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September 19, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

San Diego Padres

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we look at the San Diego Padres. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.

Signs of hope: While the Padres' offense ranks last in the league in batting average (.238) and slugging percentage (.349), second to last in on-base percentage (.306), and 14th with a .244 true average, they have gotten some promising performances from some of their younger and less expensive hitters. Catcher Nick Hundley (.296/.361/.486), first baseman Jesus Guzman (.316/.371/.485), and third baseman Chase Headley (.292/.380/.407) all have true averages of at least .291, while center fielder Cameron Maybin (.268/.326/.391) is at .268. All are in their age-27 seasons or younger, and only Headley has reached his arbitration years; he'll be eligible for the second time this winter, while Hundley will be eligible for the first time. For a team that has been shedding expensive players in recent years, that's a decent base from which to build.

Signs of disaster: Despite the advantages of pitching in Petco Park, Padres starters have managed just a 3.80 ERA this season; while that ranks sixth in the NL, in reality it's about three-tenths of a run worse than league average once park effects are accounted for. Starters Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer, and Clayton Richard, all of whom played vital roles in helping the Padres contend in 2010, have posted ERAs worse than the park-adjusted league average this season, with Latos the only member of the trio to manage a FIP below 4.00 (he's at a respectable 3.34), or to strike out more than 6.1 per nine (he's at 8.4). Worse, Richard was forced to undergo surgery to repair fraying in his labrum, biceps, and rotator cuff in late July. The injury bug also bit Dustin Moseley, who suffered a shoulder subluxation after posting a staff-best 3.30 ERA through his first 20 starts.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the key acquisitions in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has hit an impossibly awful .130/.275/.243 with one homer in 138 plate appearances with the big club. Rizzo mashed at a .331/.404/.652 clip at Triple-A Tucson, and while a stark contrast between the offensive levels of their Triple-A and major league clubs is something that affects the entire division, it's too early to dismiss the 22-year-old lefty as a bust. He'll have to make adjustments at the big league level, but time is on his side. Between Guzman and Kyle Blanks, the Padres have options to tide themselves over, but they'd be well-served by seeing if Rizzo can make the necessary adjustments. —Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The San Diego Padres have two main goals this offseason: Improve the lineup against right-handed pitchers and revamp the bullpen after the trade of Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers and the impending free agency of closer Heath Bell. The Padres won't have the dollars to chase the expensive free agents, however, they will try to pursue a midlevel left-handed hitting corner outfielder either through free agency or trade. The Padres are also going to focus on improving their bench, which was a strength in 2010 but turned into a weakness in 2011.

The Padres' payroll is at $45 million this year, and the front office is expected to have the flexibility of about a 10 percent increase for 2012. The club's local broadcast contract is up at the end of this year, and the next one should allow payroll increases over the next five years that could get the Padres in the $70 million range by 2016.

The Padres should let Heath Bell leave via free agency this offseason and take the draft-pick compensation to continue their long-term plan of building the organization through player development and scouting. In terms of left-handed-hitting outfielders, San Diego should look into trades for guys like Nick Markakis, Josh Reddick, Matt Joyce, Brennan Boesch, Shin-Soo Choo, Denard Span, Logan Morrison, and Tyler Colvin, or delve into free agency for a midlevel free agent like David DeJesus.

San Diego will have to invest in some experienced bullpen arms to not only help improve the bullpen but also give it important trade pieces next July when it'll be time to make another Adams-type trade for prospects. It'll be tough to let a guy like Bell leave this winter when he has expressed a desire to remain in San Diego, but the club must accumulate as many draft picks as possible to build for the future. —Jim Bowden


Hopes and Fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75

Petco Park is a difficult place to hit, but even in San Diego in a low-offense season, a good bullpen and an average pitching staff can't make up for a lineup scoring safely under four runs a game. Guzman, finally getting a shot after beating up minor leaguers for the past couple of years, has made the most of his opportunity, and the Padres would be nuts to not find a place to play him in 2012. Rizzo should also be a full-timer or nearly so in 2012 and is a good bet to improve on the poor start to his major league career. With a bit of an offensive boost, a rebound from Mat Latos and a bench not made up of guys fighting daily struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line, the Padres could make another run similar to 2010.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
While none of the starting pitchers had standout seasons, San Diego also didn't really have any deep holes in the rotation and generally avoided serious injuries—only one start this season was of the spot-start variety. It's not a good enough rotation, however, to make up for the lack of offense, and without Rizzo and Guzman both being solid contributors next year, it's hard to expect Headley and Maybin to single-handedly bring the offense to respectability. Most pitching improvement will probably have to come from Latos, a lot to put on the shoulder of a pitcher who doesn't turn 24 for a few months. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
Under the Jed Hoyer regime, the Padres have put a strong focus into scouting and player development, trying to mimic Hoyer's previous employer, the Red Sox, only with budgetary constraints. The early results are encouraging but also quite imbalanced. With potential help in 2012 like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder James Darnell, the Padres have some nearly big league-ready bats in the mix, while Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano has the potential to continue the flow of bats to one of baseball's worst offenses. The problem, like so many teams, is a lack of pitching, as the upper levels of the system lack anyone with the potential to invigorate a rotation that fails to miss bats. With Casey Kelly looking more and more like a back-end starter, the need for an impact arm will loom large. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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