Examining the team's MLB season ahead.
After a season of upheaval and embarrassment on and off the field, the Padres begin the first full year of their deep rebuild with no expectations of a winning season. After their win-now experiment of 2015 failed, they floundered around in 2016 before deciding to get significantly younger and focus on building for the future. While their farm system is bursting with prospects, it’s grim at the big-league level. Executive Chairman Ron Fowler said in September that he was looking to get to .500 “hopefully in two years.” That doesn’t bode well for fans who haven’t cheered a winning team since 2010 and haven’t seen playoff ball at Petco Park since 2006. General manager A.J. Preller has a reputation to rebuild after he was suspended without pay for 30 days by MLB for failing to disclose medical information in the trade of All-Star Drew Pomeranz and other players. In another shocker, team president Mike Dee was abruptly fired on Oct. 12. After a particularly bad performance in early June, Fowler labeled the Padres “miserable failures.” This year, it could be worse.
Nowhere is the rebuild more apparent than the rotation. All five starters on the 2016 Opening Day roster are gone. James Shields, Andrew Cashner and Pomeranz were traded. Colin Rea had Tommy John surgery in November. Tyson Ross, who started on Opening Day and then missed the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, was non-tendered. Preller didn’t sign his first big-league free agent of the offseason until Dec. 17, when he added righthander Jhoulys Chacin. Preller also re-signed lefty Clayton Richard, as well as adding Trevor Cahill and Jered Weaver, who at 34 is the oldest on the team. The most promising starter coming back is Luis Perdomo, who made the jump from Single-A to the bigs as a Rule 5 draftee and led the team’s starters with nine victories. Others expected to be in the mix are Jarred Cosart, lefthander Christian Friedrich and Paul Clemens, as the Padres’ rotation could be in a constant state of flux throughout the season.
One of the more intriguing stories of 2016 was second baseman Ryan Schimpf, who made his big-league debut at age 28. He made 66 starts at second base and 12 at third base. Remarkably, of his 60 hits, 42 were for extra bases, with 20 home runs, 17 doubles and five triples. Opening Day second baseman Cory Spangenberg injured his left quad on April 20 and missed the rest of the season. He’ll be back. At shortstop, the Padres gave up on Alexei Ramirez, who was viewed as a one-year stopgap anyway, and turned to Luis Sardinas, who better fits the Padres’ mold since he’s only 23. Sardinas likely is bridging the gap to one of the club’s top prospects, Javier Guerra.
Wil Myers is the lone remaining veteran from Preller’s wild offseason shopping spree prior to the 2015 season. He’s outlasted Matt Kemp, Shields, Justin and Melvin Upton, Derek Norris and Craig Kimbrel. Myers became the full-time first baseman and responded by being named to his first All-Star team. He had a career year with a .259 average, 28 home runs, 94 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. Yangervis Solarte is the incumbent third baseman. Solarte played through a tough season, first dealing with a strained hamstring and then with the death of his wife, Yulliet, due to cancer late in the season. Solarte, the father of three girls, returned to the Padres for the final few games. He hit .286 with 15 homers, career highs
The Padres have five outfielders battling for four spots, including left fielder Alex Dickerson, center fielders Travis Jankowski and rookie Manuel Margot, and rookie right fielder Hunter Renfroe. Jankowski made 82 starts in his first full big-league season, and Dickerson played in 84 games last year. Dickerson made 65 starts in left, taking over on July 24. Renfroe, the Padres’ first-round draft pick in 2013, was named the MVP of the Pacific Coast League. After a late-season call-up, he excited fans by hitting four home runs in 11 games. Margot was one of four prospects acquired from Boston for Kimbrel. Both Margot and Jankowski can play positions other than center, and Jankowski could be the starter in left. The fifth outfielder is Jabari Blash, who made the Opening Day roster as a Rule 5 draftee but didn’t stick the entire year.
Austin Hedges is the heir apparent after Norris was traded to the Nationals. Hedges made his big-league debut with the Padres in 2015 when he played 56 games. He broke a bone in his left hand early last season in Triple-A, preventing the team from bringing him up. While he had a nice offensive year in Triple-A, it’s his defense the Padres will rely on most, with Green praising his game-calling and pitch-framing ability. One of the more intriguing offseason developments was the Padres’ announcement that they were considering turning Christian Bethancourt into a multi-position player.
Having Bethancourt in a projected super-utility role will make it easier for the Padres to carry Luis Torrens as a third catcher. Spangenberg will be back in the mix at second base after missing much of 2016 with a quad injury. Shortstop Allen Cordoba, a Rule 5 pickup, will have a spot here if he sticks on the roster. The Padres will have a mix of four outfielders, allowing Green to give them days off here and there.
The Padres are all-in on their deep rebuild, from lead investor Peter Seidler — a nephew of former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley — to Fowler to Preller to Green. After the mysterious dismissal of Dee, the team president, in October, Preller will now report directly to ownership. Green has settled nicely into his job. The former big-league infielder and minor-league manager is confident and comfortable in his abilities, although he’s being given precious little to work with.
Petco Park is a great place for fans to enjoy craft beer and good food. Sadly, good baseball doesn’t appear to be on the menu anytime soon as the Padres trot out a young team. Yes, it’ll be great for fans who like to see top prospects. Green suggested late last year that everyone “embrace the process.” That’s not exactly what most fans want to hear after watching too much losing ball over the decades. There will be far more growing pains than big moments.