The San Diego Padres find themselves in a unique situation as players are being made qualifying offers, or set free. Teams move forward from ineffective, aging players that sometimes just don’t fit the vision and mold of a general manager or a clubhouse. The Yankees for example, chose to part ways with Hiroki Kuroda, who no doubt, still has something left in the tank.
For A.J. Preller and the Friars, this coming hot stove season could turn the tide for a generation to come. The Padres minor league system has some of the best up and coming pieces they could ever ask for in players such as Hunter Renfroe, Mallex Smith, Austin Hedges, and Trea Turner just to name a few. But, with that said, the big league pitching staff has the capability of carrying this team to the postseason. Hitting has been the issue for the Padres since they moved to Petco Park. Trades of Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo, have left the franchise without a legitimate, power-hitting slugger. All of that can change in one winter…
Myself and some of my fellow staff members here at Friars On Base, have suggested that the team pursue a free agent upgrade at catcher, such as Russell Martin. We’ve gotten backlash about how Austin Hedges is the guy, and that San Diego has no business bringing in a free agent when he’s so close. I hate to break it to you, but Austin Hedges’ greatest strength is his defense. He is a remarkable pitch-framer, but that isn’t what the Padres need. They need an impact, productive bat that can augment the existing lineup, not hit .220 with 6 home runs. I’ve never said Hedges eventually WON’T be the answer, but for the next three years, I just don’t see it. Either stick with a healthy Yasmani Grandal, or go get Martin.
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It’s time to look at the reality of things. Jedd Gyorko needs to be moved back to third base. He’s got more pop than Chase Headley ever did, and if he can stay healthy, the third base issue for the foreseeable future has been solved. We’ve seen what he can do when he gets 500 at-bats (23 home runs, 63 driven in, and a .444 SLG). He has the potential, like a Russell Martin, to augment the lineup, and give it some thump. And what about second base you say?
You remember 23-year-old Cory Spangenberg don’t you? He was the one who was called up in September, in only 65 at-bats, hit .290, with a pair of home runs, and drove in nine. He made only one error in 23 innings at second base, although Bud Black moved him all over the diamond. Forget that notion. He needs to be given the chance to break camp next season as the starter, one who can hit and isn’t intimidated by Petco, or the ills that have killed this team for half a decade. And if he falters? No worries, super-utility man Yangervis Solarte has enough pop in his bat to hold things down while Spangenberg gets more seasoning.
Oh Everth Cabrera. All you had to do what keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble. Get on base and steal some bags, score some runs, and play league average defense. Epic fail on all accounts, so it’s time to move on. Injuries and off the field issues have made the former All-Star expendable. Why? My partner in crime, Jason Evans, gave us the answer yesterday in Yoan Moncada. A.J. Preller knows international talent, and unlike his fellow Cuban imports, the kid won’t break the bank. If Moncada can play at all, he could be the answer until Trea Turner is ready and because Moncada is listed simply as an “infielder”, my guess is he is versatile enough to move around the diamond as needed.
We’ve talked first base. Adam LaRoche, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, or even Billy Butler. I’ll be discussing Butler in an upcoming Padres Free Agent Target column, but for now, LaRoche has to be the odds on favorite to add an impact bat to the lineup. His career numbers, coupled with his solid clubhouse presences, makes him the perfect “lead by example” guy for Preller to bring in on a two-year deal.
Until the Pads either DFA or find a trading partner for Carlos Quentin, he and his contract remain an albatross. Expect more DL time than field time next season, which allows a combo of Rymer Liriano (once he figures out pitch recognition at Triple-A to start the season) and Tommy Medica to hold down the fort. If the Friars really wanted to make things interesting, Mallex Smith would get a long look in spring training. I like to call him Billy Hamilton 2.0.
In center field, the Padres have a future, just no present. Cameron Maybin and Will Venable are what is there now. Venable had a flash in the pan season, and as well all know, Maybin will NEVER live up to expectations. Who is in the wings? The aforementioned Smith could get some time, and Hunter Renfroe’s day is coming. The only question is, how far down the road are we looking? He is absolutely destroying the Arizona Fall League. Hell, I suppose even Seth Smith could man center on occasion. He’s a professional hitter, but best suited to fourth outfielder status.
In right, this is where things get very interesting. Personally, I want to see the Padres do whatever must be done to sign Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. He is the impact bat the Padres can build the remainder of the youthful core around in coming seasons, while being the final stick along with a LaRoche, a Gyorko, a Martin, and a Spangenberg that turns this team into a playoff team NOW. Ownership has said A.J. can spend as needed, but obviously, we’re not talking Dodgers or Yankees. We are talking smart, savvy signings that will make San Diego a contender now, until the youth of tomorrow takes the torch and turns the Padres into a consistent division battler in the NL West for years to come. Each regime gets one shot to hit the reset button. The winter of 2014/15 is A.J. Preller’s.