2011 San Diego Padres: Regression and the trading of Adrian Gonzalez will deflate San Diego’s win total

2010 Record: 90-72, 1st NL West
2010 Prediction: 64-98, 5th NL West
Diff: 26
2011 Prediction: 4th NL West

Impact Player: 3B Chase Headley
Impact Pitcher: RHP Mat Latos
Best Reliever: RHP Mike Adams
Top Prospect: RHP Casey Kelly

General Manager: Jed Hoyer
Manager: Bud Black (317-332, .488)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Pat Neshek, RHP Dustin Moseley, RHP Samuel Deduno, LHP Randy Flores, 1B/OF Brad Hawpe, 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Jason Bartlett, CF Cameron Maybin, C Rob Johnson, INF Jorge Cantu, UTIL Eric Patterson

Significant Departures:
C Yorvit Torrealba, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B David Eckstein, SS Miguel Tejada, OF Tony Gwynn Jr., UTIL Jerry Hairston Jr., OF/1B Matt Stairs, RHP Jon Garland, RHP Kevin Correia, RHP Edward Mujica, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Chris Young, RHP Adam Russell, LHP Cesar Ramos

 

 

Despite being in the middle of a rather intense rebuild, the Padres up and won 90 games last season and would have won more if it weren’t for a late-season crash that saw them relinquish the division on the final day of the regular season to the eventual champions from San Francisco.  Behind surprisingly good starting pitching and baseball’s best bullpen, the Padres exceeded everyone’s expectations.

To his credit, GM Jed Hoyer recognized that 2010 is probably not a repeatable phenomena and rather than trying to contend by overspending on high-priced free agents, Hoyer remained committed to his rebuild.  The first step was to trade superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for a bounty of prospects.  In fact, that trade netted the Padres three prospects (Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Raymond Fuentes) that now find themselves in the top four in the organization overall.

Realizing just how much ridiculous bullpen depth he had, Hoyer also traded away Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos in deals to land young centerfielder Cameron Maybin from Florida and shortstop Jason Bartlett from Tampa Bay.

Without their star player and with expected regressions from many key players, the Padres should come crashing back down to earth in 2011.

 

Starting Rotation
Mat Latos
broke out at just 22-years-old last season and immediately became the ace of the Padres’ young staff.  He is a premier strike-out pitcher who posted a terrific 3.78 K/BB ratio last season which led to a 3.00 FIP; only Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright posted better peripherals.  Repeating those kind of numbers year over year will obviously be difficult, but the 23-year-old certainly has a bright future at the top of this rotation.

Left-hander Clayton Richard also broke out last season after being the centerpiece of the Jake Peavy trade in 2009.  He threw over 200 innings and posted a 3.75 ERA.  He did, however post a pedestrian 1.96 K/BB ratio and might have been the beneficiary of pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  If he can lower his walk-rate, it will go a long way to his continued success.  Ultimately, he’s a solid number three or four starter, not a number two.

Tim Stauffer was called up part way through last season and proceeded to light up the National League with a 1.85 ERA and 3.02 FIP in 82.2 innings.  The problem is that Stauffer is now 29 and had previously never shown that type of ability.  A regression isn’t just likely, it’s pretty close to certain.

Last year, the Padres signed Jon Garland to a one-year deal and he performed well in the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco.  This season, San Diego signed another veteran looking to rebuild his career on a one-year deal in Aaron Harang.  Harang has struggled through a disastrous couple of seasons in Cincinnati after at one time being a solid top-of-the-rotation talent.  At 33, he’ll look to put up a rebound season in order to cash in elsewhere next fall.

The fifth spot in the rotation will go to one of many potential starters including Cory Luebke who zoomed through the upper-minors last season to earn himself a September call up.  Other hopefuls include lefty Wade LeBlanc who somehow managed a 1.48 HR/9 rate despite calling San Diego his home park, and Dustin Moseley who was awful last season with the Yankees and has virtually no ceiling to speak of.

 

Bullpen
Despite trading away two key members and four potential contributors, the Padres still have the best bullpen in baseball on paper.  It’s actually quite ridiculous how good this group was in 2010.

First you have closer Heath Bell.  Bell not only posted 47 saves, but he had a 1.93 ERA, 11.06 K/9 rate and a 2.05 FIP.  He was the best closer in the NL last season by far.  He is in the last year of his contract which could mean that the Padres will deal him before the July 31st deadline if they’re not contending.

Beyond Bell, the Padres have Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and lefty Joe Thatcher to work the high leverage late innings and all three were spectacular last year.  Gregerson had a 4.94 K/BB ratio and a 2.86 FIP while Adams was even better posting a 1.76 ERA and 2.31 FIP while surrendering only two homeruns all season.

Thatcher was probably the best of them all in his 35 innings of work after a call up from AAA.  Thatcher not only had a 1.29 ERA, but he showed a knack for missing bats and awesome command.  He finished with a 6.43 K/BB ratio and a so-good-it-doesn’t-look-real 1.56 FIP.

Ernesto Frieri was also terrific last season after his call up, posting an 11.65 K/9 rate with a 1.71 ERA, but his high walk-rate and ridiculously low groundball percentage suggest that he’s due for a regression.

Veteran Chad Qualls was terrible last season with Arizona and Tampa Bay, but should benefit from the move to San Diego and was very unlucky last year with a high BABIP and a respectable 4.13 FIP that was much better than his bloated 7.32 ERA.

Pat Neshek, who was just acquired off of waivers a few days ago from Minnesota should slot in to the last spot.

 

Catchers
With Yorvit Torrealba signing elsewhere, the Padres turn once again to Nick Hundley to be their everyday catcher.  Hundley split time with Torrealba last season and had a .249/.308/.418 slash line and was a slightly below average defender.

If Hundley looks to be incapable of being productive in an everyday role, Rob Johnson was brought over from Seattle and although he can’t hit, he is a much better defender than Hundley.

Non-roster invites Kyle Phillips and Guillermo Quiroz (both former Jays’ farmhands) are also in the mix and could play their way to the majors if Hundley or Johnson gets hurt at some point.

 

 

Infielders
With Gonzalez gone, the Padres’ already woeful offense looks down-right bad.  Replacing their former franchise player at first base is Brad Hawpe who looks to transition from poor-defensive outfielder to average defensive first baseman.  Hawpe was terrible after being traded to Tampa Bay from Colorado last season suggesting he might be a terrible player outside of Coors Field, but that didn’t stop San Diego from handing him first base for 2011.

Orlando Hudson and Bartlett were acquired in the offseason to be the new middle-infield pairing.  Last season with the Twins, Hudson, despite all of the accolades people throw his way regarding his defense, put up his first positive UZR rating since 2005 when he was still with the Blue Jays.  His bat is more than good enough if he continues to play gold-glove calibre D.

Bartlett, on the other hand, came crashing back down to earth after his breakout 2009 season posting a mediocre .254/.324/.350 slash line which probably would be okay except that he was also one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game.

At third base will be Chase Headley who might be the best position-player on the team, which is kind of sad.  Headley is a below-average hitter who is outstanding defensively.  His 16.5 UZR rating propped him up to a team-best 4.6 WAR rating ranking him third among NL third baseman behind only Ryan Zimmerman and Scott Rolen and ahead of David Wright.

Veteran Jorge Cantu was signed in the offseason and will provide depth at the corners and may eventually be the starting first baseman.  He’s no longer an everyday player and is horrid defensively.

Providing depth up the middle will be speedster Everth Cabrera who hit just .208/.279/.278 in 2010.  He started last year as the opening day shortstop before the team traded for the defensively challenged Miguel Tejada just to upgrade over Cabrera’s terrible bat.  As a defensive replacement and pinch-runner, Cabrera has a lot more value.

Eric Patterson also has a chance to win a spot on the team and is out of options.  He can play second and the outfield.
Outfielders
The Padres traded for Maybin this offseason to upgrade their light-hitting outfield.  Maybin is amazingly still just 24 even though it feels like he’s been around forever.  He’s not a very good centerfielder, but he doesn’t embarrass himself either; he may have a hard time adjusting to Petco’s huge gaps.  The Padres believe he still has plenty of offensive ceiling.

Will Venable was a surprisingly valuable player in 2010 in rightfield.  Not only was he solid defensively but he showed a nice approach at the plate drawing his fair share of walks.  Venable is a guy who could probably hit 20 homeruns if he played anywhere else and if he ever hits for a better average, he could be a very good player.

In leftfield, the Padres somewhat surprisingly retained Ryan Ludwick who was acquired last year from the Cardinals.  Most expected he’d be non-tendered by San Diego because of slugging young outfielder Kyle Blanks who appears ready to be given the everyday job even though he struggled last season at the major-league level.

With Patterson likely making the team, the remaining bench spot will go to one of Chris Denorfia, Blanks, Mike Baxter, or Aaron CunninghamLuis Durango was just optioned to AAA, but will likely see major-league time at some point this season.

Click here for a roster breakdown.
Overview
Even with the roster the Padres had last season, winning 90 games was down-right miraculous.  Without Gonzalez they will come crashing back down to earth and then some in 2011.  The starting rotation has some potential with Latos at its top and the bullpen is still the best in baseball, but the offense will stink; like, Mariners’ stink.
Final Prediction: 74-88, 4th NL West

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