattle and closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston. He also cleared nearly $19 million, which can either go toward a shortstop or be salted away to help ease the sting of failing to contend with the first $100 million payroll in club history. The Padres will spend spring training sorting out who will be the eighth-inning guy and who will close. Unlike last year, when Preller traded for Kimbrel the day before Opening Day, the setup guy and closer are currently on the roster, and the Padres appear to have some flexibility. Candidates to close are Pomeranz, Kevin Quackenbush and Brandon Maurer. Then again, Pomeranz and Maurer could find themselves in the rotation. The Padres also have a number of younger players who will be in the mix. Whatever the makeup of the bullpen, it’ll be shaped to perform in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Middle Infield

The Padres’ well-documented pursuit of an everyday shortstop ended in January with the signing of Alexei Ramirez to a one-year contract. The native of Cuba spent the first eight years of his career with the White Sox, earning the Silver Slugger Award twice (2010, 2014) and making one trip to the All-Star Game (2014). Ramirez, who has played in at least 148 games in each of the last seven seasons, is a .273 career hitter and has hit 10 or more home runs six times. While the Padres shopped for the other half of their double-play combination, they traded second baseman Jedd Gyorko to St. Louis for outfielder Jon Jay. Gyorko never lived up to the big multi-year contract the Padres gave him just a few weeks into his second full big league season, struggling with injuries and at the plate. Cory Spangenberg, the Padres’ 2011 first-round draft pick, is poised to take over for Gyorko.

Corners

Wil Myers, who missed much of 2015 with a wrist injury, is expected to take over at first base after Alonso was dealt to Oakland for Pomeranz. Although Myers came over as a center fielder, he started only 33 games there during his injury-interrupted season. He ended up making 19 starts at first and is the team’s best option at the position. Alonso had a hard time staying on the field, and his departure means all four players who came over from Cincinnati for Mat Latos after the 2011 season are gone. Yangervis Solarte returns at third base. For most of last season, Solarte seemed to be the only Padres player who was having any fun. He hit .270 with 14 homers and 63 RBIs.

Outfield

The all-everything outfield of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Myers didn’t carry the Padres to great heights like fans and the team hoped. As expected, Upton was a one-year rental and has moved on after leading the Padres with 26 home runs. Kemp, who hit 23 home runs, returns to play right field. Jay is expected to take over for Upton in left while Melvin Upton Jr. is the leading candidate to play center. The Padres took on Upton Jr.’s hefty contract, and he was hurt coming into last season. The Padres certainly hope he’ll be productive. The 31-year-old Jay helped the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series title but hit .210 last season, his lowest average in six big league seasons and down from .303 in 2014. He has a .287 career average. Jay has a $6.2 million salary next season and then can become a free agent.

Catching

Derek Norris returns after doing the bulk of the catching last season, as does Austin Hedges, who made 41 starts as a rookie in 2015. The Padres acquired Christian Bethancourt in a trade with Atlanta that cost them Casey Kelly, one of the key players obtained from Boston for Adrian Gonzalez five years ago. They also obtained Josmil Pinto from Minnesota, but he was designated for assignment after the Padres signed lefthander Buddy Baumann. Bethancourt is out of options, so there’s a good chance he’ll start the season with the big league club and Hedges will start out at Triple-A El Paso.

Bench

One of the key players is first baseman Brett Wallace, who showed some pop with five home runs. Some fans would like to see him as the starting first baseman. Also projected to be on the bench are Bethancourt, outfielder Travis Jankowski and utilityman Jose Pirela, who was obtained from the Yankees in November.

Management

Preller was dubbed a “rock star GM” by Kemp after pulling off his many moves a winter ago, but the sweet music didn’t last past April. Preller passed over some veteran candidates for manager in settling on Green, who brings a youthful enthusiasm but could be tested in trying to bring cohesion to the clubhouse. Green led the Missoula Osprey to the Pioneer League championship in 2012. He then became the first person to be named Southern League Manager of the Year in consecutive seasons. Green was Arizona’s third base coach last season.

Final Analysis

Unless the Dodgers, Giants and D-backs all underachieve on a massive scale, there’s not much reason to think the Padres will do anything but finish fourth again. It’s hard to get a grasp on Preller’s ultimate blueprint. He tried to buy his way into the postseason in 2015 and failed miserably, and now he appears to be trying a youth movement that includes restocking the farm system. But he’s going against a division that includes the free-spending Dodgers; the Giants, who added Johnny Cueto; and the Diamondbacks, who signed Zack Greinke. The season’s highlight likely will be the All-Star Game at Petco Park.

Prediction: 4th NL West

Lineup

1B Wil Myers (R)

2B Cory Spangenberg (L)

3B Yangervis Solarte (S)

RF Matt Kemp (R)

C Derek Norris (R)

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CF Melvin Upton Jr. (R)

LF Jon Jay (L)

SS Alexei Ramirez (R)

Bench

1B Brett Wallace (L)

C Christian Bethancourt (R)

OF Alex Dickerson (L)

OF Travis Jankowski (L)

UTL Jose Pirela (R)

Rotation

RHP James Shields

RHP Tyson Ross

RHP Andrew Cashner

LHP Robbie Erlin

RHP Colin Rae

Bullpen

RHP Brandon Maurer (Closer)

LHP Drew Pomeranz

RHP Kevin Quackenbush

RHP Nick Vincent

RHP Luis Perdomo

RHP Leonel Campos

LHP Buddy Baumann