The Editor’s Desk with Billy Brost: Padres Don’t Need To Break The Bank To Improve
By Billy Brost
The hot topic in San Diego Padres’ baseball over the past month, has been the infatuation with Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas. Ever since the Padres were in attendance of his first public workout, and then held two additional private workouts, the team has been viewed as one of the “really interested” clubs for the slugger’s services. With the recent report that Philadelphia is now the favorite to land Tomas, I wrote earlier today about how it’s time for the Friars to make their move, or to move on.
A.J. Preller has to be aggressive this winter if he hopes to improve his light-hitting club. Pitching isn’t and never will be the issue with the Padres. It’s getting impact bats to Petco that is going to be the difference between the team being a contender, and continuing to finish a distant third to the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. We’ve seen that you don’t need to win the division to win the World Series. However, you do need offensive production. The Padres could lead the universe in pitching categories, but if the team only hits a combined .220 with no power and no run production, they will remain where they’ve been: non-contenders.
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Preller and the Padres don’t necessarily need Yasmany Tomas to have a successful off-season and become a team that matters. This past spring, I picked the Kansas City Royals to win the Wild Card and reach the LCS. They did me one better. I also picked the Padres as the second Wild Card in the NL. Swung on and missed. They aren’t that far away, and they don’t need to break the bank to take that next step. Savvy, smart pick-ups will be the difference between a ninth straight playoffless season in San Diego, and getting Padres’ fans excited about baseball again.
The team needs help at third base, shortstop, first base, catcher, and in the corner outfield spots, specifically right field. Sounds like a laundry list of spots to clean up. The team has internal options for both third base and second base, by moving Jedd Gyorko over to third, and handing the second base job to Cory Spangenberg, who showed in a small sample size, that he may be ready for the everyday gig. If he isn’t, Yangervis Solarte is.
That leaves first base, shortstop, behind the plate and right field. None of the free agents at first base: Billy Butler, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse, or Michael Cuddyer are going to command record-breaking contracts. Each player is flawed, either by age, defensive ineptness, or injuries. We’ve discussed some of the options, and if the Padres make the move, the offense is upgraded immediately.
At shortstop, the team still hasn’t determined what they are going to do with Everth Cabrera. I suppose they could give him one more chance, if not, deal him or DFA him. The only mega-star shortstop who will command money and years out of the Padres’ realm, is Hanley Ramirez. Forget it, he’s not coming to San Diego. But you know who might? Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew, or Asdrubal Cabrera. None of the aforementioned are elite status guys, and Drew might consider returning to the NL West.
The Padres could go one of two routes for their catching issue. They either believe that Yasmani Grandal is completely healthy, and will continue to improve on his 2014 season, where he basically hit on one leg to the tune of .225/15/44, or they see him as what he’s been: a troubled, underperforming and now injured catcher. He’s 25. If I’m the Padres, he is the one getting another chance, not Everth Cabrera. Grandal has also proven he can play some first base as well, giving Bud Black more roster flexibility.
If the Padres want to go the free agent route behind the plate, Russell Martin is the clear gold standard that is available. He’s a solid clubhouse guy, handles young pitching extremely well, and has shown that he can still hit. Martin is due for a raise after hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 67 driven in. Over his two years in Pittsburgh, he made $15 mil. Let’s go three years and $27 million. That will put him at 34 years old, and by that time, the team should know whether or not Austin Hedges‘ bat will ever be big league-ready.
Finally, we’ve come full circle, back to Tomas and right field. We’re talking about quality contracts, not ones that could end up being considered and albatross, so let’s forget about Tomas for a moment. The aforementioned Cuddyer could be one option to upgrade over the traded Chris Denorfia. Nelson Cruz and Preller have a preexisting relationship, but big Nelson will be looking to cash in one more time before his skills start to fade, so he’s out.
Preller should be focused on is Baltimore Orioles’ free agent Nick Markakis. He won’t break the bank, and going into his age-31 season, has some good years left. Rumors had the O’s and Markakis close to a new four-year deal, but that went by the wayside quickly. From his 162-game averages, Markakis in a hitter’s park at Camden, came in around 15 bombs, 60 RBI, and a batting average in the .270s. Now, factor in Petco, and knowing those numbers could dip to 10-12 home runs, 50 RBI, and the same batting average.
Markakis will be looking to get paid. If San Diego really wants to make a play for Markakis, a four-year deal in $60-$66 million dollar range isn’t out of the question. Baltimore would love to keep him, but San Diego really NEEDS him. While his home run and RBI numbers could see a dip, Markakis has Billy Butler-type gap power, which again, plays well at Petco Park. He’s had four seasons of over 40 doubles, but none since 2010. If he were to come to San Diego with some other parts to help take up the slack, say a LaRoche, a Butler, a Martin, etc., he wouldn’t have to carry the load, wouldn’t break the bank, and would give the lineup length and depth.
The Padres can improve their lineup, either through the trade market or via free agency. The impact bats the Padres could use are affordable outside of Tomas, Cruz, and a couple of others. Each player mentioned here today would fit into this lineup wonderfully, and if San Diego was able to sign at least two of them, this team could make some noise in 2015. If A.J. Preller and the boys sit on their hands, and wait for their minor league talent to develop, it could be another long summer in Southern California for the boys from Petco Park.