Thursday, September 18, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres are at an interesting cross roads. They have some pieces in place where they should be competing in what is a fairly weak National League West division. The club is also not young enough, or deep enough with prospects to have much confidence beyond 2010 when compared to the rest of the division.

This is a club that just missed the playoffs in 2007 and have since fallen all the way down to the Steven Strasburg sweepstakes. This is a club that needs to rebuild, but is also be only a couple pieces from competing. So what do they do? Where do they stand?

That's where WWOD? comes in. WWOD? suggests what the Padres should do, not what they will do.

The Padres should go for it. You heard it. How much longer can they count on Jake Peavy to dominate the National League? Will Adrian Gonzalez price his way out of San Diego? While there are some nice youngsters kicking around, are they the type of players an organization can build around?

The Padres have had a couple strong drafts, and this year, they decided to spend like never before. The club signed its top picks quickly and got them into the system. Each of the players have performed at a fairly high level giving the Padres hope for the future, albeit a distant one.

All that being said, the Padres appear to have a relatively small window, especially with how the teams in the division are built. Thus, the Padres should go for it in 2009, make some bold moves and take care of things once and for all.

What the Padres don't need

Major league ready youngsters. The lineup is littered with inexperienced players. While adding a Miguel Cabrera wouldn't ever be a thing to disregard, age should not be a priority for the 2009 Padres.

What the Padres need

A fair amount actually. But specifically three or four players will get it done for the Pads.

Legitimate third and forth starting pitchers. The club needs to hope Chris Young can avoid line drives off of his face. Given the odds are against the Padres losing Young for a month due to a freak injury, adding a true third starter, something they failed to do entering the 2008 season when they went with Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux, should be a must.

How about signing Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez? I don't think it's unrealistic to think that Mussina would sign a one year (plus option) contract. Similarly, I imagine Martinez would want to rebuild his value, and what better place then the best pitchers park in baseball?

A bat that can back up Adrian Gonzalez. For three straight seasons Gonzalez has carried the Padres. At 26 years old, the former first overall pick should not slow down anytime soon, however being the only bat in the city for three straight years has to grow tiring on a young hitter.

Unfortunately all of the quality options would be defensively stretched in right field. However, I have a plan in place that would allow that to work. Let's bring in Raul Ibanez on a three year contract. No, Ibanez is not the ideal player given his age and soon-to-be salary demands. However, the Pads might get him at a slight discount given the top end of the left field free agent market (Dunn, Burrell, and Bradley).

The next phase of this plan would be to trade Kevin Kouzmanoff and put Chase Headley at the hot corner, a position he is much more comfortable with. Thus far, the moves may appear to be a parallel exchange, however, can the Padres truly expect 31 combined home runs from Jody Gerut and Scott Hairston in 2009? Either way, Kouz goes and the Pads try and outfield of Ibanez, Gerut and and Brian Giles.

Where does Kouzmanoff go? How about the Minnesota Twins? Brian Buscher has been a surprise this season for the club, but on a team lacking power he is not ideal for a tradtional power position. Kouz would then come as an upgrade at third base for the Twins at an affordable cost. In return, the Pads could ask for reliever Jesse Crain, starting pitcher Boof Bonser, and a low level prospect.

Before you stop reading because Bonser owns a waiver wire ERA of over 6.00, keep in mind that he is only 26 years old and has been handed a fair amount of poor luck. Over 44% of runners that Bonser has let on base have ended up scoring. This differs from a league average (and highly uncontrollable) of 30%. Thus, the reason why Bonser's FIP (Fielding Independent of Pitching) is the lowest of his career.

The final move the Padres should make this offseason is shoring up their bullpen. Crain will help, and moving Cha Sueng Baek back to the pen on a full time basis adds depth. However, with the impending departure of Trevor Hoffman the bullpen will be largely inexperienced. To replace him, I'm offering Kyle Farnsworth a one or two year deal and putting him and Heath Bell in an open battle for the closers job. Keep in mind, Farnsworth's last season in the National League was in 2005 where he was downright dominant.

After all of those moves, here is how the lineup should shakeout on Opening Day for the Padres,

RF - Brian Giles
CF - Jody Gerut
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
LF - Raul Ibanez
3B - Chase Headley
SS - Khalil Greene
C - Josh Bard
2B - Matt Antonelli

This is certainly a much more potent lineup then the Padres were running out there on Opening Day 2008. For a team that ranks #26 in team OPS, this is certainly a lineup that will plate some runs. My major concern, even with this lineup, is a weak on base percentage. However, given I anticipate rebounds seasons from Greene and Bard the Padres should improve on their MLB worst catcher OPS and 26th ranked short stop OPS.

The bench is going to have to be deep for the Padres given the amount of major injuries and underperformances they suffered this season. A bench of Brad Wilkerson, Scott Hairston, Juan Uribe, Daryle Ward, and Nick Hundley would provide reasonable depth, as well as offering a fair amount of power potential.

A complete rotation makeover is vital for this team to succeed. I mentioned the players the Pads should sign and trade for. I would assert that those three moves are the most important if the Padres intend to contend this season.

I've decided to make a lot of moves with the Padres. I decided to spend a lot of money, but I feel like this is a team that could, if healthy, win the National League pennant. Let's see how the rotation will shake out,

Jake Peavy
Pedro Martinez
Chris Young
Mike Mussina
Boof Bonser

The Padres would be looking at adding some $22M to $25M to the teams payroll with Martinez and Mussina. However, this gives them a much better staff then they started 2008 with, although for a substantially higher cost. While there is a legitimate argument against doing such (namely that old pitchers are quite the gamble), I feel this gives the padres the best shot at contending.

The more I look at Boof Bonser in the rotation, the more I like the way it looks. I am curious how Bonser would perform in the National League and I feel the Twins and Padres could be a nice match for a trade.

Another option, although probably over a year away, is highly regarded prospect Matt Latos. The report on Latos is that he has the best stuff in the system. Given his to date production, it appears as though the book on him is correct. He also appears to have an advanced ability to control his pitches.

Although the youngster missed a great deal of time in 2008, the Padres have been aggressive with him promotions. Interestingly, Latos seemed to 'expire' at each level once he reaches 23 strikeouts. I'm think he makes a Joba Chamberlain/Francisco Rodriguez/David Price type impact as a rookie in 2009.

The Padres have had two closers since 1994, with Rod Beck simply keeping Trevor Hoffman's seat warm in 2003 while Hoffman missed all but a couple weeks of the season. Now is the time to enter the club's third closer in 16 seasons. Heath Bell appears to be a legitimate candidate although as I mentioned, the job should not simply be handed to him. Here's how the Pads bullpen should shake out for 2009 (aka AH-After Hoffman),

CL - Heath Bell
SU - Kyle Farnsworth
RP - Mike Adams
RP - Jesse Crain
RP - Cla Meredith
RP - Justin Hampson
LR - Cha Sueng Baek

The top four of this bullpen would easily make this core the hardest throwing bullpen in all of baseball. Gone will be Hoffman and his 86mph fastball and 72mph change up. In will be heavy and frequent hard fastballs from Fransworth and Crain-both of whom average 94mph on their four seamers.

If I am the Padres manager, I almost consider going with a closer by committee approach, similar to what the Cardinals have done this season.

Between Ibanez, Martinez, Mussina, and Farnsworth, the Padres are probably looking at a payroll of around $85M. I'm not certain this is a feasible cost for a small market team, however it is a cost that is required for this team to contend. After the 2009 season, I would suggest the team pulls a Florida Marlins and sells the majority of its assets and looks toward 2013 when the 2007/08 draft picks should be ready as well as the international prospects.

BallHype: hype it up!

Images courtesy Chris Creamer's Sports Logo's.

Up next - The Seattle Mariners

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