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2014 Padres Team Preview: Relevant Once Again

Eric Caturia

Eric is the assistant NFL editor for RotoWire.

2014 San Diego Padres Team Preview

A somewhat nefarious start to 2013 was characterized by underwhelming starting pitching (see Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard) and a barrage of ailments that continued throughout the year. Numerous regulars -- Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, Cameron Maybin, Yasmani Grandal, and Carlos Quentin -- missed chunks of varying length due to injury, while pitchers Richard, Jason Marquis, and Huston Street each required DL stints of their own. In addition, the Biogenesis scandal disturbed the campaigns of Grandal and Everth Cabrera, whose respective 50-game suspensions bookended the Padresí season. Despite the aforementioned hurdles, unexpected or not, the team came together down the stretch, posting a respectable 16-11 record in September to finish 76-86, or 16 games behind the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers. In the end, a case had been laid out for relevance in San Diego for the upcoming MLB marathon.

The initial step in sustaining the Padresí late-season success will rest on steadier arms in the rotation. The bricklaying commenced last July with trade deadline acquisition Ian Kennedy from the Arizona Diamondbacks, which precipitated the release of the utter disappointment that was Volquez. In 10 starts with his new squad, Kennedy supplied a 4-2 record, 4.24 ERA, 1.343 WHIP, and 55:25 K:BB ratio in 57.1 innings. Because he boasts career marks of 11.4 K/9 and a .198 BAA across 71 frames at his home venue, Petco Park, a turnaround could be in the cards for the 29-year-old right-hander. Supplementing the reversal in fortune, offseason addition Josh Johnson, who endured an injury-plagued and discouraging sole season in Toronto, brings an All-Star pedigree to San Diegoís cadre of starting pitching options. Although persistent forearm issues held him to 16 nods and resulted in a dreadful line -- 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP -- he demonstrated his historic ability to punch out batters, doing so 83 times, versus 30 walks, in 81.1 innings. Meanwhile, offseason elbow surgery to remove bone spurs, along with the friendly confines of Petco, could cure what ailed him. With the (mostly) reliable Eric Stults, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross (48 quality outings in 75 starts) slated to round out the rotation, ample late-inning chances should be presented to Street, the closer, and fellow battery mate Joaquin Benoit.

Aiding a renewed pitching staff would be a semblance of injury luck from San Diegoís collection of hitters, whose projected lineup all required a stay on the disabled list in 2013, Will Venable aside. Venable himself represented one of a handful of bright spots, breaking out for 22 home runs and stolen bases apiece in his age-30 season, but the power benchmark established by the veteran outfielder is apt to revert to the mean (or at least his previous career high of 13 long balls). Hindering his prospects further is a likely platoon in right field with Chris Denorfia, though spring training will ultimately sort out the outfield pecking order. Last season also served as a coming-out party for ballyhooed prospect Jedd Gyorko, who strictly logged time at third base throughout the minors but found a comfortable home at the keystone, committing just four errors on his way to a stellar .992 fielding percentage. Along the way, he topped all rookies with 23 homers, while ranking second in RBI (63), third in doubles (26), and fifth in hits (121). While Gyorko will attempt to improve upon middling plate discipline -- 33 walks and 123 strikeouts in 486 at-bats -- a balanced offense in the impending campaign is contingent upon the health of Headley (knee), Alonso (hand), Maybin (wrist/knee), and Quentin (knee), who are expected to achieve full health by Opening Day from the past yearís maladies.

The Padres face tough sledding in their division from the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Giants, the latter of which has nabbed World Series rings in two of the last four years. Consequently, a playoff berth may require a number of breaks -- bounce-backs and a lack of injuries -- especially in a National League inhabited by the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates, but San Diego could find itself a postseason host for the first time since 2006 due to the existence of the second wild card.

Offseason Moves

Lost Clayton Richard (unsigned) via free agency.

Slated to head the Padres' rotation last year, Richard suffered through incompetence and an intestinal virus, before undergoing season-ending surgery in July to relieve discomfort in the acromiovacular joint in his left shoulder. Once the campaign concluded, the Padres outrighted the southpaw, who eventually elected to explore free agency. Organizations may be dubious of Richard, who recorded a 7.01 ERA, 1.633 WHIP, and 24:21 K:BB ratio in 52.2 innings, despite the built-in advantage of taking the mound half of the time in the friendly confines of Petco Park. However, he's entering his age-31 season and is one year removed from posting a 54 percent groundball rate, which could translate in another pitcher's park.

Traded Logan Forsythe, Brad Boxberger, Matt Andriese, Matt Lollis, and Maxx Tissenbaum to the Rays for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn.

General manager Josh Byrnes made a concerted effort to upgrade San Diegoís bullpen (ranked third-worst with a minus-0.2 WAR in 2013) during the offseason, using Forsythe, an expendable infielder, to broker a deal. Removed from the mix is the right-handed Boxberger for Torres, who will act as the primary lefty reliever for the Padres. Eerily effective versus batters from both sides of the plate, Torres struck out better than a hitter per inning (9.62 K/9), while carrying an incredible 1.71 ERA and 0.897 WHIP in 58 frames with Tampa Bay last year.

Traded Luke Gregerson to the Athletics for Seth Smith.

The Padres exchanged their setup man of the past two seasons for outfield depth in the form of Smith. An up-and-down campaign concluded on a strong note following Lasik surgery in August, as Smith utilized 32 plate appearances during the final month to slash .393/.469/.643 with one home run, four doubles, six RBI, and six runs scored. His likely path to at-bats is outperforming Chris Denorfia in spring training, which would place him in a platoon in right field with Will Venable.

Traded Anthony Bass and Jesus Guzman to the Astros for Patrick Schuster and Ryan Jackson.

In yet another deal intended to shore up the bullpen, the first pick of last fallís Rule 5 draft (Schuster) will challenge for a coveted spot as the second left-hander behind Alex Torres. Competing against fellow offseason pickup Tony Sipp, Schuster must remain on the Padresí 25-man roster throughout the year or be subject to return to his former organization. However, Schuster is equally adept against both right- and left-handed batters (.533 OPS last season against each at High-A Visalia last year), which bodes well for his prospects.

Traded Brad Brach to the Orioles for Devin Jones.

After a season spent shuttling between San Diego and Triple-A Tucson, Brach was disposable in the organizationís attempts to buoy their relief corps. At 23 years of age and with no experience above Double-A, Jones will merely serve as organizational pitching depth.

Signed free agent Josh Johnson (Blue Jays).

As discussed previously, Johnson was massively disappointing for the Blue Jays in 2013, finishing with a 6.20 ERA over 81.1 innings, and was ultimately shut down with a forearm injury. A 4.62 FIP suggests that he was a victim of bad luck, while his 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 were right in line with expectations. All of this hints at a bounce back in 2014, particularly given that Johnson is ditching the AL East for pitcher-friendly Petco Park and a return to the NL. However, there's still cause for doubt, given that he has a long injury history and underwent a minor elbow procedure in the offseason. Although it won't be particularly surprising if Johnson looks like the ace of years past, he's hardly a lock to revitalize his career in San Diego.

Signed free agent Joaquin Benoit (Tigers).

Benoit easily put together his best season as a fantasy option in 2013, and his overall effectiveness, regardless of role, was arguably as good as his breakout with the Rays in 2010. The 36-year-old reliever finished the season 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 73:22 K:BB ratio, but it was his 24 saves that pushed his fantasy value to the next level. Despite his age, Benoit has shown no signs of rust with his pitches. His fastball hovers in the low-to-mid 90s range, but the pitch is more effective than many fastballs with similar velocity due to its natural sinking action. He also sports one of the most effective changeups in the league, all while possessing pinpoint command. After signing a two-year deal with the Padres in December, Benoit figures to open the season as the team's top right-handed setup man, with Huston Street expected to handle closing duties.

Signed Tony Sipp (Diamondbacks) to a minor league deal.

Sipp failed to handle the role of effective left-hander out of Arizonaís bullpen last season, after providing the Indians with a viable option in that role in 2011 and 2012. His fastball velocity slipped for the third straight season, but a strikeout-per-inning lefty seldom has a difficult time finding work. After landing in San Diego, Sipp will face off against Rule 5 draftee Patrick Schuster in spring training in order to determine the second bullpen lefty.

Signed Anthony Carter (Red Sox) to a minor league deal.

Signed Alberto Gonzalez (Yankees) to a minor league deal.

Signed Blaine Boyer (Japan) to a minor league deal.

Signed Travis Buck to a minor league deal.

Signed Zach Braddock to a minor league deal.

Signed Jason Lane to a minor league deal.

Projected Lineup

1. Everth Cabrera, SS
2. Yonder Alonso, 1B
3. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
4. Chase Headley, 3B
5. Carlos Quentin, LF
6. Will Venable, RF
7. Cameron Maybin, CF
8. Yasmani Grandal, C

The Padresí entire order is locked into a non-platoon situation outside of Venable, who bucked trends last season by hitting lefties (.276/.309/.524) as effectively as he did right-handers (.266/.313/.473). It remains to be seen if he can maintain those splits, though, leaving the door open for Chris Denorfia or Seth Smith to receive consistent playing time in right field. The remaining burning question lies at catcher due to Grandalís continued recovery from ACL surgery in August of 2013. If his rehabilitation leaks into the typical 9-to-12 month timetable for a full restoration of health, Nick Hundley will again handle the backstop most days, with Rene Rivera the acting backup.

Projected Rotation

1. Ian Kennedy
2. Andrew Cashner
3. Eric Stults
4. Josh Johnson
5. Tyson Ross

Following word that Corey Luebke requires a second Tommy John surgery in less than two years, San Diegoís rotation appears set heading into spring training, barring an unforeseen collapse or ailment from one of the above. If disaster strikes before Opening Day, promising youngsters Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith are waiting to pounce on any unexpected opening. A former third-round pick in 2009ís First-Year Player draft, Erlin is the most intriguing of the duo, after tossing four quality starts in five appearances during the final month-plus of last season, with a 24:7 K:BB ratio to show for his efforts.

Closer: Huston Street is a top-tier closing option when he avoids the injury bug, and he mostly upheld his end of the bargain last year, spending just one stint on the disabled list due to a sore calf. En route to the third 30-plus save season in his eight years in the majors, he shockingly did not receive a save chance for nearly a month between Jun. 23 and Jul. 20. Still, he managed to post a more-than-respectable 2.70 ERA, despite career worsts in K/9 (7.3) and HR/9 (1.9). Considering statistical trends, Street may be hard-pressed to replicate the 2013 campaign, especially if his body betrays him as it has in the past. Owners should keep tabs on his status in spring training due to the inking of fellow reliever Joaquin Benoit during the offseason.

Key Bullpen Members: The Padres sought out Benoit in free agency, seemingly as insurance for the occasionally injured Street. Even if Benoit is relegated to a setup role, an abundance of hold opportunities should arrive at his doorstep, which heíll do well to complete, after a three-year stretch in Detroit in which he punched out more than a batter per frame to go with a stable 1.075 WHIP.

While attaining southpaws (Alex Torres, Patrick Schuster, and Tony Sipp) by any means necessary was a primary winter aim for the organization, the bullpen is otherwise populated by right-handed holdovers Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, and Tim Stauffer. Thayer was the in-house candidate to take over setup duties following the trade of Luke Gregerson to Oakland, but Benoitís presence ensures that heíll continue his heavy usage for a third consecutive season. In 69 games last year, Thayer submitted a fine line, including 64 strikeouts and a 3.32 ERA across 65 innings. However, saves and holds will continue to elude him, as well as Vincent and Stauffer, barring the loss of one or both for extended periods in 2014.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise

Will Chase Headley bounce back from a disappointing campaign?

After driving in an NL-leading 115 RBI in 2012, Headley had a tough act to follow, and a fractured thumb sustained late in spring training didn't exactly aid in realizing similar output, as his season debut was delayed until Apr. 17. Moreover, his year of misery concluded with news of a torn meniscus in his left knee, which had apparently been bothering him since March. In between, there were some positives, including a second half in which he slashed .280/.371/.458, but certain season-long marks, namely a wOBA (.330) and HR/FB rate (10.9 percent), were in line with his career numbers. If he enters this season with a fully healthy knee, there's no reason to believe he can't reach base more regularly or steal double-digit bases for the fifth time in six seasons, while the aforementioned injuries may not have allowed the switch hitter to take full advantage of the shallower porch (new in 2013) in right field.

Is Jedd Gyorkoís rookie line a sustainable one?

Due to position scarcity, the second basemanís 23 dingers are particularly tantalizing, but a cloud hangs over Gyorkoís future: contact concerns. In 525 plate appearances, he carried a 23.4 percent strikeout rate, while walking 6.3 percent of the time. The splits grew slightly worse in the second half -- 25.2 versus 5.0 percent -- but keep in mind that he displayed progress at each juncture during his quest to the majors. Perhaps his offseason commitment to conditioning (he shaved 15 pounds off his listed 5-10, 210 frame) will help him take the next step, and picking nits aside, he enters 2014 as a relevant consideration in all formats.

How long will Huston Street remain the closer?

He may still have the title, but because Joaquin Benoit has in hand a two-year deal, with an $8 million price tag for 2015, the writing is on the wall for Street, whose own contract includes a club option for next season. Three stays on the disabled list for Street in two years likely spurred San Diego brass to pursue the contingency plan, especially considering Benoit is DL-free since 2005. Nonetheless, Street is the player to roster among the two until further notice.

Can San Diegoís roster, as currently composed, avoid the trainerís table enough to end a seven-year playoff drought?

An array of ailments tend to hamper the Padresí postseason pursuits, resulting in stress-free baseball during most seasonsí stretch runs. The cost-conscious nature of the organization thus leaves little room for error, as evidenced by seven of eight regulars in the lineup landing on the disabled list in 2013 and subsequent extension of the drought. As spring training approaches, a few players -- Josh Johnson, Cameron Maybin, and Yasmani Grandal -- have concerns hanging over their heads, which isnít the ideal situation heading into the regular season. On the other hand, starting pitching is poised to be a strength, thereby propping up the hopes of their fans.


The prospective rotation, minus Johnson, combined for 53 quality nods in 85 starts in a Padres uniform last year, while posting a 3.53 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, and 6.95 K/9 in 561 innings. If Johnson and Ross show no ill effects from clean-up procedures in the offseason, the bullpen is deep enough to keep them in any game, provided the offense decides to produce. Additionally, the lineup boasts two terrors on the basepaths, Maybin and Everth Cabrera, if the former can revert to his form from 2011-12, when he swiped 66 bases in 81 total attempts.


Any potential injury, especially to a batter, will be cause for concern due to the replacement-level talent, at best, littered throughout the roster.

Rising: Andrew Cashner sustained a laceration to his thumb during a hunting incident prior to spring training, which hampered his ability to compete for a starting spot. Opening the season as a long reliever, a start was eventually handed to him on Apr. 20, and he never looked back, holding down the fort thereafter. He especially bloomed in the second half, recording a 7.3 K/9 and 3.21 K/BB in 75.2 innings, while serving up just four homers during that stretch. His breakout campaign culminated with a shutout in his second-to-last nod, when he became the first Padres pitcher to face the minimum 27 batters in a nine-inning game. The right-hander is unlikely to become a perennial All-Star but will enter his second full season with the Padres as a guaranteed member of the rotation.

Declining: Like many of his Padre brethren, Carlos Quentin dealt with at least one ailment, while serving an eight-game suspension for his role in a bench-clearing brawl during the first two weeks of the season. Despite a balky knee and strained left shoulder, he managed to total 13 long balls in 276 at-bats, with a helpful line (.275/.363/.493) along for the ride. He's credited a taller stance that places less torque on his knees as a development that could keep the injury-prone outfielder healthier than normal in 2014, with September's season-ending procedure on his right knee supporting his optimism. Potential owners must weigh the risk/reward associated with the 31-year-old Quentin, but the fact that the Padres' starting left fielder, when able to play, has gone yard every 17.7 at-bats in his career can make the gamble a palatable one.

Sleeper: After serving a 50-game suspension to start the year for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, Yasmani Grandal took over catching duties from Nick Hundley, fitting in 28 contests before sustaining a season-ending ACL tear in July. One month passed before Grandal underwent a full reconstruction of the ACL in his right knee, which typically requires 9-to-12 months in order to recover fully. Despite stated optimism that he'll be ready for spring training, the Padres ultimately have the final word on his rehab, and he's hardly a lock to be ready for Opening Day. In his absence, Hundley will continue to don a catcher's mask, with Rene Rivera acting as depth.

Supersleeper: At 23 years old, Robbie Erlin is a former top starting pitching prospect but didn't live up to the billing in 2013, turning in an up-and-down campaign. He was particularly porous in 20 nods at Triple-A Tucson, with a 5.07 ERA and 84:43 K:BB ratio in 99.1 innings. Meanwhile, five spot performances with the Padres prior to a permanent callup on Aug. 28 were along the same lines, but the southpaw flashed his talent in five further outings to complete the season, twirling four quality starts during a stretch in which he posted a 24:7 K:BB across 32 frames. If an injury befalls one of the starting five in spring training, or at any point in the season, a starting role could be his.

Top Prospects

Austin Hedges, C - Hedges, one of the top catching prospects in baseball, reached the Texas League as a 20-year-old this past season. In 86 games between High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio, he combined to post a .260 average with four homers, 38 RBI, 38 runs, eight steals, and a 28:54 BB:K ratio. If his skill set as a hitter wasn't enough, he's thrown out 32 percent (87-of-269) of potential basestealers in his two-plus minor league seasons. If all goes as planned, he should reach Triple-A Tucson at some point in 2014.

Matt Wisler, P - In 2013, Wisler thoroughly dominated both High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio with well-placed fastballs and curves, combining for 26 starts. 12 of his 20 outings at San Antonio followed the division's all-star break, during which he went 5-2 with a 2.18 ERA, 0.903 WHIP, and 67:13 K:BB ratio in 62 innings. Considering the late-season run, the Padres may place the 21-year-old righty immediately at Triple-A Tucson to begin the upcoming campaign.

Max Fried, P - Fried, the Padres' 2012 first-round pick, exhibited some control issues in his first full professional season at Low-A Fort Wayne, posting a 4.3 BB/9 over 23 starts (118.2 innings). Drafted out of high school, heís polished for his age and offers an outstanding arsenal, featuring an elite curveball and developing changeup as secondary offerings that he utilizes effectively off of his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He's also a very projectable left-hander with a 6-4 frame. The left-hander posted a shiny 2.09 GO/AO mark in his full-season debut, which offsets his 7.6 K/9, although he's expected to miss more bats as he continues to refine his stuff.

Hunter Renfroe, OF - After leading Mississippi State to its first championship round at last year's College World Series, Renfroe immediately reported to short-season Eugene for a productive 25-game stay, before the Padres moved him to Low-A Fort Wayne to conclude the season. His batting line (.212/.268/.379) at the latter location left something to be desired, but in a small sample size, he still put up two home runs, five doubles, seven RBI, and six runs in 66 at-bats. Following spring training, the minor league ride of the 2013 first-round pick will likely start off in Fort Wayne.

Casey Kelly, P - The first signs of elbow trouble arose early in the 2012 season, when an MRI revealed inflammation in Kelly's right elbow. He eventually pitched out the year and even garnered six starts with the Padres in the final month, but during preparation for 2013, a sore elbow again came to the forefront, and Tommy John surgery was soon undertaken. Although there have been no setbacks in his rehabilitation, the No. 3 prospect in the Padres' organization isn't expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, and there's no telling when he'll earn his next major league start.