World Series, Free Agents & Padres Off-Season

No doubt that 2017 was the Dodgers’ year, the same way 2016 was the Cubs’ year. Both were the best teams in baseball, yet one team didn’t win it all. What makes the difference? In 2016 Theo Epstein & GM Jed Hoyer got the relief ace they needed in Aroldis Chapman, from the Yankees for top prospect SS Gleyber Torres. Recall, the Cubs couldn’t have beaten Cleveland in 7 games without Chapman. It was the same way for Cleveland, in obtaining lefty relief ace Andrew Miller. Both teams couldn’t have gotten as far as they did, without those bullpen stoppers.

This year when it was time to get what you REALLY needed for the post-season (7/31 deadline), the best team (Dodgers) balked at the asking price for the most valuable post-season commodity, a lefty relief ace still under arbitration control– which is really nice in February, and invaluable in October. Much of the resistance from teams-in-need was because it was Padres GM AJ Preller selling. So, why didn’t any team make him a serious offer for Brad Hand at the deadline?

Yes, there is the trend towards organizations hanging onto their prospects, but also I suspect an element of collusion (which I can’t prove), in retaliation for what AJP did in 2016. He simply got the best of too many teams & their GM’s last year, which I’ve discussed extensively here & elsewhere. But that’s still no excuse if you are serious about winning.

Instead, the team-to-beat spent about half of what they needed to get Brad Hand, in order to acquire something they didn’t need– in Hu Darvish. By late July, the Dodgers had already won their division, and had plenty of capable post-season starters. What they desperately needed was a guy who was good enough to get outs in the 7th & 8th innings in October. It’s foolish to waste money on what you don’t need, just because it’s more affordable than what you actually need. This is what Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman did & didn’t do in 2017. This was probably the best team the Dodgers will have in this competitive window, and they blew it. Games 2 & 5 of the World Series were both there for LA to win, but manager Dave Roberts couldn’t find a guy in his bullpen to get the outs he needed, because that guy wasn’t there.

American League line-ups are qualitatively tougher than the National League, so whether it was the Astros or Yankees, Dave Roberts needed another reliable bullpen option to close those World Series games out. Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman knew this in July, when he said they were looking to acquire a “wipe-out lefty reliever.” By that he meant (of course), Brad Hand. There was no one else close to his value that was available, and yet no team would make AJ Preller a substantial offer. In other words, no team was willing to pay the price to win in October. Tell me what a GM’s job is again?

The media chimed in, “Hand’s value will never be greater… if the Padres are smart they’ll sell now…” AJ Preller said, “No!” to all that nonsense (again); and now the Gnats, Yankees and Dodgers REALLY regret not acquiring Brad Hand. He could have helped all of those teams get the outs they so desperately needed (when it counted most), instead of coming up short. This is not to say the Astros didn’t have trouble getting the tough outs too, they were just a little better balanced overall. You need luck too, but really it’s money & brains that wins. Astros were a little better at that game, and that was the difference in the fall classic.

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These are the most-mentioned MLB free agents this winter, with my brief comments:

Yu Darvish: This RHP in his prime was a great #2 starter, but never quite an ace. He’s now a #3 starter on a championship team.

J.D. Martinez: The corner OF to get, as he supplies OBP & SLG. He’s likely looking for his payday (longterm 6-8 yrs), which will be too long for most.

Eric Hosmer: He’s 28 and this is his payday– represented by Scott Boras. Look for ~8 years $200M. He’s very good, but not worth that kind of investment.

Lorenzo Cain: Age-31 speedy CF, will need to move to a corner in a year or two– never a good longterm sign. It will be interesting where he lands, and for how much & long.

Wade Davis: The FA closer this winter. That’s big $$.

Mike Moustakas: 3B career: .251/.305/.425. Had one great season in 2015, when they won it, otherwise he’s overrated.

Jay Bruce: OF/DH career (mostly in a bandbox): .249/.319/.472, which means he’s now useless. Cheap bench depth only, otherwise he’s an overpay. I’m sure someone will…

Todd Frazier: 3B career: .245/.321/.459. A little better than his former teammate Jay Bruce, but not much.

Carlos Santana: 1B/DH/C career: .249/.365/.445. Good OBP, but limited SLG, as well as catching anymore. If he stays healthy, he can be an bargain somewhere, probably AL.

Jake Arrieta: This age-31 RHP has a lot of mileage on his arm. Health & medical evaluation is critical here. If Arrieta is healthy, he can be a strong #2 starter over the course of his contract, which is extremely valuable. If his arm falls off, then some team has a huge sunk cost. This will be the highest-risk FA deal this winter.

Alex Cobb: This age 30 RHP is underrated because the Rays always have pitching. In 2017: 179.1 IP, 3.66 ERA. Yankees are interested for sure, and you know what that means.

Zack Cozart: Career SS: .254/.305/.411. He’s age-32, and 2017 was a career year. The Reds have stunk for a long time, because they invested so heavily in many of the free agents on this list. All are losing players, with inflated power stats, due to extreme ballpark effect. All are average-to-poor defenders. Teams have wised-up somewhat, but I still expect Cosart to get a richer deal than his actual worth, as there still are overspenders aplenty.

CC Sabathia: This age-37 LHP still has some gas in the tank, 2017 with NYY: 148.2 IP, 3.69 ERA. His usage needs to be limited, but those are still mostly quality innings from a 3/4 AL starter.

Ichiro Suzuki: RF 2017 with Miami: .255/.318/.332, probably should retire. Career in MLB: .312/.355/.403, 3080 hits. Best defensive RF ever? Ichiro or Clemente. First-ballot HoFer.

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Padres Notes:

The top off-season trade chips for Padres GM AJ Preller are closer Brad Hand & 3B Yangervis Solarte. Hand will likely be dealt, as teams & their fans saw the value of a shut-down reliever in October. The teams that came up short especially saw this, and should be more in the mood to offer what Brad Hand is actually worth this time around. His value is similar to what closer Craig Kimbrel was worth when he was dealt to the Red Sox in the winter of 2015. Wade Davis is the only free-agent closer available this winter, so options are limited in this premium market.

Yangervis Solarte has a lot of value. He’s an everyday 3B, with legitimate utility value, and a switch-hitter. That wins games when used properly, as Padres manager Andy Green has. From a business standpoint in terms of prospects, AJ Preller won’t get the value he’s seeking, as Solarte is generally underrated which cuts his market value. His contract is team favorable, and that leads to the reasons Solarte signed it. His wife had just passed away from cancer, and he appreciated the organizational & fan support. He stated he wanted to finish his career with the Padres. That’s a loyal soldier (but only in SD), and a valuable asset. I don’t think Padres GM AJ Preller trades that away, because most of Solarte’s value is in San Diego, which means you can’t get a fair return. You know what I mean?

AJ Preller has a logjam of young infield talent, but not a MLB SS. Whatever AJP deals, he’ll look to add depth (top prospect or MLB ready) to that position & corner OF. The Padres desperately need a mashing LF. And pitching. Most Padres fans are optimistic about Carlos Asuaje at 2B, but nothing is certain. Luis Urias is a hit-first 2B prospect, with little power. You need to see Manny Margot-type improvement from Urias, before getting too excited there. 2B/3B Cory Spangenberg, CF Travis Jankowski, and even some other relievers (if there’s interest) are the guys AJ Preller will try to deal this winter.

Preller is now running into roster crunch issues, which will only become more acute for the Padres. That alone is a sign of organizational improvement, as their fans have never seen this! AJP will now have to lean more towards protecting his prospects from the Rule 5 draft, instead of making 3 or 4 picks. Since he’s proven he can evaluate the best Rule 5 talent (5 out of 7 selections have stuck), he’ll likely be the best GM at protecting his elite young talent from hungry predators.

This organization has improved, and the bar has been raised, so these are the roster moves the Padres have been making for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft & beyond. This is how the Astros built what just came to fruition. AJP actually has the Padres on a faster curve. Note, not even one 100-loss season at the depths of their rebuilding, which was 2016-17. Padres fans thank Andy Green & Brad Hand for that. Now it’s player development and managing the 40-man roster, with the goal of building a championship team. In the meantime, more low-level FA pitchers & positional fill-ins this winter, with the possibility of a blockbuster deal or two– as it’s AJ Preller. That’s a management plan a fan can see, and go with. It’s what I expect AJP will do.

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San Diego Keeping Andy Green

Padres extend manager Green’s contract
Skipper’s deal was set to end after 2018; now through ’21

I read this piece, and had to comment. This is what I said, with final thoughts added.

There is no question to this: If Padres GM AJ Preller didn’t extend Andy Green, then some big-spending competitive team would have made him an offer.

More on why this was such a prescient move. Note that a lot of the comments from Padres fans are along the lines of, “They’re a lot better than most people said they would be.” Why is this? It certainly NOT because of the talent on their 25-man roster. Ace lefty reliever Brad Hand is the Padres lone All-Star in 2017.

What makes Hand extra-valuable is manager Andy Green knowing how to use him properly, which steals wins. It’s really hard for Friar’s fans to say who their next-most valuable player is, but it’s probably rookie CF Manny Margot.

This is the youngest roster in MLB, by far. They have carried three Rule 5 players this season, which usually guarantees 100+ losses. Their current winning % is .436, which translates to 70-92. The Padres have overplayed their Pythagorean projection by 8 games, and most of that is due to Brad Hand & Andy Green.

A set-back for the Padres this season has been the performance of 1B Wil Myers. Age 26 & healthy, he’s currently slashing .239/.320/.464. Still good defensively at 1B, but his lack-of-bat seems to have caused some regression there also, as he’s committing more mental errors in the field. The problem at the plate is strike zone judgment. He swings at too many 3-2 pitches that are ball 4, turning them into outs. It’s a team problem as the Padres hit too many solo HR’s (in terms of overall HR-type %), with the worst OBP in MLB. OBP is life in baseball; and pitching, defense & 3-run homers are what win.

As a Padres fan, I suspected trouble when Wil Myers came into Spring Training and stated his personal goal was “40 HR’s & 40 SB’s.”  Myers’ 28 SB w/ 6 CS in 2016, caught many people by surprise. He’s 11 SB w/ 5 CS, so far in 2017. He shouldn’t try to be a SB guy, he needs to stay healthy & mash. His 2018 (and beyond) goals will need to prioritize OBP, if he is to progress as a player.

The Padres invested heavily in Wil Myers this past off-season, so the motivation & resources will be made available. Wil Myers just needs to get his head straight and figure it out. He has all the talent in the world, and that’s why AJ Preller gave up so much to get him, Trading SS/UT Trea Turner & RHP Joe Ross (both currently DL-ed) to the Nationals in a 3-team deal. Rays got RF Steven Souza, Jr, and it’s still hard to know who actually got the best of that deal?  Sometimes it takes 3-5 years to know, and this is one of those cases. Padres need Wil Myers to work out, by being at least above-average production at 1B, otherwise their current rebuilding effort is already starting to crumble.

Final note on handling players. Padres manager Andy Green has done everything he can do with Wil Myers, including recently sitting him for 3 games to “straighten his head out, get a mental break, etc…” September call-ups need to play for the Padres.  As good as their farm system is, Wil Myers may be seeing some more bench time this season– who knows? Stabilizing a young core (with better talent) around him will certainly help. The Padres are definitely doing this, as lefty-hitting 2B Carlos Asuaje may be their most-recent MLB pipeline addition. Acquired in the Craig Kimbrel deal…

Star contracts are a tricky & delicate balance, as ownership/management uses the carrot & stick. The deciding factors always come down to character, motivation & intelligence. The Padres still seem to still believe in Myers, (who at least isn’t whining or venting on teammates), so there’s room for optimism, but there needs to be more tangible progression– soon.  We’ll see…

Hypothetically, a right-handed Joey Votto (career .313/.427/.541), with better defense & base-running should be Will Myers’ player goal. That may be a little lofty comparatively, but it should still be in the area of his goal. What Preller & Green need out of Myers is a durable, championship-caliber 3-hole hitter. That’s the franchise player who drives a lineup, and catapults a team (with any kind of pitching) into contention. It’s what the Padres paid for when they signed him for 6 years $83 M this past winter. How will it pay off through 2022, is a franchise-defining question that hasn’t been answered yet?

From a minor-league standpoint, 2017 has been a huge success for the Padres. Their teams are mostly winning, and their prospects are mostly advancing. AJ Preller has brought in a depth of talent that has transformed this franchise from a joke, into the #3-ranked farm system in MLB. Yankees & Braves are ranked 1-2. Yankees are in the AL, so no worries until the WS– which isn’t happening anytime soon in SD. The Braves have a mess on their ML roster, and their prospects haven’t performed as well as expected, SS Dansby Swanson being the most prominent example. The Padres farm system was 30th (or so), when Preller took over as GM in 2015. Perhaps what’s now most-exciting for Padres fans, is seeing better players (& pitchers) starting to pop-up– seemingly out of nowhere! This is an indication of superior deep scouting, followed-up with proper player development. When you do things right, and stick with it, nice surprises start to happen over & over.

The biggest Padres minor-league organizational set-back of 2017 was RHP Anderson Espinoza blowing out his elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery. Recall this was the prized pitching prospect, dealt by the Red Sox for LHP Drew Pomeranz in 2016. Pomeranz has since pitched the whole time in Boston, even while AJP was suspended by MLB for “undisclosed anti-inflammatories” in this trade. The irony of all this only deepens for Padres fans.

It still takes awhile for what’s happening here to translate into winning at the MLB level, but the process the Padres are going through is fundamentally correct. If/when it happens, AJ Preller will have turned a hopeless organization into a winner, faster than any GM in modern baseball. In other words, the Padres have to win it all, for Preller & Green to be widely recognized as being the best. Based on their abilities and performance, they’re already at least in that discussion. The GM-manager relationship is the most important to any organization baseball. There has to be 100% agreement on everything between the two, otherwise factionalism & hidden agendas destroy team continuity & chemistry. Time is all that is required for positive proof in San Diego. The enemy is impatience & short-sightedness, which tends to be the preferred perspective of the naysayers & critics, only proving they refuse to understand anything.

Padres Injury Notes & Up-Coming Roster Decisions

AJ Preller took a low-cost free-agency flier on Jered Weaver, to see if he had anything left in the tank. He didn’t, but it didn’t really matter to the Padres season, so there’s no hard feelings. His type of retirement is always a bit awkward, as everyone remembers him as an Angel. Well-handled by the Padres organization & Jered Weaver.

Padres roster decisions GM AJ Preller will have to soon make include: LHP Christian Friedrich, who made $1.8M in 2017, but didn’t pitch at all due to injuries. Left lat muscle & elbow giving him pain. His root issue is lack of hip, back & core strength. Preller & Andy Green will have to decide if he’s worth another go around in arbitration. Preller found better low-cost options last winter, and I suspect he’ll release Friedrich and try a similar strategy this coming off-season. We’ll see how the market plays out after the World Series…

Age 27 LF Alex Dickerson was said to be a “big part of their 2017 plans,” by some in the Padres organization last winter. He of the career 1.0 WAR. I never believed it, especially when rumors surfaced of CF Travis Jankowski & Dickerson being floated as trade bait. Dickerson now has been diagnosed with a bulging disk in his lower back, and has been transferred to the 60-day DL. He’s most-likely finished as a big-league player, and note that this is how many, many sports’ careers come to an end– unnoticed & physically disabled, with pain.

Travis Jankowski (age 26, career -0.2 WAR) hurt his foot, and has been rehabbing in the minors. His 90 PA’s (so far) in AAA El Paso are .263/.378/.355. He still can’t hit lefties, and has no pop. These were the “top prospects” AJP inherited (most of the best of which, he kept), when he took over as GM. Jankowski is still cheap, but is he worth a 40-man roster spot, when better & younger prospects have to be protected (or else exposed) before the Rule 5 draft?

LHP Clayton Richard & RHP Jhoulys Chacin have both said they want to return, and the Padres should do it– if the cost & contract length is agreeable. Nothing more than 2 years, for either, and more-likely, one year. Padres may get priced-out by the big-silly spenders.

RHP Jarred Cosart is a medical case, and now a long-shot at age 27. Padres expect LHP Robbie Erlin to be ready for ST 2018. He’s still recovering from TJ surgery in 2016. RHP Colin Rea finally submitted to TJ surgery in 2017, after blowing his elbow out in his only appearance as a Miami Marlin in 2016. Pitching is so hard to find, and they’re all so very cheap, so the Padres most-likely keep them all.

 

Update [9-2-17]: Padres cut ties with hitting coach Zinter
Friars on pace to finish last in MLB in average, OBP in back-to-back years

Alan Zinter (below) was an organizational hire by AJP, brought in when Andy Green was hired. He was one of Green’s guys from his minor-league managing stint with the Diamondbacks. AJP is calling this move. OBP is their biggest weakness, so it makes sense. I wonder how bench coach Mark McGwire now fits into their plans?

The Padres have overachieved on their pitching, both starting & bullpen. Keep in mind that not much was expected from the rotation. This over achievement is due to Andy Green & Darren Balsley. The results on the offensive side haven’t been as impressive, and it’s not because Andy Green is a klutz when it comes to using his bench or writing in a lineup. It’s because OBP is life in baseball, and the Friars are dead last again. The Padres lineup can’t continue to allow opposing starters to roll through easy innings, with guys swinging themselves into easy outs. More walks put the pitcher in the stretch, which stresses them. This leads to longer innings, more base runners & more runs. More runs means more wins. The failures of Wil Myers & Hunter Renfroe (mentioned in the article) are the tangible reasons Alan Zinter is fired. His replacement will be expected to produce better results from these two & the rest, but especially from Myers as he’s the big contract. He’s got a ton of talent, which we’ve all seen, but he’s also got head problems it seems.

Sportswriter: What’s the best hitting advice you ever got?
Ted Williams: It was from Rogers Hornsby. He told me, “Make them throw you a strike.”

For Myers & Renfroe, new goals for counting stats need to be: more walks & doubles. This will correlate to less strikeouts & more hits. Cuttings down to protect with two strikes is a prudent approach, especially in stressful at-bats against tough pitchers. Both have the power to hit it out with less than a full swing anyways. What’s lacking is strike zone judgment & control. At times it appears there’s also no plan (individual or team) to attack a pitcher. Hitting is probably the most difficult skill in sports, so it’s not like anyone has figured out all the answers, but just seeing more pitches in an AB (even if it still produces an out), has value. The pitcher is throwing more pitches and will become more vulnerable, sooner.

Padres hitters need to take more of a grind approach to every AB. If this is done up & down the line-up (with their power), it will crush most NL pitching. Note– the best grinding line-up (in recent memory) was the 1998 NY Yankees. That was a high OBP, with power 1-9; and the Padres didn’t really have much of a chance against them even with their best team ever. In the NL it’s 1-8, so this can be achieved with less payroll, which is nice. This is the direction that Preller & Green want to offense to go, as this is what’s holding everything back. Once the line-up consistently produces, the young pitching will be ready from the minors.

Another feather in Andy Green’s cap is his use of defensive shifts, which were the most dramatic in MLB in 2016, his first year a manager. The league has caught up to him & the Padres, by increasing their shifting. The point is Andy Green sees all facets of the game, manages them masterfully, and is highly respected by his peers. Bruce Bochy was only the latest to pay his respects, after their last series. Green knows where his responsibilities begin & end, and is in full partnership with his GM. When the Padres actually have a MLB roster, instead of pre-arbs, prospects & Rule 5 selections, it’s going to get a lot better in a hurry. Manny Margot is a stud, and Carlos Asuaje is a possibility. The Kimbrel deal and all the other moves AJP made in 2016, are going to reap huge bounties for years to come, and it started showing in 2017.

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Carpe Diem: LF Ryan Braun to the Padres?

There are 5 years/$85M (through 2021) remaining on Brewers LF Ryan Braun contract. LF Alex Dickerson (or RF Hunter Renfroe), and a few middling prospects would likely make a deal– if Padres ownership is willing to take on the payroll. Prospect/MLB player value would be comparable to the C Jonathan Lucroy to Texas deal last summer, which wouldn’t hamper AJP’s rebuild. PED-stigma aside, Braun is a HOF-production bat as long as his back is healthy.

The Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins and Padres are the 6 teams the Brewers can deal him to, without asking him to waive his no-trade clause. This gives AJP tremendous leverage in possibly acquiring one of the best right-handed hitters of this era. HOF-ers (and ace pitching) are what win WS.
The best fit of those 6 teams is the Padres. In terms of prospects available to make the deal the Snakes, Halos & Fish are all discounted due to poor farm systems. They simply don’t have the prospects to make a deal.
Positional availability & payroll limitations take effect too, as the Dodgers have an outfield log-jam– with unloading Yasiel Puig as their current priority.
The Giants have out-of-options Jarrett Parker who is left-handed & cheap– which is what they need in LF.  Their bullpen set-up situation is their priority and GM Brian Sabean won’t waste money on something he doesn’t need, unless it falls to replacement level. That’s how you win 3 WS in 5 seasons.

Anyways, the point is: the Padres are the most-logical fit for Ryan Braun. I believe AJP is taking these few weeks in ST to evaluate all his rookie & minor-league talent, in order to determine who is untouchable and whom he is willing to package. Owner Ron Fowler may be “biting his lip for now,” but the headline a few days back read “We’re going to have some fun,” and the article quoted him saying Opening Day payroll would be ~$75M. Right now it’s just under $57M [1]. I forecast the Padres/Brewers are going to make this surprise blockbuster very soon. Shhh!!

Why? 1) Brewers need to move Braun, and the time has come. He’ll be the last piece to be sold off. 2) Braun is undervalued & talented, and AJP covets that. 3) AJP has leverage and Braun fits with SD. Really only the D-backs & Giants could conceivably compete for his services among the 6 listed teams, and they aren’t likely to do so, due to payroll restrictions. 4) Padres owner Ron Fowler has money, and he wants to spend it.

This is a think-outside-the-box situation, an incredible opportunity to move the Padres franchise forward in it’s winning curve. It’s too good for AJP and Fowler to resist, IMO. I know it sounds like I’m out in left-field here [!], but consider this not only as a possibility but as a distinct probability, and watch for any more signs.

More Signs

Yesterday’s Padres headlines [2]:

Padres set with current crop of players
GM Preller doesn’t expect any adds before start of regular season
AJP is quoted, “Then again, never say never.”

Trades aren’t adds.

If Ryan Braun is acquired by the Padres, then this is my piece. If not, then Play Ball!!!

Acquiring LF Ryan Braun solidifies this lineup as competitive with the Giants & Dodgers. Padres lineup: 1) Manny Margot/Travis Jankowski (platoon) CF, 2) switch-hitter 3B Yangervis Solarte, 3) LF righty-masher Ryan Braun, 4) righty franchise player 1B Wil Myers (or reverse 3-4), 5) lefty pop & OBP 2B Ryan Schimpf, 6) power with excellent defense RF Hunter Renfroe, 7) Elite defense, hopefully-he-hits-enough C Austin Hedges, 8) SS will be the last position to be filled, proving the curse of Ozzie Smith as the hardest for the Padres to exorcise; I like the Luis Sardinas & Allen Cordoba mix.

That’s turning over a lineup from Gyorko, Norris, Upton, Upton, Amarista & Kemp!!! Padres team base-running was tops in MLB last season, and it will likely stay there or near. Their defense improved vastly, and will get even better everywhere except LF, with BJ Upton being clearly better defensively than Braun. Braun if healthy is average-to-slightly-below in LF. What he brings to the plate is all the difference in winning by transforming a lineup.

The 2017 Padres starting pitching has been filled out with low-cost, high bounce-back-potential free agents, but is still two notches (at least) below the NL West elite. They need Luis Perdomo to become their #2 starter, then find/develop an ace. The Padres bullpen should be a strength with the Carter Capps fixing his delivery to become the closer, and Ryan Buchter & Brad Hand as dominant lefty set-up men. The bullpen question marks come in with the righty relief corps, and that’s what the AJP-pitcher-round-up this winter was partly about. The dugout brains is there in manager Andy Green, ace pitching coach Darren Balsley and the rest, so most fans are confident they’ll figure it out. There’s tons of pitching talent, deep in their minor-league system.

This now is a 3rd-place team in the NL West, vaulting past the Diamondbacks & Rockies, with an outside shot at being a wild card contender. The Padres competitive window which appeared to be opening around 2019 or so, is now here in 2017. Note that this doesn’t interfere with their organizational rebuild, as the talent pool has been well-stocked and the Preller pipeline is already bearing fruit with Margot, and the last of the Josh Byrnes prospects. There’s plenty more to come, with prospect depth and payroll commitment/flexibility to get the player(s) they’ll need– whenever they’re ready.

This is a hungry organization with a huge chip on its shoulder, because it has never won a WS since its inception in 1969, and has too often been a joke. The conventional baseball wisdom this winter was the teams that improved themselves the most were CWS, SEA, BOS, blah, blah… Now these MLB experts are going to have to rethink and (gasp!) rewrite their narratives & predictions because this changes many things.

To all those I say: find me another GM who can dominate the Rule 5 draft, sign the best low-cost free agent starting pitchers (4 for <$10M), lock up your two best young players in Myers & Solarte with team-friendly deals, then grab the best right-handed hitter in the NL who has 5 years of affordable team control, without blowing your budget? The Padres OD payroll is now ~ $75M. AJP is the best GM in MLB because he works most completely with his organization, from ownership all the way down to his scouts, coaches & players. He even listens to his fans. He sees the big picture (in English & Spanish) better than the rest, and therefore anticipates a situation in which the Padres are going to have maximum leverage to improve themselves, and then he seizes the day.

The Crafty Spider

A crafty spider had very little, so he began spinning a web. He took great care in spinning, making his ties strong and using only the best silk. His web was meager to start, only able to trap smaller prey, but it worked well and consistently nourished the crafty spider. As the crafty spider began to grow in size, it kept spinning more web. Other spiders would look on and remark, “Why do you need such a big fancy web, you’ll never catch anything that large!” The crafty spider ignored all this and quietly and went on spinning. Night & day; day & night. Spinning, spinning, spinning. All kinds of webs were spun; webs that hooked & snared, webs that linked & held stuff together, webs that were shiny & beautiful. Eventually these links not only provided structure & support for the crafty spider, but also became webs of enchantment & deception for others– filled with pitfalls, persuasions & slippery slopes.

Within this larger house, was another spider who possessed one of the juiciest specimens [!] in the entire domain. This delightful morsel contained enough nutritive value to satisfy even the most ravenous appetite, but it came with a limited no-trade clause. This selected against the fiercest competitors within the species, including the dreaded Yankee spider and the hated Red Sox spider– most-toxic & desperately in search of a new Papi. These predators could only watch through the window with snapping jaws, as hunger pangs gnawed at their bellies, as only six lucky spiders would have the opportunity to wrap their legs around this bountiful feast.

The day came when the possessing spider realized that much of his web needed rebuilding. The section of his web with Ryan Braun was strong, but too much of the remaining structure was incomplete & weak. It had also become a luxury which was too costly to maintain. This spider needed fresh raw materials to build a better web, but where would he find them? He visited the webs of five available spiders, but found them to be in a state of disrepair and mostly barren. Some even looked pitifully worse that his own, while the remaining webs simply didn’t have enough space available for such a catch. Until the day finally came when the possessing spider had to bring his prize into the crafty spider’s web, at which point they were immediately caught.

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MLB GM’s & Annual Farm-System Rankings

Keith Law’s 2017 MLB Farm System Rankings were just released at ESPN.com [1]. This is a cause for much discussion among baseball fans, as Law is a recognized prospect guru and farm systems are what sustain current success stories, while sowing future championships for others. The health of any MLB organization can be measured by (1) W/L record, (2) post-season success, (3) payroll obligations, and (4) the strength of the farm system.

The general manager (GM) is directly responsible for all of this, and the first three criteria listed above are easy enough to measure, it’s a team’s minor-league system which is trickiest to quantify. It’s necessary to do this because the minors are brimming with valuable prospects, which hold the most value in today’s (and tomorrow’s) game. The best GM’s build through their farm system, then deal from strength to fill in needs during a competitive window. They lock up organizational talent early, at a fair rate, and rarely indulge in free agency splashes. Young, cost-controlled talent is king, and pitching is always primary.

With that explained, this piece is a comparison of what the 30 MLB GM’s have done for their organizations in terms of planning & value this winter. It will take Keith Law’s farm- system rankings as generally correct, and weigh the factors mentioned above to appraise chances in 2017, and beyond. Law mentions in his preface that any of the top-three teams could be switched around, depending on scouting preferences. This means the Braves, Yankees & Padres are clearly the best farm systems, a cut above the rest.  Obviously, Opening Day rosters are still not set, meaning payroll is still in flux for most teams. Cot’s Contracts is used as the reference [2].

The 2016 farm rankings are listed in parenthesis, and any rise or drop must be understood in its total context. At what point is this team in it’s competitive cycle? Are they competing for a WS? Are they in decline? Are they rebuilding?  Sometimes a team will drop in the farm rankings for all the right reasons, such as the Cubs here: they fell from 4th to 18th, because their prospects became championship players, and other pieces were also dealt in order to win it. Teams that fall in the rankings AND have a poor W/L records (Angels, D-backs) are scouting & spending poorly. They have the worst 25-man rosters & prospects, and therefore are furthest from competing. If these teams don’t have new GM’s, then their current one should be on the hot seat.

1. Atlanta Braves (1st in 2016); GM John Coppolella has amassed some nice talent from trades (Shelby Miller), and in the 2017-18 J2 draft.  But some fans still wonder why he took on RF Matt Kemp with his hefty contract and low OBP/poor defense?  Off-season pitching acquisitions include: 1/$12.5M for age-44 RHP Bartolo Colon, 1/$8M for age-42 righty knuckleball R.A. Dickey, and $12M (and 3 prospects to STL) for age-30 LHP Jaime Garcia– before he becomes a FA. They will eat innings, but aren’t likely to be very effective. Braves are wasting money all over the place, while they await fruition from their farm system. There is plenty of upside here, but also organizational flaws, which may prevent future success.

2. New York Yankees (13th in 2016); GM Brian Cashman was finally given free reign last summer, and he immediately dealt premier closer Aroldis Chapman and set-up man Andrew Miller for huge hauls. They also went in big on an earlier J2 draft, which is about to pay off in the Bronx. The Yankees signed Chapman to a 5-year deal, and the Evil Empire will be back by 2018 for sure, when A-Rod & CC Sabathia are off-the-books. They still have a propensity to waste money; Ellsbury, Headley… but now have a solid cache of prospects to compliment them.

3. San Diego Padres (20th in 2016); GM AJ Preller is currently the best GM in MLB [3]. He grabbed the top-3 selection in the Rule 5 Draft; including the back-up C and utility SS he was seeking. The rest has been pitching this winter. RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Jhoulys Chacin ($1.75M) & LHP Clayton Richard ($1.75-2.5M) are all 1-year deals which fill 3/5 of the Padres 2017 rotation. This winter AJ Preller also acquired: age-22 RHP Miguel Diaz from MIL (top Rule 5 selection), age-24 RHP Tyrell Jenkins claimed on waivers from ATL, and age-25 RHP Zach Lee claimed on waivers from SEA; all of whom are pre-Arb, with upside. This money was spent to protect assets Luis Perdomo, Christian Friedrich, Ryan Buchter, Brad Hand, etc… and keep this franchise respectable until the waves of pitching talent start arriving from the minors by 2018. What smart teams understand is that it’s always about pitching, having enough of it and having the best of it. The Padres can’t afford to pay for the best, so they’ve done the next best thing which is acquire depth on their 40-man roster (at a bargain), through hard work & brains. Maintaining payroll & roster flexibility are also critical, which is what AJP has accomplished with the 3B Yangervis Solarte (4/$13M) & 1B Wil Myers (6/$83M) extensions. This organization will be a force to be reckoned with by 2018.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates (8th in 2016); GM Neal Huntington has built this team, but he’s now on the hot seat. The have the stud in CF Andrew McCutchen, but were shopping him (??) this winter, after winning only 78 games in 2017. McCutchen, LF Starling Marte, 3B Jung Ho Kang are a good nucleus, but they need their farm system to come through again. Pirates need to develop a closer, after trading Mark Melancon at the deadline. They also need another starter or two to support their young RHP’s Gerrit Cole & Jameson Tailon. Huntington’s FA splash was 3/$26M for age-30 RHP Ivan Nova, who represents a significant risk with limited upside for the penny-pinching Pirates. Possible fire sale in the Pirate’s future if they tank.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd in 2016); GM Andrew Friedman since leaving the cost-cutting Rays, has had the highest payroll in MLB. Cot’s Contracts currently has their 2017 payroll commitment to be $222+M, and they still don’t have a second baseman as of this writing. Their farm system is starting to slip for the right reasons, meaning prospects have developed in regulars and All-Stars. Unfortunately it’s still not enough, and this team relies too much on ace LHP Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers basically re-signed everybody they lost to free agency, which significantly raises payroll. Friedman is putting everything on his farm system being the boost that gets them past the Cubs.  I’m skeptical.

6. Milwaukee Brewers (5th in 2016); GM David Stearns traded away franchise favorite C Jonathan Lucroy, and the players that develop from that deal (Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz and Ryan Cordell) will likely be his legacy, along with trading RF Ryan Braun.  Young SS Jonathan Villar is currently their best player to build around. There is no pitching for skipper Craig Counsell to manage, because these are the Brewers.

7. New York Mets (16th in 2016); RF Jay Bruce will be age-30 next season and make $13M with a batting line around .240/.300/.420 in Citi Field. Recall when the Mets withdrew prospect Brandon Nimmo on 8-1-16, and the Reds still made the deal; making it clear to everyone they were dumping Bruce’s contract. What makes Mets GM Sandy Alderson think anyone else would be interested in dealing for that?  Mets will have to eat ~$8-10M to move Jay Bruce, and they NEED to move him. This 25-man roster is thin beyond CF Yoenis Cespedes, and their brilliant young pitching which is starting to breakdown.

8. Cincinnati Reds (12th in 2016); The GM situation here is Dick Williams, with Walt Jocketty as the consiglierie. Old-school at work here, and it really hurt when they got raped by the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal. What Yankees GM Brian Cashman received (above the Reds) in flipping Chapman to the Cubs proves how much dinosaurs like Jocketty are hurting their organizations. When opportunities like that are squandered, the Reds end up on the short end and are stuck with 2B Brandon Phillips & SS Zack Cosart, who are viewed as assets by their outdated brain-trust, when they are simply bad contracts to everyone else. This team can’t rebuild until it recognizes sunk costs and moves on.

9. Colorado Rockies (7th in 2016); GM Jeff Bridich signed age-31 Ian Desmond at 5/$70M (career .267/.316/.427) to play 1B. This happened less than a year after no one would give Desmond a multi-year deal at SS. The Rockies finished 2016 with a payroll of $120+M– a team record.  Around $22M went to SS Jose Reyes, who was released and is being paid another $21M by Colorado this season. RF Carlos Gonzalez at $20.4M is an albatross that the Rockies front-office (and their fans) too-much view as a bargain. There’s even been talk of extending him, meaning they must have some really nice bud in the Mile High city. Every dollar this organization spends on bats is a complete waste for the Rockies, who desperately need to acquire & develop pitching. This has been a leitmotif of their existence.

10. Chicago White Sox (22nd in 2016); GM Rick Hahn did what he had to do and dealt ace LHP Chris Sale to the Red Sox for a bounty of top prospects. This and the Adam Eaton deal to Washington are what elevates this farm system and gives their fans some hope for the future. There’s still a lot of work left here, including dealing young lefty Jose Quintana, 1B Jose Abreau, and RHP James Shields– which will require eating contract. That was a really bad trade, giving up 3B prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr to the Padres for a broken-down veteran starter, and it will delay their rebuilding significantly.

11. Minnesota Twins (3rd in 2016); New GM Thad Levine takes over after Terry Ryan was finally fired. Levine inherits one of the worst organizations in MLB as far as ownership commitment and overall talent in the majors & minors. This organization has a reputation for holding their prospects back, and developing pitchers that ‘pitch to contact’ instead of missing bats. Their pitching stinks and age-29 2B Brian Dozier is their best player, with age-23 DH Miguel Sano their sole wild-card. Manager Paul Molitor has a few more 100-loss seasons ahead of him (if he stays), until new management can draft and figure out a new direction. New ownership would help a lot.

12. Houston Astros (17th in 2016); GM Jeff Luhnow & manager AJ Hinch work well together, and are a model for new-school thinking. In today’s game, teams need their dugout manager to listen to the front office, who are supplying the talent. That means managers must understand sabermetrics, as all front offices use this in their decision-making. Payroll matters, and value means production/dollar. Astros 2017 payroll is currently at $104+M, which means they have the flexibility to get what they need at the deadline, and the prospects to make the deal. This is a young exciting team, and Carlos Beltran at DH is a significant upgrade.

13. St. Louis Cardinals (19th in 2016); GM John Mozeliak & manager Mike Matheny are another nice tandem. Unfortunately this team has gotten old, and now their second HOF-er (first Albert Pujols, then Matt Holliday) has left.  C Yadier Molina & 3B Matt Carpenter are still studs, and there’s some young talent to fill in, but no impact players on the foreseeable horizon. Their rotation is still above-average, with depth; but lacks a true ace. Cardinals won 86 games in 2016, but fell short of the post-season. I see one or two more championship runs with this core, but they’ll need some major luck to succeed. They’re capable, and (like the Giants) are always dangerous.

14. Philadelphia Phillies (6th in 2016); GM Matt Klentak saw their system graduate prospects to the big club in 2016, accounting for the drop in their farm rankings. Unfortunately they only won 71 games, so they still need a lot more help and have predictably gone the Andy MacPhail splash route this off-season in acquiring RHP Clay Bucholtz ($12M + prospects), righty set-up man Joaquin Benoit ($7.5M), OF Michael Saunders ($9M) and 2B Howie Kendrick (2/$22M). That gets the Phillies to ~75 wins in 2017, now what?

15. Texas Rangers (9th in 2016); GM Jon Daniels keeps plunging, dealing prospects for the missing link that will win them a WS. Last year it was C Jonathan Lucroy, which was a fantastic deal. This winter it’s ex-Padres RHP’s Andrew Cashner ($10M) and Tyson Ross ($6M), which forebodes disaster. The Rangers have another year or two, before their competitive window collapses from too much payroll and not enough young talent. It’s clear now that much of the scouting & organizational brains left Texas when AJ Preller went to San Diego.

16. Boston Red Sox (10th in 2016); GM Dave Dombrowski (and Orioles GM Dan Duquette) built the Montreal Expos dynasty in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the 1994 Expos stand as MLB’s greatest forgotten team [4]. Dombrowski built winners in Florida, Detroit and has now been on the job for over a year in Boston. The early returns in beantown aren’t good, as the Sox were swept in the Divisional round by Cleveland last fall, and HoF DH David Ortiz has retired. Young talent will need to step in and sustain this machine, but Dombrowski has traded much of it away. Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz & Chris Sale are valuable commodities; but Manny Margot, Anderson Espinoza and Yoan Mocanda are all blue-chip prospects in whom the Red Sox had invested tens-of-millions of dollars. This talent will now yield surplus value for the Padres & White Sox instead. If the Red Sox don’t win a WS with the players Dombrowski has acquired, then these trades are busts. That’s how high the stakes are in Boston. Note: the Red Sox were given the chance to reverse the Drew Pomeranz-for-Anderson Espinoza deal with the Padres, due to “undisclosed anti-inflammatories.” The Red Sox declined [5].

17. Cleveland Indians (11th in 2016); GM Mike Chernoff & manager Terry Francona are another winning combination. The LHP Andrew Miller deal was a difference-maker for Cleveland last fall. Recall the Indians almost had Jonathan Lucroy also, who used his no-trade clause to nix the deal. He was then traded to Texas the next day. Young talent in the rotation, bullpen, and on the field make Cleveland a sustainable success story. Their current $111+M 2017 payroll gives them some flexibility, which they’ll need to make another run.

18. Chicago Cubs (4th in 2016); GM Jed Hoyer got busy early this off-season nabbing CF Jon Jay at a bargain (1/$8M), and the arms he needed– including closer Wade Davis from KCR for young OF Jorge Soler. When management drafts & develops talent, it can sustain itself on a budget. The Cubs are a textbook example of this, making them WS favs again in 2017.

19. Tampa Bay Rays (14th in 2016); GM Matt Silverman has overseen the gutting of a once-competitive franchise. Wil Myers and Matt Moore have been dealt with little to show in return. LHP Drew Smyly (the centerpiece of the David Price deal) was just flipped; and coveted starters Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Cobb are next. GM’s around MLB are salivating at the thought of stealing one of these valuable arms from this directionless franchise. This organization needs new ownership as much as any MLB franchise.

20. San Francisco Giants (21st in 2016); GM Brian Sabean acquired LHP Matt Moore from the Rays for busted 3B-prospect Matt Duffy and some other junk. The Giants already had aces in Madison Bumgarner & Johnny Cueto, and have now added Mark Melancon to close. This is a championship roster for several more seasons, barring major injuries.

21. Toronto Blue Jays (25th in 2016); GM Ross Atkins is in a tight spot, with a payroll-heavy roster constructed under a previous regime, that probably isn’t good enough to win it. RF Jose Bautista was a tough negotiation for both sides this off-season, as his early 2016 negotiating stance about “knowing his value” definitely soured his market. He’s age-36, and his AVG, SLG and defense have slipped significantly, while becoming injury-prone. In the end the Jays need Joey Bats, and vise versa, so 1/$18M is about right. This winter revealed the Blue Jays have reached their payroll limit. Combine that with a lack of prospects, and I see the AL East in 2017 as Boston & NYY, with Toronto & Baltimore slipping back.

22. Washington Nationals (15th in 2016); GM Mike Rizzo hired Dusty Baker to manage, after Bud Black declined a low-ball contract offer last off-season. The Nationals are currently at $144+M according to Cots Contracts. They made deals this winter with the Padres (C Derek Norris) and White Sox (CF Adam Eaton) to shore up their roster, by dealing prospects. Young phenom Trea Turner moves from part-time CF to full-time SS, as the Nats make another run at a WS. This team may have the most talent in MLB, yet still hasn’t won a play-off series. Someday someone in Washington may point their finger at a manager who doesn’t know how to construct a line-up, or manage a pitching staff.

23. Oakland Athletics (18th in 2016); Moneyball GM Billy Beane (now kicked upstairs) deserves the HOF, but with that said, he had fallen hopelessly behind in his profession. The truth is GM Beane never recovered from the 3B Eric Chavez extension: 6/$66M (2005-10), which blew up with a bad back and financially crippled the franchise. David Forst has taken over as new GM, and he currently has a roster with a payroll at $66+M, which is mostly comprised of fungible position players & fragile arms. This is another team that needs new ownership to have any chance at competing.

24. Detroit Tigers (26th in 2016); GM Al Avila has continued the Dave Dombrowski playbook in Detroit, with predictable results. The LF Justin Upton (6/$132M) splash last winter was predictably a bust, and now it’s time to face the music. Their competitive window is closing, and there’s only one or two more runs before it’s time to rebuild. There are assets here, but also a lot of contracts that will need to be eaten when this happens.

25. Baltimore Orioles (27th in 2016); GM Dan Duquette takes his orders from owner Peter Angelos. That’s how things work in Baltimore. Last off-season it was all about signing 1B Chris Davis for 7/$161M, and giving up a 1st-round draft pick to sign RHP Yovani Gallardo. That didn’t work, so this winter Duquette dealt Gallardo ($13M) to the Mariners for veteran RF Seth Smith ($7M) as a form of salary dump, then re-signed RF/DH Mark Trumbo (3/$37M). This team desperately needs starting pitching, and yet has done nothing this off-season to acquire any. There’s obviously nothing coming from the minors, as evidenced by this farm-system ranking, so no one knows what they are doing to fill their most basic need? Spring Training is less than a month away.

26. Kansas City Royals (23rd in 2016); GM Dayton Moore extended breakout starter age-28 LHP Danny Duffy at 5/$65M which is a win-win deal. I always like GM’s who make those deals, as they lock down talent and build team chemistry, without busting an organization’s budget. I’m just not sold that it will work here. This team could win it all again, or it could bust again. The smart GM has to play for the former, while making contingencies for the latter. After winning the WS in 2015, this franchise is now at a crossroads. Update: Within hours of this publication came the news of age-25 RHP Yordano Ventura dying in a car crash in his homeland of the Dominican Republic. MLB and all fans mourn his passing.

27. Los Angeles Angels (30th in 2016); GM Billy Eppler & manager Mike Scioscia are in no-man’s land, with huge payroll bloat around the best player in the game, CF Mike Trout. They have no effective pitching, starting or bullpen. With ~$150M already committed in 2017, for a second-division team with no prospects, this may be the worst organization in MLB.

28. Seattle Mariners (28th in 2016); GM Jerry Dipoto has made the biggest overall splash this winter, and is the current fashionable GM. His dealings look more like reshuffling chairs on the decks of the Titanic, than actual improvement, as the 2017 Mariners look suspiciously like the 2016 Diamondbacks or 2015 Padres to this observer. There’s not enough pitching to compete with Texas or Houston, much less for a WS. This looks like one last gamble with a veteran core that has never come close to putting it together. Whatever the result, the Mariners are a story in 2017.

29. Miami Marlins (29th in 2016); GM Mike Hill has been criticized for his recent deal-making, and the RHP Dan Straily trade is his latest head-scratcher. Hill already inked RHP Edinson Volquez to a 2/$22M deal earlier this winter, which seemed like an overpay. The Marlins needed another arm, so #2 organizational prospect RHP Luis Castillo (the trade-back in the Colin Rea fiasco with the Padres last July/August) was shipped with 2 others to Cincinnati.  Castillo throws ~ 100 MPH and has a closer profile, but is a long ways away. All that is probably more valuable than a 5th starter whom the Reds picked up on waivers last April. In addition, the Marlins have multiple back-loaded contracts (such as Giancarlo Stanton’s), which are about to balloon. If things go south in 2017, the Marlins are going to have another fire sale, and there’s a significant chance they will. The Marlins can’t possibly replace heart-and-soul inspiration, and ace RHP Jose Fernandez– RIP.

30. Arizona Diamondbacks (24th in 2016); New GM Mike Hazen is a Dombrowski protoge, and he replaces Dave Stewart, which is a relief to D-back fans. Age-33 RHP Zack Greinke (5/$172.5M remaining) may be the biggest current albatross contract in MLB, and the Shelby Miller deal with the Braves last winter was a complete disaster, which is why this farm system is ranked dead last. It’s going to be a long rebuild in Arizona with Grienke, RHP Taijuan Walker, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, and CF AJ Pollock as their only real assets.

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2015 San Diego Padres

This team was going to be a story in MLB in 2015, with all the off-season dealings and free agent signings by newly-hired GM A.J. Preller.  Opening Day payroll was increased to $108 million (a record expenditure for the franchise), and everyone in the organization from owner (beer distribution magnate) Ron Fowler to CEO Mike Dee was optimistic about the Padres chances of making the post-season.

Mike Dee: SD Padres CEO

San Diego Padres CEO Mike Dee

In reality, it was all over by July or August, depending on one’s level of sobriety.  The 2015 San Diego Padres will go down as one of the most ill-conceived teams in modern baseball history. As of this publication, they are 67-77, 4th in the NL West; 16 GB in their division and the wild card.  Mercifully, only three weeks remain in the season, with their playoff elimination # now well into single digits.

The 2015 Padres were a tantalizingly streaky team early; one that wins five, then drops six on a whim. The Padres now rank: 28th AVG at .244; 30th (last) in OBP at .299; and 26th in SLG at .387.  Despite playing half their games in an extreme pitching park, the Pads are no better than 20th in team ERA.  Their pitchers are tied for 4th (w/ TB) in K’s, but they’ve allowed the 4th-most walks.  Their Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER) is .687, ranking 20th.  Petco Park has one of the roomiest outfields in MLB, so poor defense hurts even more there than in a bandbox.

AJ Preller Padres GM

A.J. Preller Padres GM

The entire starting rotation was right-handed, allowing opposing mangers to stack a lefty lineup, day after day.  This extreme right-handedness included relief pitching– until Marc Rzepczynski was acquired at the trade deadline, as LHP reliever Frank Garces (35 IP, 5.14 ERA) doesn’t really count towards winning.   Evidently, it took A.J. Preller months to realize the value of having at least one reliable left-hander in the bullpen.   It’s really tough (for whomever is managing) to get outs against tough lefty hitters in crucial late-game situations, with only right-handers in the pen.  This is baseball 101, not complex sabermetrics.

Bud Black: Padres Manager

Bud Black– fired after a 32-33 start

Speaking of managers, the Padres haven’t had one since they fired Bud Black in mid-June.  Did you hear about it?  Since then it’s been interim manager Pat Murphy, who can best be described as a warm body.  Black had been the second-longest tenured manager in MLB at the time of his firing, and was well-respected by the players and other mangers.

Darren Balsley: Padres Pitching Coach

Darren Balsley– one of the best

Ace pitching coach Darren Balsley worked well with Bud Black, particularly in the development of their young starters RHP’s Tyson Ross & Andrew Cashner.  Since Bud Black was fired as manager, Balsley (who is a master a spotting breakdowns in pitching mechanics while offering helpful advice) rarely makes a trip to the mound anymore.

Ross & Cashner were the most-asked-about Padres players up to the trade deadline, instead of the players they were trying to deal; including closer Craig Kimbrel,  SP James Shields, and LF Justin Upton.  To GM A.J. Preller’s credit, he didn’t panic and give away valuable assets at the July 31st deadline, despite shrieking hysterics from the media.  It was a buyer’s market, as top talent including: SS Troy Tulowitzki, and ace LHP’s David Price and Cole Hamels outshined Shields & Upton, or anything else the Padres had available.

David Price

The off-season deals that brought in Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel & Melvin Upton, Jr  reshaped this team completely, while affecting their payroll flexibility going forward.

The most hurtful deal to the Padres organization was trading C Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers for RF Matt Kemp.  Grandal is a good defensive catcher, age 26, with a career line of .247/.356/.418; who makes $693,000 in 2015, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019 at the earliest.

Matt Kemp is now turning 30, and really is much older in terms of playing age.  It hurts him to run; watch closely and you’ll see a once-great athlete with degenerative arthritis in his knees, hips & back.  The skills still flash at times, but the body has broken down, so he can’t perform with consistency.  Preller not only traded a valuable commodity in Grandal to get Kemp, but also took on too much salary.  LA pays $18 million of the $21+ million he’s owed this year, after that the Padres are on the hook for $18+ million/year through 2019.

Wil Myers

Wil Myers came over from the TB Rays in a frenzied 4-team deal.  Myers was/is a RF. Joe Maddon is considered one of the best, and most creative managers in the game, and he never considered Myers in CF.  The Padres started the season with the-player-formerly-known-as B.J. Upton on the DL, with turf toe in the right foot.  Wil Venable was the only SD Padre capable of playing centerfield.  Instead, Myers was moved to center, flanked by Justin Upton & Matt Kemp.

Predictably Myers was a disaster in center– missteps & bad jumps, taking awkward routes, diving for balls other centerfielder’s catch easily; costing his pitchers outs, runs and wins.  None of this was Wil Myers’ fault, as his coaching staff & GM put him in a position to fail– and he did.  His wrist problems which began in TB, were aggravated by playing an unfamiliar (and more demanding) defensive position, and Myers ended up needing wrist surgery– costing him half the 2015 season.  He’s still one of their most valuable long-term assets.

Justin Upton was brought over from the Braves in a series of multi-team trades that (in hindsight) really didn’t cost the Padres much in terms of prospects.  He’s paid $14.5 million in 2015, which is considered a bargain.  He’s a free agent at season’s end.  The Padres would love to keep him, but the problem is they have Matt Kemp too, and only enough room in the outfield for one of them.

Wil Myers (if he’s going to stay healthy & productive) has to be a corner outfielder.  Unless the Padres can move Kemp, which will mean eating a huge chunk of his contract, then they can’t even entertain the thought of resigning Justin Upton.  San Diego will likely make Upton a qualifying offer, and then take the draft choice when he signs a free-agent deal elsewhere.

Melvin (I’m calling him B.J.) Upton isn’t the greatest option in CF (thru 72 G: .244/.310/.417), but the Padres have him for 3 seasons at $15 million/year, so they have to play him. Like James Shields (mostly) and Carl Crawford (surely), his best years were in Tampa; and the B.J. stood for Bossman Jr., which was the best name in baseball for years.

Bossman Jr.

Bossman Jr

James Shields is in his 10th MLB season, with over 2000 IP in his career. He will be 34 in December, and is probably best recognized now as a very good #3 starter on a championship-level team.  In his prime, Shields was a horse #2 starter.  Once again, the problem for the Padres isn’t that the player stinks, it’s that they overpay him.  The $10 million this season seems fair enough, but the $21 million/year from 2016-18 limits the trade options.

Yangervis Solarte 3B

Yangervis Solarte 3B

Yangervis Solarte at 3B has been a nice surprise hitting .272/.335/.430 as of this writing, while playing good defense at the hot corner.  A.J. Preller’s original ‘plan’ was Will Middlebrooks at third, whose 4 MLB seasons have so far produced .231/.274/.399.  Middlebrooks is a classic example of someone who is overvalued because he played on a great team (Boston Red Sox). As a comparison, he’s less valuable than NY Yankee utility IF Luis Sojo: .261/.297/.352 in 13 seasons.

Shortstop is still a mess for the Friars, as it’s been an endless carousel since the inconsistency of the Khalil Greene era, from 2003-08.  Suffice it to say it’s really an important position, and you can’t be a good team without one.

The latest experiment is to try 2B Jedd Gyorko at SS.  Gyorko has the hands & skills, but neither the athleticism nor the arm for shortstop.  This move reeks of desperation, and highlights the inability of Padres leadership to learn from their past mistakes.  More than anything, Gyorko needs to hit better as his .239/.292/.397 line is approaching replacement level. He is making $2 million this season, but is owed at least $33 million though 2019.

The Padres snagged 1B Yonder Alonso (along with Yasmani Grandal!) from the Reds in the Mat Latos deal.  He’s still light on power for first base, and he can’t stay healthy (which is also a skill).  His career .282/.361/.381 batting line helps, if only a little.  Not all of his injuries have been his fault. This video of Justin Upton unintentionally hitting Alonso with his batting helmet, succinctly encapsulates the frustration & futility of Padres’ 2015 season.

Other SD Padres notes:

1B Adrian Gonzalez would have been a great organizational investment.

West coast bias in sports is real.  One reason I chose to be a Padres fan was to test that theory.

RHP’s Brandon Morrow & Josh Johnson both spent the season on the DL, which should have surprised no one.

On 7/19/15, the Padres had their first rainout since 4/04/06.  It almost never rains in San Diego. The game against the Rockies was suspended in the 5th inning, and was made up on September 10th– which COL won 4-3.

Dick Enberg does the Padres play-by-play on television, and he’s still a first-rate announcer.  He was selected as the 2015 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  I personally remember enjoying Enberg when he called the NFL, NCAA basketball, professional tennis, and Olympics for NBC in the 1970’s & 1980’s.  He’s always been a thoughtful & pleasant conversationalist on the air, and still has a great voice.

Ted Leitner is in his 36th season behind the microphone for ‘My Padres.’  Baseball is a great game to listen to on the radio.

The Padres military programs which started in 1996, are the most successful in baseball– in terms of market penetration.  San Diego is home to several of the largest military installations in the world; including the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Naval Base Coronado,  Naval Base San Diego, and US Coast Guard Station San Diego.  Taped games are sent to the entire U.S. Pacific fleet for on-board viewing, via the Padres at Sea program.  Every Sunday home game is Military Appreciation Day (along with Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day), as the Pads wear their camouflage jerseys, which has now been copied by other teams across MLB.  I have mixed feelings about all of this.

The Padres organization has tried to reach into Mexico, as San Diego is the city closest to the border, with mixed results.  Note to management: the best way to get Latin America to follow your baseball team, is by having good Latin American players in the organization & lineup.

Matt Kemp hit for the cycle on 8/14/15 , becoming the first Padre in franchise history to do so, in the club’s 7,444th game.  Now only the Marlins haven’t accomplished this feat.

The Padres still haven’t thrown a no-hitter, nor won a World Series. They began play in 1969.

The Padres enshrined C Benito Santiago and SS Garry Templeton into their Hall of Fame. In 1981, the Padres traded a young Ozzie Smith to STL, for Templeton.

Ozzie Smith 1981

In conclusion, this organization is a mess, and A.J. Preller has a 5-year contract; so it’s going to be up to him to learn on-the-job and fix it, or suffer the consequences.  This fan remains unconvinced after the spectacular crash of 2015.  Preller often seems enamoured with his ‘rock star‘ image, to the point where it affects his better judgement.

He succeeds GM Josh Byrnes, who left due to serious disagreements with CEO Mike Dee, over where this organization is in terms of winning a championship.  As a Padres fan who signed up on a one-season deal, I’d only take another one-year fan contract from this organization.  One of the best parts of being a Padres fan is knowing that many of us really don’t care about winning.  Baseball is paid-for entertainment, nothing more.  I personally love streaming their games, listening to the drunken fans at Petco chanting “Let’s go, Padres!”– then hearing it quickly lose its rhythm & enthusiasm, completely collapsing upon itself several responses– signalling to all, that Padres fans actually know their team.