What defined their 2019 campaign?
Last February, the San Diego Padres landed superstar third baseman Manny Machado on a 10-year, $330-million contract that was briefly the most expensive in Major League history. It was the second consecutive season that the Padres added a big bat to their lineup, after signing Eric Hosmer the year before, which meant that the team, seeking to end a 13-year postseason drought, was officially in win-now mode.
That drought, the third-longest active in the MLB, didn’t come to an end in 2019. The Padres made, however, a 4-win year-to-year improvement – and a push by rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and first-year starting pitcher Chris Paddock, who both impressed.
So did Hosmer, who finished 12th in the National League in runs batted in. The rotation, with the exception of Paddack, was largely mediocre and inconsistent, while Kirby Yates led the league in saves with 41 and capped off a strong season by the San Diego bullpen.
In a division that provided an uncontested crown for the Los Angeles Dodgers, their sixth in a row, the Padres made a solid improvement. However, the organisation’s goals are set much higher than a 70-92 record and fourth place in NL West. That’s why the offseason promised to be about much more than continuation – firing manager Andy Green and hiring Jayce Tingler was the confirmation.
Notable additions: Trent Grisham, Zack Davies, Drew Pomeranz, Jurickson Profar, Brian Dozier, Jake Cronenworth (minors), Tommy Pham, Kyle Barraclough, Jimmy Yacabonis, Jared Eickhoff, Juan Lagares, Gordon Beckham
San Diego and the A.J. Preller-led front office were expected to be amongst the more aggressive teams. And that they were at the very beginning of the winter as they completed three trades that replaced the future for the present.
Zack Davies, coming off an excellent campaign in Milwaukee, provides a push in the rotation’s efforts to stay consistent. The 2011 draft pick was the lone bright spot for the Brewers on the mound in a season when ace Brendan Woodruff spent considerable time on the injured list. Davies posted a career-best 3.50 ERA and won 10+ games for the third time in five MLB seasons as he looks to join the Padres behind Paddock.
Tommy Pham was brought in for Renfroe, who left for Tampa Bay in another trade. Losing its two most powerful hitters from last year (Franmil Reyes was also dealt mid-season to Cleveland) might be a concern but Pham’s consistency and on-base reaching skills boost the teams offensively in components that they weren’t delivering in.
After top prospect Luis Urias was included in the Brewers deal and veteran Ian Kinsler hung up the boots, the battle at second base is now between former National Brian Dozier and former Athletic Jurickson Profar, neither of which adds much to the lineup.
And last but not least, the bullpen, which already had many upsides, had even more upgrades. The Padres brought back Craig Stammen after a strong year in SoCal and signed Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan, while also moving former starter Matt Strahm to a group that the Padres will certainly have to rely on very frequently – Padres starters were just 20th in innings pitched, which means they are in a decent situation on the mound with Davies’ addition reducing the bullpen’s overall workload.
Eric Hosmer boasts a reputation of one of the best hitters in baseball when it comes to driving runners home. Last year, he recorded 99 RBI – his best mark in three seasons and just 5 RBI short of his career-best of 104 RBI.
Yet, he still had somewhat of a shaky and down year. He has posted a combined value of -0.5 WAR over his two years in San Diego. In 2019, he increased his OPS but this cost a significant decrease in patience at the plate – a drop of nearly 3 percent in BB%.
With his batting average trending up and Tommy Pham now reaching base far more often at the leadoff spot, Hosmer is set to near his career numbers in a potential breakout year for his Padres tenure.
Machado is bound for improvement
Déjà vu – a superstar signed a wealthy contract and his numbers, all of a sudden, fell off a cliff. Now, questions loom for Manny Machado ahead of the 2020 campaign.
The Florida-born Dominican posted his worst number of runs batted in since 2014, a solid increase in his strikeout percentage, a dip of one tenth in his BB% and the lowest average of his career. Despite prioritising contact over power – a 1.02 groundball/flyball ratio, his highest since 2015 – his batting average and BABIP were the utmost definition of disappointing.
However, Machado was still amongst the main offensive weapons for San Diego. His WAR was 3.1, the second-highest on the team – so were his 32 homers, one short of Renfroe’s 33. His sloppy performance in 2019 could have left damage to his ability to bounce back in 2020. However, an improvement, which would give the Padres a huge boost, is still in the plan for Machado.
The Padres bullpen had lots of upsides in spite of a 4.52 ERA, the 10th-highest and over the league average. Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen provided the most of it and now they get rewarded with reinforcements.
Emilio Pagan was terrific and the main closer of a stacked Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff. He had the 15th-best ERA among relievers, 2.31, which might be even better more impressive than Yates’s, who pitched 10 fewer innings.
Meanwhile, after sticking around long enough to find his new role, Drew Pomeranz now promises to be one of the pleasant surprises in the mound. He starter 2019 with the Giants and struggled as a starter; he then came in relief four times in July and surrendered no runs. That attracted the attention of the competing Brewers and Milwaukee traded for him at the deadline. He was a centerpiece of a bullpen that had previously been a letdown and pounded the Brewers towards a Wildcard berth.
These elite additions might just be enough to make the bullpen that probably will be forced to throw a lot of innings a force to be reckoned with.
Possible one-through-five: Paddack-Davies-Lucchesi-Richards-Lamet
Davies was a very important step towards solidifying Padres’ starting pitching. However, it still isn’t quite enough to make the rotation better and more durable. Paddack was a sensation as a rookie but, even if he doesn’t experience a sophomore slump, what comes following him just doesn’t have the depth.
In all honesty, the rotation’s ceiling is very high. It has the potential to succeed if Paddack and Davies hit their best game but is a concern going into 2020.
The Padres made another step in their effort to reduce the margin in 2019 after throwing big bucks and another active winter sets them up for another improvement. The rotation could leave them empty-handed but the run production could be as efficient as it’s ever been.
The competitive balance in the NL West doesn’t do them justice either. The Dodgers are runaway favorites to snatch their first World Series championship since 1988 and the Diamondbacks could be dangerous competitors for either of the two Wildcard places, alongside many other contenders in the NL. The Padres, seemingly, do not fit that description.
Best case: The rotation is surprisingly consistent and Chris Paddack enters the NL Cy Young award conversation. The Padres, boosted by a run-driving machine of a lineup, grab a Wildcard spot and end a near 15-year playoff drought.
Worst case: The top of the lineup has another down year and the rotation is an absolute mess. A strong bullpen can’t save the Padres from a top 10 pick and a fourth-place finish in the NL West.
Prediction: 76-86, 3rd place in NL West