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Charging the Mound: The Padres' Next Moves

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

The Padres' Next Moves

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 6:54pm
To: "Derek VanRiper"
Subject: Charging

Hey DVR, Liss is gallivanting across the Eastern Seaboard this week, so thanks for jumping in on Charging this week. Last week was the angst-filled edition, so I'm going to try to go less emo and keep it lighter. I'll throw a handful of topics at you and see what sticks - jump at the ones that interest you and feel free to add some others.

- As I write, the Padres are finishing off the Rockies to maintain their three-game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West. At 45-32 starting play on Wednesday, not only do they lead the NL West, but they have the best record in the National League. To me, the question isn't how they're doing it, as that's pretty obvious (pitching, pitching and defense). What I wonder now is how the Padres handle their success? I think that they're playing above their head (and Baseball Prospectus' third order wins agrees), but even acknowledging that, their competition in the NL West all have flaws too. I still think that the Rockies are their top competition, though the Dodgers' lineup (when Matt Kemp is in it, at least) is a plus. We always say in roto that "Flags Fly Forever." If you've got a chance to go for it, you go for it. Does that apply here?

Of course, the fantasy implications of what path the Padres take are huge. Most considered Heath Bell as good as gone before the trade deadline, and possibly Adrian Gonzalez too. Now I can't see either of them getting dealt, barring a 10-game losing streak between now and the trade deadline. That means that while we'll still get to enjoy the fine ERA, WHIP and K/9 that Luke Gregerson and/or Mike Bell are providing, it looks like we won't get that many save chances. But looking at it from the other side of the coin, if the Padres are buyers, who do they go out and get? Clearly a bat, but where? First base and third base are pretty well spoken for. I don't see too many middle infielders that are plus bats that would get dealt - maybe Kelly Johnson, though he's slowed down after his hot start anyhow. I'm sure that some outfielders could become available, and I think that they could improve over the mish-mash of Hairstons and non-Hairstons that they've trotted out so far. Pick out a trade for me that you could see.

- Because I steal a lot of ideas from random Twitter posts, here's another. This has been a great rookie class. Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana and Buster Posey are among the many big names that have had a huge impact, and we've also gotten big numbers from lesser-regarded prospects like Brennan Boesch. Where does it rank among the top rookie classes of recent memory? Do you base the ranking on the elite performers of that class, or the depth of it? How exactly do we go about ranking between classes anyhow?

- I mentioned this in passing above, but I think that Colorado is about to go on a tear, even without an injured Troy Tulowitzki. They just got Huston Street back, and Jorge De La Rosa isn't that far off. One guy that is a little under the radar is Dexter Fowler, who just got called back up. It was a big deal when a few other high-profile guys got sent down and got their confidence back. It's already happened with Max Scherzer and Matt LaPorta, and Rick Porcello's first start down in Triple-A was solid. What do you think about Fowler's chances of having a big impact over the second half?

- I don't like the idea of Seattle trading for Russell Branyan, but from a fantasy perspective, he's pretty free-and-clear in terms of playing time now. I can't see Casey Kotchman wresting anything more than an occasional "get rest" start from Branyan. Do you think that he can beat Safeco Field again?

- John Lackey only allowed one run against the Rays over seven innings on Tuesday, but he also struck out just three. For the season, his K-rate has dropped from 7.09/9IP down to 5.26. Is this drop off a function of moving to the AL East? Is he suffering from an injury, like the elbow problem he had last year? What do you think of him going forward - if you were drafting today, where would he rank among starting pitchers?

- If you were running the Cubs, how would you manage their outfield situation? Would you find a way to play Tyler Colvin more often? Who sits? Is Xavier Nady a consideration as well? What would you do to try to give them a shot over the second half?

Glad to have you back onboard again this week.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Derek VanRiper"
Sent: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 9:52pm
Subject: Re: Charging

If I were building a website for Liss, there would be keyword purchases made for "gallivanting", "emo", and "mustard-colored pants". Performing the same task for the Padres isn't quite as easy for me. Like you mentioned, it's very surprising that we're not talking about the future home of Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell come July 31, but instead, we're trying to figure out who this team may go after as potential buyers. Currently ranking 12th in the NL in runs scored, offense must be added if they're going to fend off their division foes. The Padres have exactly one regular member of their lineup with an OPS over .750. Their outfield offers the greatest opportunity for improvement, where the quantity over quality approach simply hasn't paid off for them.

Does the Padres' front office even believe that they can contend? Realistically, their lineup need at least two upgrades in order to be taken seriously. I think the question marks surrounding the sustainability here will lead to some more creative deals if general manager Jed Hoyer gets to go shopping. Corey Hart's name is going to be tossed around in plenty of rumors (Nats, Giants, etc.), but I'm not convinced Doug Melvin is going to be an active seller in July. Hart also makes roughly 10 times more than my ideal match -- Garrett Jones. He's normalized a bit this season after his impressive second half in 2009, but .284/.355/.447 is an upgrade for the Padres and he provides the 20-25 homer pop that would fit in well near the middle of the order. I also think the Pirates would be wise to consider parting with Jones now while he's a decent trade chip. The benefit for Pittsburgh would also include freeing up their outfield to give Lastings Milledge the second half with everyday playing time and getting a read on his future there. Maybe Florida's Cody Ross would be a good fit as well?

Transitioning to the infield, if the Padres want to add some power by utilizing the second-base spot, Ty Wigginton is probably going to be available. Barking up that tree also gives them matchup flexibility at third base where Chase Headley has been dreadful (.196/.252/.245) against left-handed pitching this season. It's tough to say if the extreme differences in defensive ability at the position would negate the upgrade at the plate. Kelly Johnson is a logical candidate to be moved by Arizona, so I could see something along those lines being worked out. If the Marlins are sellers, what about Dan Uggla, or even Chris Coghlan? Uggla has the type of raw power that would actually translate at Petco Park, but again, team defense would suffer.

As far as this year's rookie class goes, I think it's potentially the greatest of the last 20+ years. 2007 wasn't bad at all -- Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Dustin Pedroia, Mark Reynolds and Hunter Pence -- but 2010 has the star power and the depth. There's actually a good piece from Pat Andriola at Fangraphs (included for their premium users, and I believe through ESPN Insider) that covers it more in depth. Here's my question for you: Do you think that fantasy owners will generally overvalue rookies next season based on the success of this year's class?

I agree with you regarding the Rockies -- they've got a good problem with too much rotation depth and too many outfielders (I'm still on the Dexter Fowler bandwagon). Even without Tulowitzki, they may be able to hang around in the race and eventually make their move after his return in the second half. Here's what I like about the Russell Branyan acquisition -- the Mariners didn't make a trade that forces them to play for this season. They simply addressed one of their needs at a reasonable cost and improved their chances of getting hot in July. Their status as buyers or sellers will ultimately be decided in the next 30 days. For what it's worth, I think Branyan could hit the long ball underwater, but he'd still strikeout about 40% of the time even if he could channel his inner Aquaman. Not sure if I've seen many players with as much raw power as Russell the Muscle.

With Lackey, I can't help but think back to the forearm strain from last season that put him on the DL for the first six weeks of the season. It's a combination of wearing down after several years of a heavy workload -- don't forget about the Angels' regular place in the postseason when looking at his innings totals -- and moving from a pitcher-friendly division in the AL West to a gauntlet in the AL East. Pitch f/x shows lost velocity on his fastball, while batted ball data isn't showing any sort of significant shift (he's not giving up significantly more flyballs, nor is he the victim of an inflated HR/FB mark). To me, it looks like pure skills loss. Whether that has been caused by an injury remains to be seen, but he's a 45-50 range starting pitcher at best for me in a re-draft situation.

Here's my to-do list if I'm Cubs general manager Jim Hendry:

* Trade Kosuke Fukudome and cash for something useful (it doesn't even have to be a player, could be a simple as a bat rack) to get Colvin regular playing time.
* Apologize to Cubs fans for signing Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million deal in the first place.
* Get Carlos Zambrano back in the rotation once he's back from suspension. They'll never be able to reconstruct any sort of trade value for him as a reliever and they still owe him about $45 million between now and the end of 2012. If they can't deal him down the road, he's more valuable as a potential 200-inning guy than a 75-inning one.
* Forget any notion of trading Carlos Silva because nobody will take on his albatross of a contract even after his impressive start to the season.
* Start evaluating the process of trading Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly as part of the effort to slowly rebuild my non-existent farm system.
* Construct a well-thoughtout list of managerial candidates to take over the job for the 2011 season.
* Demand that Geovany Soto play five games per week.

What would you do in Hendry's shoes? I get the feeling he may be on the way out barring something in the second half to impress ownership, whether it's an outstanding trade deadline, or some form of a second-half turnaround.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, July 1, 2010 9:41am
To: "Derek VanRiper"
Subject: Re: Charging

You know what's really funny about the Padres? For all the talk about Petco Park over the years, they're doing everything better except hitting for power. As a team, they've got a .714 OPS at home while averaging 4.59 runs per game. On the road, they're at .651 while averaging 3.78 runs per game. Traditionally it's been the other way around. I'm not sure what means for them in terms of adding personnel, except maybe the lack of power hitters in their lineup might be by design? Maybe they've decided that this is the best way to tackle the Petco Park problem? The only problem with that thesis is that the overall offense has gotten worse in terms of runs scored each month.

Anyhow, I think that you're shopping in the right neighborhood price-wise for the Padres. I agree that Hart might be pricier, at least in terms of the players that he'll bring back, because he's a little younger and perhaps more projectable than a player like Jones, though the flip side to that argument might be that because he has comparatively less MLB experience, he'll be under the club's control contract-wise for a longer period of time.

Uggla is the guy that's really interesting to me from the Padres' point-of-view. Clearly, he's a big upgrade offensively over David Eckstein - better on-base skills at this point in his career, has spent his career hitting in a pitcher-friendly park and seems pretty likely to adapt well to playing in PETCO Park (he has an .844 OPS in 10 games there over his career), and of course a metric ton more power. But there are negatives to bringing Uggla in over Eckstein. One big consideration is his defense. He has been a big negative defensively for two of the last three seasons, and his best seasons in that respect are when he breaks-even. It's not that Eckstein is Ryne Sandberg out there at second, but Wednesday night's error by Uggla just illustrates the potential downfall. The other consideration is a lesser one in my mind - the political situation with Eckstein's teammates in bringing in a player to bench a veteran. It's one that the players should be able to get over, but it's worth watching anyhow.

As far as pricing rookies, it sounds simplistic, but I think that fantasy owners are more likely than not to overvalue those rookies that were successful right away and undervalue those that struggle. There's a tendency to believe that if a player performed well as a rookie, he's probably going to take that next step in the progression. That could happen, but it's not always true. We've said it a lot that players don't develop linearly, but rather in fits and starts. That big rookie season might be as good as it gets for some players, or he might plateau at that point for a couple of years. I think the one exception to that is with rookies that the crowd didn't see coming - the older rookies, or the out of the blue rookies. Garrett Jones last year or Brennan Boesch this year might fit under that classification.

On the other side, if a rookie struggles and gets sent back down or just puts up mediocre stats, more often than not he's coming at a pretty big discount the next year. Of course there are some cases where he's still going to have his backers, and will get priced appropriately - and usually that's the case with the previously elite prospects. But in many cases you can jump in on Year 2 or Year 3 of that player and get that spike in performance. Two pitchers come to mind this year - David Price and Trevor Cahill. Of course, the risk to the downside is that they turn out like Rick Porcello this year or Homer Bailey over the first four months of last season.

Good insights on Lackey, especially talking about the playoff innings that he's thrown - those are all high-leverage, high stress innings to boot. I saw the decline in his K-rate this year and the move to the AL East and didn't want to pay full price on him, but I'll have to be honest - I didn't expect his decline to be so pronounced.

Part of the problem with Jim Hendry has been that he's always looking to impress his bosses and protect his position as the GM with moves that affect the short-term one way and the long-term another way. One of Keith Law's first columns discusses the moral hazard problem that GM's constantly have to deal with, and it's stood up well over time. Hendry has focuses on improving the short-term team so much at the expense of the long-term, and that bill is starting to become due. That's why the Cubs are in such a contract bind as they are now.

I wholeheartedly agree with you about Zambrano. They've misstepped with him on numerous occasions this year, and have destroyed any chance of getting real value in a trade should they consider going that way. I too think that he needs to start, even just for baseball reasons. With 53 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, it's pretty clear that there's still life in his arm. I think that he's salvageable, and that the Cubs would be better off being patient with him as a starter.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Derek VanRiper"
Sent: Thursday, July 1, 2010 3:48pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Maybe it is a case where the Padres have built a team for their park. I think their budgetary issues probably had a role in that decision as well, but it's working for them thus far. Uggla's defense and the required move to put Eckstein on the bench definitely makes that outcome less likely. With Coghlan spending his big league career in left field to this point, I can't help but wonder what type of defensive player he is at the keystone. In some form, I just want to see them make a move or two and try to win that division. The NL West race certainly looks like one that will come down to the final day of the regular season and I think an interesting side bet would be choosing a side between San Diego and Colorado against Los Angeles and San Francisco for the most wins from July 1 forward.

This conversation is shifting to one where we suggest that you should zig when everyone else is zagging. I wrote about this year's crop of outfielders as part of an ADP breakdown in March and one of the key points I made was that prior to the 2009 season, Andrew McCutchen and Colby Rasmus were valued equally by most accounts. McCutchen had a big second half, and vaulted up the draft board this winter as a result, even into the top-60 range in some industry mocks. Conversely, Rasmus had to share time in center field with Rick Ankiel and simply didn't adjust to the big leagues as quickly, but he didn't show the type of skills failure that would lead us to believe he would ultimately be a bust. Looking at the results this season, they've both been outstanding, and you can actually make an argument for Rasmus as the more valuable of the two right now, depending on how badly you need the extra steals from McCutchen.

Second and third-year players continue to be the place where you can get the most upside. The Jones and Boesch-types are certainly tricky because of their pedigrees, but when guys like Rasmus, Carlos Gonzalez, Elvis Andrus, Clay Buchholz don't completely blow up as rookies, you can do a lot of damage on draft day by cashing in on them as mid or even late-round selections. This is something we'll continue to see on a year-to-year basis, and while there are times where we'll whiff on the Porcello or Alex Gordon-types, the success rate makes approaching these players more than more while.

Maybe we can continue this discussion in more detail next week, but who do you think will be among the players undervalued next season that we'll be able to profit from? Even with big second halfs, the draft-day cost for Dexter Fowler, Matt LaPorta, Cameron Maybin, Travis Snider, Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman -- just to name a few will be reduced from where I would have forecasted it three months ago. I really like what Justin Smoak has done in June, and I plan in targeting him in many leagues next season as well. Alcides Escobar, Starlin Castro, and Kyle Blanks should be fairly cheap. For those who aren't ready to look ahead to 2011 yet, most -- if not all -- of these guys are the type that can show signs of skill growth in the second half.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend, and I look forward to continuing this discussion with you next week.