With Adrian Gonzalez out of the picture, the Padres have made it clear that they intend to focus on building their next contending ballclub. The question is, How do they do that?
Here is a list of more-or-less-ready (define as loosely as necessary to make this work) players currently in the organization:
CA: Nick Hundley
1B: Mike Baxter*, Kyle Blanks (hurt), Jesus Guzman, Oscar Salazar
2B: Everth Cabrera+,
3B: Chase Headley+
LF: Aaron Cunningham, Chris Denorfia, Luis Durango+, Ryan Ludwick, Salazar, Will Venable*
CF: Denorfia, Durango+, Cameron Maybin, Venable*
RF: Cunningham, Denorfia, Salazar, Venable*
SP: Aaron Harang, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc*, Cory Luebke*, Clayton Richard*, Tim Stauffer
RP: Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson, Luis Perdomo, Cesar Ramos*, Adam Russell, Joe Thatcher*
* Left-handed batter or pitcher
There is no backup catcher. First base options are unhealthy or unproven. Middle infield is worse. The outfield corners aren’t a complete disaster, and center field… well, the Padres have committed to Maybin, so that’s that.
On the pitching side, Simon Castro and Casey Kelly could enter into the rotation equation at some point during the season, but there’s no hurry. When they get the call, it should be for good. Wait until they’re ready.
In the bullpen, Perdomo and Ramos stink but have experience. Brandon Gomes and Evan Scribner are less advanced but could contribute. Maybe Aaron Poreda will learn how to throw a strike (I used to say “strikes” plural but I’ve lowered the bar; one would suffice… then later maybe try to repeat it).
Assess Strengths and Weaknesses
Our inventory may not be a perfect representation of the situation but it gives us a reasonable starting point. Relative strengths are outfield and pitching depth. Weaknesses are catching depth and an infield that consists of exactly one legitimate big-league player.
Money is less of a concern than it was before the Gonzalez trade, which is to say it is still a concern. Any free agents that might come to San Diego will be of the scrap heap variety (Harang, e.g., is a good value play, but hardly cause for excitement).
Ludwick might be useful to, say, a National League Central team that witnessed his monster 2008 campaign up close and personal. Bell’s name has been mentioned, although I suspect he’ll fetch more in August, when contenders become desperate for relief help.
Beyond Bell and Ludwick, everyone else is unproven, cheap, or both. Such players are likely to be of greater value to the Padres than to any potential trade partners. Keep them and hope that they establish themselves before they become expensive.
Devise and Attempt to Excute a Strategy
My strategy of choice would be to plug holes with short-term solutions by bottom feeding on the free agent market and shopping Bell and/or Ludwick. And there’s always the Rule V draft (Gaslamp Ball suggests possible targets; reader dts317 offers some ideas of his own), which the Padres may need to lean on to a degree that makes everyone uncomfortable. (Now batting… for the San Diego Padres… Donaldo… Mendez!)
If I were running the club, here’s what I would do, or attempt to do. We’ll go by position again:
CA: Sign the cheapest available veteran that won’t impede Hundley’s progress. Find the guy who would make the best coach. I don’t have names in mind, but the ideal candidate would start 50-60 games behind the dish and fill Hundley with abundant wisdom.
1B: Sign Lyle Overbay or Adam LaRoche to a 1-year deal if the price is right (specifically, somewhere in the range of pretty cheap to really cheap). Neither costs a draft pick. If Ludwick can be moved, go for the pretty cheap option; otherwise, go for the really cheap one. (Sure, the money would be better spent on a middle infield solution, but there aren’t any worthy paying. Sign a first baseman instead; get a big-league bat in the lineup, it’ll be fun.) Failing Overbay or LaRoche, another option would be to stick Baxter and Guzman (thanks to readers dts317 and Didi for reminding me that the Padres signed him) at first and hope they can hold the position until Blanks and/or Anthony Rizzo is ready. (Then hope that those guys will be ready at some point… there’s a lot of hope in this part of the plan.)
2B: Run Cabrera out there every day. If he returns to 2009 form, that’s one less thing to worry about in 2012 (unless he’s one of those odd/even year freaks). If not, drop him and try something different. Maybe Logan Forsythe will become the player we all hoped Matt Antonelli would be… or Jake Gautreau… or some other converted collegiate third baseman who never made it.
3B: Hope Headley learns to hit at Petco Park. Hope James Darnell can stay at the hot corner. Try not to worry about it too much. This is one of the team’s more stable areas. It’s not exciting, but there’s enough “excitement” elsewhere to keep everyone on their toes for a while.
SS: Try to bring back Jerry Hairston Jr. for about what he made in 2010. When it becomes obvious that he won’t, shop Ludwick for a warm body that can stand out there while you hope against all hope that Drew Cumberland magically develops the health tool.
LF: Get rid of Ludwick. Sure, he has power, but who cares? He’s relatively expensive and absolutely immobile. Some teams can use a guy like that. Find those teams, talk to them: “Hi, we have a power-hitting statue. He’s a little pricy for our needs, but he’d look great in your garden. Do you have anyone who can stand midway between second and third base for a year? You do? Super, let’s do it.” Once Ludwick is gone, give Cunningham the starting job.
CF: Hope Maybin turns into Mike Cameron. Willie Mays would be better, but let’s not get greedy.
RF: Give Venable 500-600 plate appearances. He can’t hit lefties? Well, he can’t if he never tries. Let him try. Maybe it turns out he can’t even when he tries, but now would be a great time to find out what, exactly, Venable is capable of doing at this level… figure out (to steal again from Steven Wright) if he’s part of the solution or the precipitate.
SP: Send Luebke to Triple-A, let him know that if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, he’ll be back soon. Give LeBlanc the no. 5 spot in the rotation. Start him at Petco Park… against weak teams… when the opposing manager is resting his regulars. Hope LeBlanc pitches well, then move him for that warm body that Ludwick wouldn’t fetch (or for a fallback option if the body that Ludwick fetched isn’t so warm after all). If LeBlanc can’t be moved by mid-May, stick him in the bullpen or let him go (depending on how he’s performing) and bring Luebke back up for good.
RP: Hold onto Bell until the non-waiver trade deadline (I haven’t studied the issue, but it seems like the value of relievers is greater then than in the off-season). Make sure he gets enough work to stay on everyone’s radar, but be cautious. Pray for his health. If you aren’t the praying type, find someone who is.
Here’s our hypothetical lineup:
- Cabrera 2B
- Maybin CF
- Overbay 1B
- Headley 3B
- Cunningham LF
- Venable RF
- Hundley C
- I Don’t Care SS
And here’s our hypothetical rotation:
Well, that’s what I’d do. How’s about you?