Notes: The Padres' Future and Late Pickups

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The Padres were my pick to win the World Series this year. I don’t know that I really thought they were any better than the Dodgers, but those two definitely looked like the best teams on paper and it’s not like I was going to pick a repeat. I had the five-man rotation of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and Joe Musgrove all placed from 13th to 21st in my fantasy SP rankings, and while I didn’t love the offense top to bottom, I thought it’d get the job done. As aggressive as the team had been of late, I was counting on some reinforcements, too (in our picks section for the draft guide, I jokingly wrote that Shane Bieber would start and Luis Castillo would close out the final game of the World Series).

Of course, none of this was meant to be. The Padres are 20 games back of both the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West. They’re almost certain to miss the postseason at this point. A.J. Preller tee-shirt sales have hit an all-time low.

To be clear, I don’t like A.J. Preller. I think he’s ethically challenged, and it still bothers me that MLB gave him nothing more than a slap on the wrist in 2016 for covering up medical information on Padres players in trade talks, especially since he had already been suspended previously for his international dealings during his time as an assistant GM with the Rangers. I think he’s a fine GM, but I also think he got a little too much credit for building a stellar farm system, something that shouldn’t be all that hard to do while sporting an awful major league team for years and years. Preller took over as Padres GM in Aug. 2014. Ignoring the rest of that year, his teams are 465-557 in his seven seasons at the helm. He’s gotten to handpick two managers, and he might actually make it three this winter, which would be an amazing feat for a GM with a losing record. On Tuesday, the team “fired” farm director Sam Geaney, who was hired not long after Preller in 2014. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the team’s farm director has been more successful than the major league GM over the last seven years.

(Technically, Sam Geaney wasn’t fired. The Padres said his contract wouldn’t be renewed and that he was immediately exiting. In 2021, though, we call that parting ways, not being fired.)

Injuries will get some of the blame the Padres’ collapse this year, but really, they haven’t fared all that badly there. They’ve gotten 106 starts from Darvish, Snell, Paddack and Musgrove. They’ve always seemed to have 8-10 relievers on the IL, but aside from Drew Pomeranz, the most crucial guys have stayed healthy. Other than catcher Austin Nola, seven of their eight starting position players are going to qualify for the batting title. Fernando Tatis Jr. has played in 79% of the team’s games in spite of his troublesome shoulder. Besides Lamet, one player they have really missed is Adrian Morejon, who was supposed to be the top fallback for the rotation but who needed Tommy John in April.

Underperformance has been the bigger issue, and two of the worst culprits have been the players Preller plundered the farm system to acquire. Darvish, whose spin rates plummeted when they started checking for sticky stuff, has a 93 ERA+. Snell turned things around in a big way before getting hurt this month, but he was so bad early on that his ERA+ is 92 while averaging less than five innings per start. The team’s biggest offensive addition, Ha-Seong Kim, has been overmatched. Of the hitters, only Tatis and Tommy Pham have performed better than they did last year. Still, it’s not a surprise that Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers have returned to hitting more like their career averages. I’m not sure the Padres should have expected much more from their lineup. Treating Adam Frazier as the answer at the trade deadline was a mistake, though in the Padres’ defense, they could only upgrade from average players and that’s quite a bit more difficult than filling an obvious hole.

I expect that the Padres will rebound next year. They’re getting Mike Clevinger back from Tommy John, making their rotation, on paper, even more loaded than it was supposed to be this season. Pham is their only key free agent. One imagines they’ll remake their offense some, with Hosmer, Myers and Frazier among the candidates to get moved. As long as ownership doesn’t try to slash payroll -- and Peter Seidler’s deep pockets should ensure that it’s unnecessary -- the Padres will boast one of the league’s most talented teams.

Still, the Padres aren’t set up nearly as well for 2023 and beyond as they might have been had they not traded away so much young talent. Without as many inexpensive replacements to plug in, maintaining a huge payroll will likely be necessary for the Padres to threaten in what figures to remain a tough division. They had better win next season, because the long-term future simply isn’t as bright as it seemed to be a year ago.

National League notes

- When the Diamondbacks decided to shift Ketel Marte to second base, I figured that would mean Josh Rojas would finish out the season in the outfield. Instead, the team has benched Nick Ahmed against righties and started Rojas at short. It definitely seems like an audition for Rojas. His .268/.345/.421 line ensures that he’s part of the Diamondbacks’ plans for next year, but he hasn’t found a home defensively yet. Third base would make more sense than shortstop for him, but a corner outfield spot is probably where he fits best. As for Ahmed, he could be difficult to move this winter while he’s still owed $17.5 million the next two years. It doesn’t help that shortstop is going to be the deepest position in free agency.

- Speaking of shortstops who could be available in trade this winter, Paul DeJong hasn’t started a game for the Cardinals in 10 days, having been supplanted by Edmundo Sosa. Sosa has been one of the NL’s most pleasant surprises, both offensively (.272/.342/.397 in 306 PA) and defensively. Still, if I’m the Cardinals, I don’t think I’d sell low on DeJong in what figures to be a poor market for shortstops anyway. Tommy Edman’s ability to play all over gives the Cardinals ample flexibility.

- The Rockies are finishing out the season with a long Coors Field homestand that began Tuesday. Garrett Hampson and Elias Diaz make for excellent pickups in leagues in which they are available. Ryan Vilade could also be worth a try. It didn’t look like the 22-year-old former shortstop was going to get a callup, but the Rockies promoted him Saturday and he’s started twice in left field since. If he’s going to play only against lefties, he probably won’t be helpful. The Rockies, though, might as well go with him as a full-timer if they’re granting him service time anyway. He hit .305/.348/.465 with five homers and seven steals in Triple-A from July 1 until his promotion last week.

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American League notes

- The soon-to-be Guardians have $2 million committed for next year. That’s the cost of the buyout on Jose Ramirez’s bargain $12 million option. So, let’s call it $12 million. Amed Rosario is due about $5 million in his second year of arbitration. Shane Bieber, Franmil Reyes and Cal Quantrill will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. Bieber is rather hard to peg, but let’s say it’s $13 million total for those three. That’s only $30 million for a pretty nice base. The rest of the rotation (Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale) is set to make the minimum, as are closer Emmanuel Clase and probable regulars Myles Straw and Andres Gimenez. If ownership is just willing to spend $25 million-$30 million to address the rest of the lineup, the Guardians would be in pretty good position to contend, right? Right?

I wish I had any faith that they’d do so. The Indians ranked 29th in payroll at $50 million after trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco last winter. They’re perfectly content to rake in that sweet revenue sharing money as opposed to putting the best possible team on the field. They’ll run Ramirez out there for one more year, finish around .500 and then trade him with one year left on his deal next winter. Maybe Bieber will go then, too. What the Indians have done in recent years bothers me more than the actual tankers. They’re just wasting talent. They don’t even need to spend with the big boys, not when they’re so proficient at developing pitching. They just need to do more than nothing.

- Lou Trivino seems to have moved past the struggles that cost him his closer’s role in Oakland at the end of last month; he has a 9/0 K/BB ratio while allowing just one run over 6 2/3 innings in his last five appearances. He could get back into the save mix here over the final week and a half.

- Dylan Moore, primarily a platoon player against lefties the last couple of months, has started against the last two righties the Mariners have faced and gone 3-for-8 with three RBI in those games. He seems like a strong late pickup here for those in need of steals.

- It’s quite a shame that Nick Anderson, maybe the AL’s most dominant reliever in 2020, looks little like his old self since returning from the elbow injury that sidelined him for five months. His velocity is down 2-3 mph, and his spin rate has plummeted. He’s struck out just one of the 20 batters he’s faced to date. In his first two years with the Rays, his strikeout rate was 42.2%. There might be hope for him in 2022, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll crack the Rays’ postseason roster this year.

- Wander Franco (hamstring) should be back Friday after a brief rehab assignment in Triple-A.

- I can’t seem to generate a strong opinion on the Kevin Kiermaier-cheatsheet situation, but you know who would have had a very strong opinion had the shoe been on the other foot? Kevin Kiermaier.