For the article of free agent targets for first base here.
The Padres had a pitiful time filling the hole at shortstop in 2015. From the utterly useless at the plate Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes to the defensively shortcomings of Jedd Gyorko and Will Middlebrooks, the team failed to have a good solution. Barmes’ option was declined. Amarista will return to being the Swiss army knife of the club. Gyorko should return to second and third base duties. And Middlebrooks probably won’t factor in much in the big leagues. So what free agents should the Padres target to alleviate this most needed weakness?
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Let us start off with someone who might be brought up as a possibility but should be rejected. Zobrist is like Amarista only he can hit well. But unlike the Little Ninja, Zobrist cannot handle shortstop defensively. In his 229 career games at short, BaseballProjection has Zobrist at costing his team 10 runs with Baseball Info Solutions at 12 runs. Most of these games came before turning 30. He will be 35 next May. In 2015, Zobrist did not play a single game at the position. In 2014, he made 2.78 outs per nine innings – one less than the league average. For some perspective, Wil Myers is a terrible option in center field because his range factor is 2.05 whereas the league average is 2.41. The difference for Zobrist is much higher at a more important position.
Zobrist is very valuable. But the Padres already have the positions he plays covered.
Even at age 33 last year, Ramirez showed above average range. His defense overall is solid.
Ramirez is durable as well having played at least 154 games six years in a row.
But there is a reason the White Sox did not exercise their $10 million club option. Ramirez had a .285 on-base with a .357 slugging last year. Ramirez has two years in his career in which his OPS+ was 100 or higher. He doesn’t draw enough walks to make his solid batting averages into good on-base percentages. Over the past three years, the shortstop hit .269/.301/.382/.864 with a 90 OPS+. Granted, that is certainly better than Amarista and Barmes last year. Plus he averaged 23 steals in that time. While last year’s WAR was only 1.0, Ramirez typically has one around 3 for his career.
So did Ramirez have a down year in 2015 or is this the sign of a decline?
In Tampa Bay, Cabrera had hit best year since 2012. His .265/.315/.430/.744 slashline and 105 OPS+ netted him a productive year. Those numbers reflect what Cabrera has done for his career – decent average with a low walk total combining for an average on-base with slightly above average slugging. Tack on the fact that he’s a switch hitter and Cabrera makes the best sense in the Padres lineup out of all the players mentioned in this article.
The problem is defense. Cabrera’s range was so bad that BaseballProjection estimated that he cost the Rays 15 runs in 2015. Baseball Info Solutions has him at 7 runs in the red. Yangervis Solarte is below average defensively. The right side of the infield isn’t good enough to sacrifice the more important left. The team cannot afford someone who got to fewer balls per nine innings than did Jedd Gyorko.
Cabrera then become a worse option than Ramirez.
Desmond is another durable option. Only once since his rookie year has Desmond failed to play at least 154 games. His defense is ok. BaseballProjection has him as costing the Nationals 9 runs last year but Baseball Info Solutions has him saving 1. On the whole, Desmond is just below the league average in saving runs, but only a couple or a few. Essentially not enough to keep him off of a team considering his offensive potential.
In 2012, Desmond was an All-Star and had his best year at the plate. He followed it up with a good 2013 and a decent 2014. But he regressed this year with a .233/.290/.384/.674 slashline and an OPS+ of just 80. Note that Barmes had a similar OPS+ of 78. Desmond compensates a mediocre on-base with 20-plus home run power making him a good offensive player other than last year.
But Desmond will be expensive. Like Ramirez, he is right-handed and would further tip the Padres lineup. The Nationals are pretty much guaranteed to give him a qualifying offer, meaning the likely four to five-year deal would also take a first round pick from San Diego for a second straight year. Signing Desmond would also eliminate the possibility of Preller having the flexibility to sign another player. To those who want Chris Davis, this is key. Considering that Desmond has declined every year since 2012, is he worth the risk?
Perhaps, actually. The Padres biggest hole is shortstop. It is the only one that 100-percent needs to be occupied by someone not currently on the roster.
Preller should make an attempt to sign Desmond, but he cannot overpay. In fact, he needs to buy low. If that fails, the Padres best option is to role the dice and trade for one or a couple major league ready prospects.