It could be said that the San Diego Padres are the winners of the 2014-2015 offseason. They’ve taken risks, invested a lot of money, given up some prospects, held on to a few. Yet, first-year GM A.J. Preller has taken one of baseball’s most irrelevant teams, that was ranked dead last in offensive production in 2014, and has succeeded in making them relevant.
Will they win the World Series? It’s possible but unlikely. Will they win the National League West? Again, probably not. Could they snag a Wild Card spot? Maybe.
A lot of the moves made have been risky and expensive. They may not all pan out, but Preller has made the off-season’s biggest and most significant moves. If most of them work then he has managed to improve the team.
He brought in Will Middlebrooks from the Boston Red Sox to play third alongside a relatively unknown outfield that includes Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Alexi Amarista, none of whom are considered above average players. It also leaves the team with the slight problem of having just one left-handed hitter in Alonso in their projected lineup.
He’s been working non-stop since taking the job in August. Preller has remade the Padres outfield through three separate trades, so that it now includes 2013 American League Rookie of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays, Wil Myers in center and former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and former Atlanta Braves‘ slugger Justin Upton at the corner positions.
Each acquisition has potential merits but they all come with significant risks and/or downfalls. Matt Kemp may be a slugger but his health is questionable. Upton will be a free agent in 2016 so is more like a rental than a remedy and Myers sat out most of the 2014 season with a broken wrist. Middlebrooks didn’t perform as well as expected in Boston after his rookie season in which he batted .288 but that was 2012 and there’s a decent chance that, with more playing time, he’ll bounce back.
Preller took risks that each of these players will remain healthy and perform. If they do they may make the Padres contenders in 2015, something that is still under great debate in the baseball community.
Signing 33-year-old starting pitcher James Shields on Monday is probably his most daring move so far. Shields is aging and his strikeout rate has been dropping slightly, but he’s been one of the league’s most reliable starters logging at least 200 innings in eight of his nine big league seasons and he’s a known leader in the clubhouse.
Most teams were weary of signing Shields to the four or five-year deal he was seeking (the Padres signed him to a four-year deal reportedly worth approximately $75 million with an option for a fifth year) because of the number of innings he has logged in his career. It’s an absolutely warranted concern, given that Shields will be in his late 30’s by the end of his contract.
His arm could give out or it may not, but as of now Shields is a definite asset to the Padres adding an ace to a potentially very talented starting rotation of Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy.
If Shields continues to log innings as he has in the past, the Padres will have to rely less on Odrisamer Despaigne, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow which can only help and not hinder the team. He also provides stability to the rotation as Kennedy and Cashner will both soon be free agents in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
To answer the question of whether or not the Padres have been the team to “win” the off season, it appears that they have with their numerous moves for big names while still keeping their core top prospects: catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Matt Wisler and outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
The Padres have also been linked to Philadelphia Phillies’ left-hander Cole Hamels. While a deal between the two teams would cost the Padres a prospect or two, plus the draft pick they gave up to sign Shields, it is unlikely to happen. If Preller were to pull it off that would, more than likely, solidify the Padres as the off-season’s official winners.
They’ve committed a lot of money in both Kemp and Shields. The Padres payroll is now over $100 million but still they didn’t spend as much as say the Miami Marlins or Washington Nationals, and they’ve got money coming off their payroll in the next two years. They not only improved their team, they’ve made them relevant again.
Have their moves been audaciously bold? Yes. Could the whole experiment blow up in their face if their players don’t return to form or stay healthy? Of course. Will they at some points during the season regret having an almost completely right-handed lineup? Definitely.
Preller’s been fearless in remaking his team with his many moves and signings. Regardless of how the regular season actually unfolds, it’s safe to say that, so far, on paper A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres have essentially “won” the off season.