Mar 12, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws in the first inning during a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Part three of our preseason look at the NL West takes us to sunny southern California, where major offseason moves and a new general manager have San Diego Padres fans dreaming about the postseason.
The San Diego Padres made a big splash this winter and it has them in the right direction, to be sure. Are they a contending team immediately? Do they need a few more pieces before they can consider themselves playoff-ready?
One thing is for sure: they’re much better than the Rockies.
What they’re doing right. Admittedly, a lot of stuff. New general manager A.J. Preller has been making moves, acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, catcher Derek Norris from the Athletics, and other pieces like Justin Upton and Wil Myers to round out the outfield.
Offense was a major problem in San Diego last year as the team finished dead last in the league in far too many offensive categories; Preller has theoretically corrected that by adding Kemp, Upton, and Myers to patrol the outfield.
He’s got a logjam there and has to figure out what to do with Cameron Maybin (who might get traded), Carlos Quentin (who might play first) and Will Venable (who might be their left-handed fourth outfielder), but it’s, at least on paper, an embarrassment of riches.
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On the mound, the Padres added to a rotation that was dominant last season.
James Shields is the notable acquisition after the Padres landed him just before Spring Training began, but he joins a deep pitching staff and a rotation that will be anchored by Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner.
Additionally, Josh Johnson (remember him?) is getting healthy and will be available in a few months, too. Like the outfield, the starting rotation is an embarrassment of riches for the Friars.
The bullpen remains intact from last year, more or less, and despite the departure this week of Alex Torres in a trade to the Mets, will still be a solid group. Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Quackenbush and Dale Thayer will anchor the pen.
Watch for Frank Garces, their new left-handed specialist, as he tries to get Justin Morneau, Corey Dickerson, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon out all year.
What they’re doing wrong. Their infield is as weak as their outfield is strong. While Preller brought in outfielders who can hit (but, admittedly, are poor defenders), he didn’t do enough to revamp the infield in any significant way.
Will Middlebrooks (3B), Alexi Amarista (SS), Jedd Gyorko (2B) and Yonder Alonso (1B) look to start across the infield, with Carlos Quentin and Yangervis Solarte perhaps seeing time at first base, and Clint Barmes (yes, Clint Barmes) seeing time in the middle infield as a utility man.
Those guys don’t hit, at all, and they also play very poor defense.
While the bullpen, starting rotation, and outfield can all be considered strengths for the Padres, the club has some shorcomings in the infield unless something changes with a trade or acquisition. It’s a wonder they didn’t end up getting Hector Olivera when they had the chance.
Sep 20, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko (9) at bat during the third inning against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
One player to watch. Shields is the obvious choice, and he’ll have a nice season, but let’s choose Gyorko at second base.
Gyorko had a promising rookie year with tons of power for a second basemen, and then scuffled last season in his sophomore campaign.
Which Gyorko shows up in 2015?
Will he hit 25 home runs and carry the infield’s other shortcomings on his back, or be a part of an under-producing unit?
The Padres pitch well, but if guys like Gyorko don’t hit, they may not be the division contenders they believe they are.
What they should do this year.
They should challenge for the division, or more likely the wild card, but I don’t think they have the weapons they need to run up on the Dodgers quite yet. The infield doesn’t hit. Nobody in the field plays great defense.
Can Matt Kemp and James Shields push this team over the top?
We’ll first see them April 20-23 at Coors Field.