As early as last November, a Jake-Peavy-to-Chicago trade being near
completion were reported across the country. Fans and analysts instantly
wrote off the Padres as being in one of their infamous rebuilding years and
pegged them for triple-digit losses, if not the worst overall record in
Then a funny thing happened, or rather, did not happen. New ownership
took over in San Diego, ownership limbo still stagnates in Chicago, and the Cubs
dealt their best Peavy bargaining chips in December. As a result, it is
now mid-March, Peavy is still a Padre, and Peavy's name hasn't been mentioned in
Chicago for about a month now.
Yet for some odd reason, fans and analysts are still in denial of the fact
that Peavy is still a San Diego Padre. One Padres fan on the Scout.com
message boards is predicting a 114-loss season for the team. Well, I am
here to tell you that the Padres will not finish 2009 with the fewest wins in
the NL West, much less all of baseball, and they most certainly will not finish
with triple-digit losses.
One thing I had never understood about the San Diego Padres is that they
would continue to trot out catchers with glass arms behind the plate
while playing in a ballpark where preventing stolen bases is paramount.
Well, that's finally changing. Henry Blanco (43% CS) and Nick Hundley
(24%) replace the quartet of Hundley, Michael Barrett (10%), Josh Bard (15%),
and Luke Carlin (22%). "Wait!" you cry. "Chris Young can't hold base
runners, and that's why those catchers have terrible caught stealing numbers."
Indeed, Young is one of the worst around at acknowledging the existence of the
runner at first, but Hundley caught seven of Young's 18 starts and still had a
better percentage than his three colleagues did.
The caveat, of course, is that neither Blanco nor Hundley even has an outside
shot at a .250 batting average, .300 OBP, or .400 SLG. Then again, neither
did last year's quartet. Not every team can have a Joe Mauer or a Brian McCann, and it makes much more sense for the Padres to go defense-heavy here
rather than bring Mike Piazza out of retirement.
Not every team can have an Adrian Gonzalez at first base, but the
Padres are blessed to have the 26-year old slugger locked up dirt cheap through
2011. Gonzalez' road OPS the past three seasons have been .905, .894, and
.946 last year. He figures to lead the non-Albert Pujols universe in
intentional walks this year while carrying the Padres offense with his best year
to date. 285-pound Kyle Blanks, easily the Padres' most exciting prospect,
is blocked by Adrian and doesn't figure to convert to shortstop...
Padres Fun Fact|
Adrian Gonzalez drove in 18.7% of the Padres' runs last season and was responsible in part for 29.2% of their run production overall
The Padres' middle infield is less exciting. Edgar Gonzalez is Adrian's
older brother; he was a 30-year old rookie last year and doesn't figure to build
on that yawn of a performance. Luis Rodriguez isn't much younger and owns
a minor league OPS of .712. Prospect Matt Antonelli was supposed to secure
the second base position last year, but instead hit .215 in Triple-A
before dipping to .193 in his September callup. None of these guys play
Newly acquired David Eckstein has not had a good enough arm for shortstop
in years. Really, the Padres have a half dozen second baseman competing
for both of the middle infield spots, which isn't ideal for them. At least Petco will not rob
Eckstein of any home runs.
Interestingly enough, Kevin Kouzmanoff manned third base all last year
and may not have been robbed of any homers by Petco, either. His home run
rate was nearly identical at home versus on the road, even though his
overall OPS split was skewed by 145 points. He's an interesting case,
since his minor league numbers did nothing to suggest that he would become a
runner up for the
Dave Kingman Award. He
could have a breakout season at age 27, or he could ride the pine in favor of
Kevin Kouzmanoff Jr., AKA Chase Headley.
Right now, Headley is penciled in as the starter in left field, but
the Padres' surprising outfield depth may cause Headley to see time at third
base even if Kouzmanoff fares well. Kouz Jr. has exhibited the same
dominance at the higher minor league levels that Kouz Sr. has, but also the same
lack of pitch recognition and plate discipline at the major league level.
In right field, Brian Giles is the best-kept secret in baseball.
The now-38-year old posted an OPS+ of 136 and a +/- rating of +22 that was
second among major league right-fielders. The caveats are that his aging
arm cost the Padres about five runs last season and that this was easily Giles'
best offensive performance since 2005.
While Giles is a secret, Jody Gerut is an epiphany. He managed an OPS+
of 130 and a +/- rating of +13 despite spending just over 600 innings in
centerfield. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Scott Hairston
managed to play solid centerfield defense while posting Tony Armasesque
offensive numbers in a part-time role. Padres fans might have lamented how
well Jim Edmonds played after signing with the Cubs if not for the surprising
production of his replacements.
Along with Hairston, Glass Floyd and journeyman Emil Brown provide
insurance against Edmonds-like collapses and a shift of Headley back to third
base. Cliff Floyd is a fine starter when healthy, which has been exactly
once in the past six seasons, and so he could really flourish in this part-time
role. Prospects Cedric Hunter and Drew Macias provide additional depth,
although Macias is a low-impact player and Hunter looks like he's a year away.
Peavy, still a Padre
At this point, I'd like to reiterate that Jake Peavy is still the ace of the
Padres' starting pitching staff. The World Baseball Classic may
fatigue him prematurely, but I'm still going to take the over on he and Chris
Young surpassing their total of 45 games started between them from last season.
Young, by the way, put up a 3.55 ERA after coming back from the disabled list
last season. These two pitchers have as good of a chance of finishing 2009
1-2 in ERA as any starting pitching do in baseball.
Now at first glance, the depth behind Peavy and Young does not look good.
Subsequent glances do not improve the sight. In fact, Yahoo! Sports has
only four starting pitchers listed on
their depth chart, with two of
them being Cha Seung Baek and Josh Geer. I must have a Korean fetish,
because I predicted great things for Hee Seop Choi and Jae Weong Seo, and I'm
also predicting great things for Baek. CSB throws a half dozen different
pitches, has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.27, plays in the greatest
pitching park of our generation, and turns 29 in May.
The Padres are pretty excited about Geer, who owns a minor league record of
29-17 with a sub-4.00 ERA. He's a control pitcher who should be able to
eat innings because of Petco, but if they need him to be anything more than a
back-of-the-rotation workhorse, they'll be disappointed. Mark Prior is
still in the organization, and I don't think I need to go into his risk/reward
status, so I'll just mention that he would be better penciled in as your #6 or
#7 starter than your #5.
They do have Kevin Correia, a solid starter for the Giants before last
season, Wade LeBlanc, who has a 3.5:1 career K/BB ratio in the minors before
failing in Petco worse than anyone thought was possible, and Jae Kuk Ryu,
the talented bird-murdering Korean that even I can't bring myself to like as
candidates for that fifth starter's spot. In Petco with a solid defense
behind them, it isn't out of the question that one of these guys could step up
and give some solid outings.
The bullpen obviously reels with the loss of all-time saves leader and Mr.
Padre, Trevor Hoffman. Heath Bell, Cla Meredith, and Mike Adams actually
form a very productive trio of right-handers. The problem here is lack of
left-handers and lack of depth. The lack of left-handers doesn't figure to
be an issue, as the Padres' Killer Gees (Gonzalez, Giles, and Gerut) are
arguably the best left-handed hitters in the division. The lack of depth
could mean several relievers with an ERA of six or above like it did last year.
The Padres are taking a bit of a gamble that almost any pitcher can succeed in
The old baseball adage dictates that teams must be strong up the middle to
succeed. The Padres have upgraded their catcher defense and got surprising
production out of centerfield last year, but their middle infield situation has
gone from unacceptable to worse. That, combined with a lack of pitching
depth, will prevent the Padres from making a run at a winning season. It
will not, however, prevent them from avoiding the NL West cellar, and a bit of
luck could even propel them into third place.
So if the Padres won't finish last in the west, who will? Look no
further than the San Francisco Giants, whose much-lauded pitching staff will
struggle through serious injuries this season and whose much-maligned offense
has been neglected in the offseason.
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