San Diego Padres: 3 Up and 3 Down

2012 was not a banner year for the San Diego Padres. The starting rotation was shaky and if it wasn’t for a huge year from Chase Headley at the plate, the offense would have been abysmal. They finished the year 76-86 and in 4th place, ahead of only the lowly Rockies in the NL West.

A full year removed from the Mat Latos trade, there is now cause for concern that it might not have been the best move for this franchise. It will be up to the newly suspended Yasmani Grandal to justify the Padres’ gutsy move of trading away one of the game’s best young arms.

Pitching has long been the hallmark of a solid Padres team. Playing in a yard as expansive as Petco didn’t prove advantageous in 2011 as their team ERA was 4.01, 17th best in baseball. The starting rotation was mostly to blame as that group posted a 4.44 mark. Their 75 quality starts ranked just 23rd across MLB.

Indeed, the Padres are in a full blown rebuilding mode. The offense is littered with young players who could make a mark in the coming seasons. The pitching staff is another matter. Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis, Freddy Garcia and company are not the answer but will hopefully chew up some valuable innings along the way. What Padre fans are hoping to see the rotation look like sooner rather than later are names such as Andrew Cashner, Casey Kelly, Anthony Bass, Cory Luebke, and other young up and comers filling the box scores.

Can the Padres find a way to compete in 2013?

3 Up                                                                     

Best Case Scenario for 2013

San Diego is unlikely to find consistent success in the win-loss column this season. Really the best-case scenario for them is to gain some roster clarity. Are guys like Grandal, Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Jedd Gyorko, and Yonder Alonso part of the long-term solution on offense? Can Cashner, Kelly, and the rest of the pitching prospects deliver on the hype? If these questions end up with positive answers attached to them by season’s end then 2013 will be considered a success. In terms of their place in the NL West, I’d be surprised if they finish higher than 4th, and a last place finish isn’t off the table at this point.

Most Important Padres

Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

Chase Headley

With the season that Chase Headley compiled in 2012, he instantly became the most important Padre on the club. Now he is tasked with the mighty chore of following up his 31-homer, 115 RBI campaign in respectable fashion. If he gets some help from Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin then he should start a new trend of putting up big totals (prior to ’12, his career-best in homers was 12 and RBI’s was just 64) year after year. Headley will also be a much talked about name as the July 31st trade deadline eventually approaches. He will be in high demand if he has a prolific first half and San Diego would be able to name their price to a desperate team hoping to contend, further stockpiling the organization’s young talent. No matter the case, I’m sure Headley is anxious to try out the new outfield dimensions at Petco now that the fences have come in.

On the mound, Edinson Volquez is the only Padre with an ace’s arsenal. The problem is he barely knows how to use it. In spite of that, 2012 was his best year in terms of both health and production dating all the way back to 2008. Volquez fanned 174 hitters in 182.2 innings, showing that he still has swing-and-miss stuff. The problem? 105 walks. How many MLB pitchers walked more? None. Toronto’s Ricky Romero tied him at 105. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that even though he was embracing his inner-Ricky Vaughn most of the year, he kept his ERA at a respectable 4.14 and posted an 11-11 record. Volquez has always been wild but if he could somehow reel it in and shave 20 walks off of his absurd total, he could frontline this rotation and give opponents a pitcher that they truly don’t want to face. With the amount of arms that Bud Black is likely to use this year, he needs good stuff from guys like Volquez, Clayton Richard, and Jason Marquis.

Potential Breakout Players

What a boost the Padres would get if Everth Cabrera could figure out major league pitching. Sadly, his name has just popped up as a potential PED recipient in the Miami-based scandal. Hopefully for San Diego, that issue resolves it’s self in a positive way as he is a good glove at shortstop, can run rampant on the base paths, and has shown solid batting average and on-base skills throughout his minor league tenure. After stealing 73 bags in 2008 and tearing up minor league pitching in 2009 so much so that he got the call as a 22-year old, his rising star status seemed all but assured. Cabrera did well enough in that 2009 run but has struggled mightily at the plate in chunks of major league action each of the past 3 seasons. He did steal 44 bases and was caught just 4 times in 2012 for San Diego and seems to have a lock on the gig coming into 2013. If he can tap back into the guy who posted a career .292 average and .382 on-base % as a minor leaguer then he is going to be a pleasant surprise in Bud Black’s lineup. If a roster spot opens up for Jedd Gyorko, then he too has the potential to put up big offensive numbers.

[Find the links to all 30 MLB team previews here: 2013 MLB Team Previews]

Oh how you torture us Andrew Cashner! Injuries have not been kind to this flamethrower who came to San Diego by way of the Anthony Rizzo trade. Despite all of the torment, 2013 could be the year that he busts loose. In classic Cashner fashion, he cut a ligament in his finger in a hunting accident this offseason. The good news is he is ahead of schedule and should have a full month of prep time before the regular season starts. Hopefully it’s enough to earn a spot in the rotation sometime this April. Cashner is on the right team in the Padres. They need rotation help and if he proves that he can stay healthy and take the ball every 5th day in his age 26 season, then he is the type of talent who can revolutionize that rotation. If he could somehow make 28 starts and find a way to log 160 innings then I think he can keep his ERA in the 3’s and approach 175 K’s.

3 Down

Worst Case Scenario

In contrast to their best-case scenario, if San Diego can’t get good production out of their young players on offense and the up and coming pitchers fail to shine, then 2013 could get ugly. Colorado can’t possibly be any worse than they were a year ago and a last place finish is certainly plausible for this Padres team. The organization as a whole has had their fair share of disappointment due to injury as well and any more of that would really deplete their rebuilding effort. To me, San Diego is assembling their organization the right way but that process can get frustrating at times. Better days are ahead.

Areas of Concern

Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres

Andrew Cashner

The main cause for worry for Padres fans is the starting rotation. The best look I can imagine for this 5-man rotation would probably be Volquez, Richard, Cashner, Kelly, and either Bass or the Tim Stauffer of 2010 and ’11. If Black has to rely on Marquis and Garcia for 6 months, it’s not going to be a whole lot of fun to root for this team. The offense should be decent, especially if they get production from the middle infielders, but that starting rotation is dicey.

Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012

It’s hard to imagine that Cameron Maybin is entering just his age 26 season. The Padres still believe in his talent, recently inking him to a 5-year, $25M deal even after a down 2012. He appeared to be coming into his own after a strong 2011, in which he hit .264 with 41 extra-base hits and 40 steals to go along with a .323 on-base %. In 2012, while playing 10 more games, he managed just 33 extra-base hits, 26 steals, his average dropped 21 points to .243, and his on-base % dipped to a saggy .306. If Maybin can get back to what he did in 2011 and even raise that a notch or two it could truly ignite this offense and push it to another level.

Speaking of shifting the offense into another gear, will a thinner and hopefully healthier Carlos Quentin get back to crushing baseballs? Quentin played just 86 games in 2012 but he has dropped 15 pounds and seems to have re-dedicated himself this offseason. The guy has never been a model of health with the 131 games he played for the ChiSox in 2010 representing a career best. Quentin stands to benefit from the shortened fences about as much as any Padre. He is still just 30 years old and maintains his 30-homer potential. What a lift that would be to this offense if he could give them that kind of thump. However, if Quentin does get off to a strong start he will be another guy that other teams will start calling on come late July. If he does enough in the first half, he could return a solid package for San Diego, which makes a potential bounce back season from him a pretty big storyline to watch.

[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]

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  • Allen Ramirez

    I hope Nate Frieman makes them regret not letting him at least try and make the team at First base. I watched him here in SA , and every game i went to see he hit at least 1 homer and had several 2 hr games. He even had a walk off in which i begged him while he was on deck to crush the opposing pitchers fastball which was hitting 100 , and he kindly crushed it. Very quick bat with lots of power and he hits great for average, he will drive in runs for the astros now and the Padres will see none of it! Well at least i still get to go to Houston to watch him do the Same thing!

    • Harvey Wallbanger

      The Padres expect to get him back! They don’t think the Astros will be able to afford keeping in the majors all year, holding down a roster spot, and will be forced to offer him back. The Astros are stacked at first base and DH (and have first rounder Brett Wallace who plays both positions), so Frieman will have a tough time getting a roster spot, the Padres believe.

  • Lorenzo

    The Padres look rich in pitching – on the farm. They’re really sticking their necks out this year, due to last year’s injuries to starters messing up the plan, but have so many potential starters almost ready, this year will be the exception on starter depth. Analysts won’t know who they are until they get to the show, but with so many candidates, the rotation won’t be needeing veterans after this year.

    You should have mentioned the deep bullpen, always a Padres strength, and they have ace closer candidates in the wings. They’ve pulled setup men and middle relievers seemingly out of a hat over the years, so that depth is important to mention, since it’ll get a heavy load if they end up with a shaky rotation again like last year.

    BTW, Carlos Quentin is a local who signed a 3-year contract only because it has a no-trade clause. He’s the quintessential dangerous clean-up hitter that makes young hitters around him better, he’s relatively cheap, and the Padres realize they need him to anchor that inexperienced offense. Trading him in the next couple years is highly unlikely.

  • Chirs F. Billiot

    Very good and fair insights. I’ll have to keep following you.