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January 10, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

San Diego Padres

by Craig Goldstein

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The best thing the Padres have going for them in real life is depth. Of course that just clouds the picture when it comes to fantasy. Still, the Padres have a reservoir of talent at the minor-league level, with enough of it bubbling toward the surface that they are of interest to deep leaguers. They have enough useful pieces at the major league level to be of interest to shallow players as well, with Chase Headley’s resurgence and Carlos Quentin’s good health being the keys to a lineup that struggled to produce counting stats in 2013. While one of those things will be sure to fail us going forward (Quentin’s health), the other has a good chance of staying true.

A relatively quiet offseason means that the Padres aren’t drastically different than they were before. The additions of Joaquin Benoit and Seth Smith add depth (there’s that word again), but lack impact. There were no waves made about the closer role, and the outfield picture only got murkier. Health will be paramount though, as a seemingly inordinate number of position players, pitchers and prospects have seen the disabled list in recent years. Still though, this Padres team seems the same as previous incarnations, with much of the talent (and fantasy value) being provided by the pitching staff.

Projected Lineup

1. SS Everth Cabrera
2. CF Will Venable
3. 3B Chase Headley
4. LF Carlos Quentin
5. 1B Yonder Alonso
6. 2B Jedd Gyorko
7. RF Seth Smith
8. C Nick Hundley
9. Starting Pitcher

The lineup is best where it should be: at the top. These are certainly flawed players, but it’s where the interest lies for the common fantasy players. Everth Cabrera should be around for a full season now, and plying his normal wares (stolen bases). Venable gets the nod over the enigmatic Cameron Maybin, with the former producing more, for less hype than the latter. Venable is basically the nice power speed combo Maybin was supposed to be. The single most important question for the whole roster might just be whether Chase Headley can bounce back. 2013 is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouths of many, but he still drew walks and his strikeout rate rose, but not to dizzying heights. I would count on Headley for a bounce back—perhaps not to his 30-homer peak, but to his previously productive self. The bottom of the lineup could be interesting depending on playing time, though Gyorko is the only must-own for me, as he displayed impressive power for a middle infielder. The issue, of course, is depth. It’s good for the Padres but bad for fantasy, as a constantly rejiggered lineup means fewer full-time players for us to utilize. So it goes for the likes of Smith, Alonso, Denorfia, Maybin, and Blanks.

Projected Bench

Rivera is just a placeholder until Yasmani Grandal returns from the torn ACL he suffered last year. Grandal’s reappearance will only sap whatever value Hundley might generate in the meantime. Blanks should see a fair amount of time when he’s not on the disabled list, further clouding the outfield picture in San Diego, and he will also spell Alonso at first base. Denorfia and Maybin will fight over the scraps of playing time that are left in the Padres’ outfield, though the inevitable Quentin injury should help in that regard. Denorfia is a favorite of mine in deep fantasy leagues, as he has a modicum of pop, a modicum of speed, and doesn’t really hurt you anywhere else. Maybin is a lover who has spurned me once too often. I can’t buy real estate anywhere in his neighborhood for fear of falling in love and getting hurt again. If you think you can handle the heartbreak, take that risk. I wouldn’t advise it though.

Projected Rotation

Ahhh, thank you heavenly fathers for being the saving grace of the Padres, at least as it pertains to fantasy value. Even with the walls moved in, PETCO made a useful pitcher out of Eric Stults, a man who had previously left the states to pitch in Japan and who generally throws the ball in the mid-80s. Cashner turned into something of an ace last season, staying healthy, logging innings and striking out batters by the bushel. There’s still some trepidation with Cashner, as well there should be. He had yet to do it before, and we’d all like to see him doing it again before fully buying in. This means there’s an opportunity here, to either buy or sell low, as there is almost no chance Cashner’s value remains the same by season’s end. Kennedy should see a nice boost in value with the move to PETCO from the homer friendly Chase Field. Kennedy saw his walk rate jump a significant margin in 2013, and with good reason. He wasn’t trusting his fastball, as it doesn’t move much and was getting hammered in Arizona. The shift to the home run suppressing PETCO should do wonders for his confidence. He should be a nice value once again. Ross should once again provide solid value when healthy, while not being healthy enough. If he can turn in a full season though, don’t be shocked if it’s an impressive one. Consider Luebke penciled in very lightly. He’s struggled to return from his arm surgery, and hasn’t seen the velocity he once had return just yet. Spring training should shed some light on this situation, but even if Luebke can’t go (it would be a shame), the Padres have plenty of interesting options behind him.

Of the names left off the list above, who provide at least some hope for fantasy value, Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, and Burch Smith are the most interesting. Erlin and Wieland came over from Texas a few seasons ago and both have seen time in the majors. Neither is a force when it comes to strikeouts but both are good fits for their home parks and are solid streaming options in home games if and when they get starts. Smith is a bit rawer, showing inconsistent velocity and inconsistent command. He has the tools to start but needs to hone his craft. Casey Kelly is another option, though he is still in the recovery process, having undergone Tommy John surgery in April of 2013. He could see action later in the year though. The last name of interest is Matt Wisler, who will be covered in depth on the Padres top ten prospects list, but could make the jump to the majors in an emergency situation. If he does, I’d buy immediately.

Projected Bullpen

There’s been a fair amount of turnover in the Padres bullpen, with the big loss being Luke Gregerson, who was sent to Oakland for Seth Smith. The Padres reloaded by signing Joaquin Benoit to set up for Huston Street, or close when Street is not healthy. Street should enter the year as the closer, despite Benoit’s nice salary. Depending on how the Padres play, they could choose to trade Street for profit and install Benoit as the closer from that point on. The other options in the Padres ‘pen are not as intriguing unless you’re in a holds league, in which case, most of them are viable options as strong peripheral plays with the chance for holds.

Position Battles

Center field: Will Venable vs. Cameron Maybin
I touched on this above, but I expect Venable to win out at this point. Maybin has consistently struggled to return from injury, and while he’s showed us both speed and power, he’s rarely put it together at the same time. Venable has both tools as well, and has actually given fantasy owners some return on their investment. Even if Maybin does win out, Venable should see enough time in the outfield corners to make him worthwhile, something I’m not nearly as confident in if the roles were reversed. Either way, the injury proneness of Carlos Quentin (and Kyle Blanks) should clear some of this logjam, allowing both players to at least state their case to manager Bud Black.

Player to Target: Ian Kennedy, SP
Kennedy didn’t show the improvement I spoke of previously, when he first arrived in San Diego. He actually saw his BB/9 increase, and slightly more startling, his HR/9 increase (albeit slightly). Still though, Kennedy is a pitcher who has pitched at or above league average ever since arriving in Arizona, prior to 2013. If he can once again become the pitcher he was there, we should see a statistically improved version of that pitcher in 2014. His biggest issue is giving up the long ball, and that’s something that PETCO should help him with. He is still missing bats at a healthy pace, and if he can reign in the walks, the home runs he does give up shouldn’t hurt him as much. As a fly-ball pitcher, the Padres outfield defense (minus Quentin) should also help Kennedy. It’s not that he’ll be the best pitcher in this rotation, but he might well be the best value.

Player to Avoid: Everth Cabrera, SS
It’s so tempting. It’s so tempting to take a guy, at a scarce position, who will be the dominant force in a category on your team. I’m telling you not to because Cabrera won’t give you enough elsewhere to make him worth it. He’s going to go earlier in drafts than he should because he not only produces in a category that everyone wants (speed) but because he also still has that tantalizing word: potential. Cabrera led the league in stolen bases in 2012 with 44, and he swiped another 37 in 2013, all while seeing fewer than 400 at-bats per season. So not only does he produce already, but he could produce even more! All true. Cabrera could net you something around 57 bases if he only got 550 at-bats (based on the last two years of SB/AB which is crude, I know). And yet I’m still telling you to avoid. Why? Because Everth, as fun as his name is to say, gives you basically nothing in runs (54), less than nothing in RBI (31), and even his .283 average in 2013 is suspect thanks to the .246 mark he managed in 2012. At best you’re getting a one-category guy who probably won’t hurt you in another. It’s not that he’s not useful, he is, but the overall package isn’t going to be worth it for a category that you could likely cobble together elsewhere.

Deep Sleeper: Rymer Liriano, OF
Let’s go really deep here. Liriano, once a top prospect, is yet another Padres player coming off an injury, and he plays a position at which the Padres might have the most depth. We’ve discussed the injury-history of their current players though and it leaves the door open for a raw but productive prospect like Liriano. If a rash of injuries occurs, the Padres might well be forced to reach into their deep system and pull up a guy who—were it not for Tommy John surgery—would likely be knocking on the door to the majors as is. He is raw, and the likelihood that he succeeds off the bat is minute. That said, it’s not called a deep sleeper for nothing, and Liriano has the tools to succeed at the major league level. He might fail spectacularly if forced into action—or he might be one of those guys who reads/reacts his way to initial success.

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

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