The San Diego Padres were given the crown as champions of the 2014-2015 off season. New general manager AJ Preller went in and went in hard, having as aggressive an off season as any front office executive in all of baseball. While many were convinced the Padres had turned the corner (myself included), many were also skeptical that a team bringing in so many new players, Matt Kemp, Will Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris... would not be able to develop the cohesion needed to function as a true "team." As the season unfolded, those who questioned how a group of players assembled at one time would blend into a melting pot were completely correct. The Padres finished 74-88, forth place in the National League West division. Longtime manager Bud Black was scapegoated and let go 55 games into the season. Former Arizona State University baseball coach Pat Murphy took over for Black and it did not change the results. In fact, the Padres managed to lose 21 of their final 31 games.
The Padres got their off season started my naming their new manager, former big league infielder Andy Green. Former Cardinals and Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire joined the team as their new bench coach. Kimbrel was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for four young players. The Padres also dealt first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jedd Gyorko and reliever Joaquin Benoit and let free agents Upton, Ian Kennedy and Shawn Kelley leave for other opportunities. The Padres key off season moves were acquiring outfielder Jon Jay (.210 batting average, 1 home run, 10 runs batted in, .563 on base plus slugging in just 79 games) from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Gyorko trade and left hander Drew Pomeranz (5 wins, 6 losses, 3.63 earned run average, 82 strikeouts in 86 innings pitched) from the Oakland Athletics in the Alonso trade The Padres also signed free agent shortstop Alexei Ramirez (.259, 10, 62, .642) from the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Carlos Villenueva (4-3, 2.95 in 35 games) came over from St. Louis after a solid breakout season with the Cardinals. Longtime MLB closer Fernando Rodney (7-5, 4.74, 16 saves for Seattle and Chicago Cubs), assumes the role for the 2016 Padres.
Even with the loss of Kennedy (9-15, 4.28, 174 Ks, just over 168 IP) to the Kansas City Royals, the Padres still possess a strong front three led by Shields (13-7, 3.91, 216 Ks, just over 202 IP). Tyson Ross (10-12, 3.26, 212 Ks, 196 IP) continues to develop as a top pitcher and is a solid number two behind Shields. Andrew Cashner (6-16, 4.34, 165 Ks, just under 185 IP) had a down season but has long been considered an ace in the making. Up to this point though, it seems like the Cubs got the best of that trade getting first baseman Anthony Rizzo. 25 year old Brandon Maurer (7-4, 3.00 in 53 games out of the bullpen) will be joining the starting rotation with Villenueva the favorite to round out the starting five. The projected forth and fifth Padres pitched in a total of 88 games last season, 0 of them starts. Right hander Colin Rea and left hander Robbie Erlin will be there as depth pieces and either can logically start the season in the Padres rotation. The most interesting pitcher to watch in Arizona for the Padres will be the seemingly always injured Brandon Morrow. Morrow has not pitched anywhere near a full season since 2012 when it seemed like he was coming into his own with the Toronto Blue Jays. Since then, the 2006 number five overall draft pick has had a difficult time staying on the field dealing with a series of arm, shoulder, finger and elbow injuries. It would be a great story if he can remain back on the field and throw back time to 2012.
Rodney and Pomeranz will attempt to configure the back of the Padres bullpen with Nick Vincent (0-1, 2.35, 26 games), Jon Edwards (0-0, 3.38, 11 games) and Kevin Quackenbush (3-2, 4.01, 57 games) all vying for prominent roles. The Padres signed left hander Matt Thornton (2-1, 2.18, 60 games) and right hander Casey Janssen (2-5, 4.95, 48 games) as free agents from the Nationals to add some leadership to what looks like a young middle of the bullpen. Former Mets farmhand Cory Mazzoni and right hander Cesar Vargas are also names to consider as well as non roster invitees Frank Garces (0-1, 5.41, 40 games) and Daniel McCutchen. Rule 5 pick Luis Perdomo will likely make the team as a 12th pitcher.
The Padres lost 26 home runs from their lineup with Upton leaving to join the Detroit Tigers. Second baseman Gyorko hit 16 last season and Alonso has double digit HR ability. With all three leaving the team (the last two via trade), the Padres middle of the order is going to consist of Kemp (.265, 23, 100, .755) and Myers (.253, 8, 25, .763 in 60 games). Hope is that Myers can stay on the field all season and the Padres are hoping to preserve his legs by playing him at first base everyday (part of the reason Alonso was dealt). Melvin Upton Jr (formerly BJ) gets a legit opportunity to be the team's everyday center fielder after hitting a respectable .257, 5, 17, .757 in 87 games last year. Jay put up some terrible numbers in 2015 but he was injured. The Padres hope Jay can return to his career numbers which include a .287 batting average and a .738 OPS. The trade of Gyorko opens the door for second baseman Cory Spangenberg (.271, 4, 21, .733). Spangenberg looks like a pure hitter and should see his batting average and OPS rise with consistent playing time. Norris (.250, 14, 62, .709) will become a middle of the order necessity. Ramirez and Yangervis Solarte (.273, 14, 63, .748) will make up the left side of the infield.
The Padres lineup I would go with is Jay LF, Spangenberg 2B, Norris C, Kemp RF, Myers 1B, Solarte 3B, Ramirez SS, Upton CF. Former top 50 prospect (2009, 2010) Brett Wallace will get some time at first base as well as third base as a backup. Alex Dickerson looks to be next on the depth chart to play the outfield. He put up some good numbers (.307, .877 OPS, 71 RBI) for Triple- A El Paso). Jay, of course, can play center when Upton is not there. Top catching prospect Austin Hedges is looking to improve on hitting major league pitching after struggling during his 2015 taste.
Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are the Padres top outfield prospects. Margot came over in the Kimbrel trade and Renfroe was drafted by the Padres a couple of years ago. Rea, like I mentioned before, has a chance to make the opening day roster if he impresses this spring. The most intriguing prospect in the Padres system is shortstop Ruddy Giron. A plus defender, the 18 year old hit .285 in Fort Wayne of the Midwest League. Odds are, if he backs up his 2015 with a solid year in 2016, I think he has a chance to make the Padres 2017 roster as their starting shortstop. Perhaps he is up in September.
The Padres had extremely high expectations in 2015 and did not back them up. Maybe the opposite can happen this season. The Padres still possess a strong starting three in their rotation and if they get anything from Morrow, Maurer or Perdomo, they can be in a position to compete with anybody in the National League West division. Their offense is weak and they need a lot from Myers, Norris and the emergence of Spangenberg if they want to have a major league lineup. Las Vegas has the Padres right where they finished last season, at 74 as their over/ under. I am taking the over as I have San Diego at 78-84, forth place in the National League West.