Pressing Questions: The San Diego Padres

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Dentist visits, tortoise rides, figure skating, drinking NA beer – on the scale of general excitement that’s the company the Padres keep. Though surprisingly active this offseason, the wheelings and dealings GM Josh Byrnes inked were hardly worthy enough for the TV crawl, or almost any-sized mixed league. Joaquin Benoit, Seth Smith, Alex Dickerson, Ben Paullus, Devin Jones, Patrick Schuster, Ryan Jackson, Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn were all acquired. Only the signing of Josh Johnson registered a blip on owner radars. Woo friggin’ hoo.

With an estimated payroll expected to hover around $80 million and only fair talent chopping wood on the farm, odds are long the Padres, in a division that should be commanded by heavy spenders Los Angeles and San Francisco, will seriously compete for a division crown or a wild card spot. Live down to expectations and their playoff futility will extend to eight years.

However, the Friars aren’t completely devoid of fantasy talent. Many may be reserved for deep mixed and only-leagues, but a couple names could leave an indelible mark in shallow formats. Entering spring training, here are the organization’s most pressing questions:

Chase Headley’s overall value fell down the elevator shaft last season, prompting the organization to field many trade feelers this offseason. What should we expect from the cool corner in 2014?

A .286-31-115-95-17 contributor in 2012, Headley was only half as productive last summer. Part of the reason was due to myriad injuries (thumb, calf, back, knee), the other, a devastating case of suckitis. He deteriorated harshly across the board. Precipitous drops in ISO (’12: .212, ’13: 150), HR/FB percentage (21.4, 10.9), OBP (.376, .347) and success versus fastballs greatly hindered his fantasy value. His resulting .250-13-50-59-8 output over 520 at-bats ranked him a lowly No. 21 among third baseman, one spot behind world beater Juan Uribe. Ouch.

Many would describe Headley as an excellent discount buy. He’s currently the 19th 3B off the board in average Yahoo mixed-league drafts, sporting a 203.6 ADP. Though well worth the risk at that price point, don’t bank on a sudden turnaround. He is in the middle of most players’ power prime at 29, but several underlying trends suggest his breakout campaign two years ago was a bit anomalous. Outside 2012, he’s never posted an ISO north of .152, notched ghastly contact numbers and tallied GB/FB rates more in line with a Desmond Jennings or Austin Jackson than a certifiable 30-home run hammer.

In short, you’re wasting precious time and money (Mixer AAV: $1.7, NL-only: $16.6) investing in Headley. He’s nothing more than a marginal corner infielder who happens to play half his games in a pitcher-friendly park. Go the extra mile on newcomers like Jurickson Profar and Xander Bogaerts and let the believers chase waterfalls.

Many in the ‘expert’ community are split on second baseman and former top prospect Jedd Gyorko (171.6 ADP, $4.1 AAV). Some are projecting a breakout campaign. Others, meanwhile, have more tempered expectations. What is it: boom or bust?

Drawing comparisons to the great Jeff Kent, many predicted Gyorko would pay enormous instant dividends. The thick-bodied infielder certainly cashed a profit in the home run category as a rookie, clubbing 23 long-balls in 486 at-bats. However, the Pads' lack of table-setters handicapped his overall power profile, indicative in his 63 RBI. Combine that with a shoddy eye (0.27 BB/K), low contact rate (73.4) and unattractive batting average (.249), and the youngster's initial shine dulled. Still, because of his pop and poor depth at 2B, he finished inside the top-15 among eligible second basemen.

Because of his baseline talent and youthful age (25), across-the-board growth should be expected. However, don't expect a quantum leap. San Diego's lineup near the top remains unimpressive and, unless he displays improved patience, his batting average will likely finish south of .265. Still, roughly 24-27 homers with 75-plus RBI are achievable, making Gyorko a borderline 2B1 in 12-team mixers. Think slight boom.

Speedster Everth Cabrera, closer Huston Street along with hurlers Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson will likely be heavily drafted, but what guys are snoozing in mixed-league drafts? Detail one underrated hitter and one underrated pitcher who could be highly valued.

Andrew Cashner – Without much fanfare, the bearded hurler showed major signs of maturity a season ago. He sacrificed fastball speed for control, a move that greatly reduced his walks rate ('12 BB/9: 3.69, '13: 2.42) and sliced his ERA (4.27, 3.09). His very mediocre K/9 relegated him to a stream-only option in shallow mixers. But assuming he logs 175-185 innings, he's a strong candidate for 150-plus Ks. Contribute similar totals in ERA and WHIP as last year, and the 27-year-old is sure to cash a SP4 level value in 12-team mixers. (Sidebar: Tyson Ross, who tallied a 8.57 K/9 and 3.17 ERA over 125 IP with the Pads last year, is also very interesting.)

Will Venable – Probably the one name most would overlook when prompted 'List the 20/20 players from 2013,' the Princeton product was a waiver gem in challenging formats. Though his RBI and runs totals sagged he still finished inside the top-70 overall according to Baseball Monster. On the backside of his prime at 31 and penciled into the two-spot, the left-swinger shouldn't be a one-year wonder. Another 20/20 campaign with an uptick in runs is a reasonable expectation. Not too shabby for a player going well after pick 200 in average Yahoo mixed-league drafts.

Conversely, what Padre should owners avoid like the plague?

After his noteworthy breakthrough campaign with the White Sox in 2008, Carlos Quentin's career chart has flattened. The only things the human Humpty Dumpty is good for are, A) Logging plentiful DL days, B) Clearing a fence occasionally. That's it.

He'll likely enter the season as the Padres' primary cleanup hitter, but the 31-year-old offers little utility outside NL-only formats. Not only is he a health concern, he's also a batting average liability. He is capable of 25 homers and 75 RBI, but those guys are a dime a dozen at outfield in mixed leagues. Let someone else be the dummy who throws precious dollars into the incinerator.

PITCHING HAY ON THE FARM: Potential No. 2 starter Casey Kelly, who missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John, has his eyes set for a spring training return. He's expected to rack innings for most of the year at Triple-A, but is a strong candidate to earn a promotion post-break. Recall in 29.0 IP with the senior club he posted an 8.07 K/9 in 2012 ... RHP Matt Wisler is another strong candidate to seize a rotation spot sometime during the season's second half. In 26 games between High-A and Double-A last year, he notched an impressive 8.67 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9. His excellent command and plus fastball/slider combo makes him a prospect to watch ... Outfielder Rhymer Liriano, off an elbow injury that kept him out of action almost all of last year, is the organization's most intriguing offensive prospect. He's a true five-tool player capable of stuffing the stat sheets. Splitting time over three levels two years ago he amassed a .286-12-76-88-38 line. Still rusty from the year off, he's slated to start the season at Double-A San Antonio. An August call isn't out of the question.

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