For eight years the San Diego Padres have been a permanent fixture at the bottom of the National League West looking up to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. As the N.L. West grew more competitive with the emergence of the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Padres remained stagnant and irrelevant. During this span, the Padres endured an average of nearly 90 losses per year while searching for answers. All-Stars Matt Kemp and Justin Upton provided star power for a couple of years in San Diego but not enough wins.
Manny Machado to the Padres! To celebrate here are all of Machado's home runs since 2015. pic.twitter.com/xvQE092xDb
— Daren Willman (@darenw) February 19, 2019
Heading into 2019, Padres General manager A.J. Preller made a move that shook the baseball world by signing free agent third baseman Manny Machado to a contract worth $300 million over ten years. Can signing a transcendent player in his prime (26 years old) like Machado springboard the Padres out of the N.L. West basement? It certainly can’t hurt. However, the development of young prospects and production from veterans are equally vital to start the move upward.
Padres Call to Arms
The fact that there is not one pitcher locked for the Padres’ rotation entering Spring Training is alarming. The Padres are actively exploring trade opportunities to solidify a high-end starter, such as free agent Dallas Keuchel for the rotation. Additionally, newly signed Garrett Richards will be sidelined until 2020 to recover from Tommy John surgery, leaving the search for an ace up to Preller and Manager Andy Green. Without a veteran leader at the top of the rotation, postseason success is unattainable in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
The front-runners for the first two spots in the rotation are young lefthanders Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer. Both southpaws showed flashes of success in 2018, however, their numbers were not that remarkable in the end. “They both were really, really good rookies in that they listened, they learned and they worked,” catcher Austin Hedges said. Any hope for 2019? Heading into Spring Training, Lucchesi has added a cutter to complement his fastball and curveball. Meanwhile, Lauer claims to have honed his slider as a putout pitch by adding more depth. With their rookie year behind them, both Lucchesi and Lauer are excited for the challenges ahead in year number two.
"He steps up and makes big pitches when he has to. That's a really encouraging thing to see."@Padres No. 12 prospect Eric Lauer threw six scoreless innings and picked up his first @MLB win: https://t.co/Muc2kc6KwQ pic.twitter.com/12PcCOGZck
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 7, 2018
The remaining names of the San Diego rotation is slightly more difficult to project. Right-handers Bryan Mitchell and Brett Kennedy will need to improve command in order to challenge for one of the Opening Day spots in the rotation. Also during Spring Training, Green will evaluate Matt Strahm and Robbie Erlin as potential candidates. Strahm and Erlin players will attempt to make the difficult transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Strahm had more success (2.05 ERA 0.98 WHIP) in 2018, but only tallied 61 innings. Additionally, Clayton Richard ended 2018 as part of the rotation, but that doesn’t always translate to the following year.
#Padres left-hander Joey Lucchesi set the tone tonight with this strikeout and then kept on cruising:
2 R (0 ER)
1.72 ERA through first 3 starts for @Padres' No. 9: https://t.co/eosjpYq3sj pic.twitter.com/0a5ujgBupJ
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 11, 2018
Good news for Padres are the young arms in the farm system that have the potential to make an impact at any time. 21-year-old lefthander Logan Allen had an impressive 2018 and has been invited to Spring Training with dreams of making the big league roster. Also joining the team for Spring Training is number five prospect, right-hander Chris Paddack (2.10 ERA 120 strikeouts in 2018) and number 14 prospect Jacob Nix. Given time to mature with proper direction, the future for the Padres looks healthy.
Friars Big Bats?
The addition of Machado to the Padres lineup does not automatically propel them into N.L. West contention. What Machado brings is an average of 35 HR, 96 RBI, 5.7 WAR, and .855 OPS over the last four years in Baltimore and Los Angeles. Machado will take advantage of the large dimensions of Petco Park and will challenge for the league lead in doubles. Will he have any help in 2019 from a lineup that finished near the bottom of the majors in home runs, batting average, runs scored, OPS, and extra base hit?
Last season’s high priced free agent Eric Hosmer (eight-year, $144 Million) experienced a power outage for the Padres and slashed a lackluster .259/18 HR/ 69 RBI. Defensively, Hosmer is one of the most gifted first basemen in the league. However, the Padres expect more (as they should) from Hosmer at the plate. The offensive success for Hosmer and Machado will be inherently related to one another in 2019.
Eric Hosmer sends 'em home pic.twitter.com/jKIOhvoQwj
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) May 13, 2018
The insertion of Machado to the lineup might trigger a resurgence for outfielder Wil Myers. Myers flashed power in the 2016 (28 HR) and 2017 (30 HR) seasons but fell victim to injuries early in 2018. Green anticipates moving Myers around the outfield based on pitching matchups, but if he doesn’t discover some consistency with the bat, Myers will be joining him on the bench.
Padres also brought in veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler to rent the space at the top of the order from a variety of prospects mentioned later. The Padres possess a handful of talented outfielders that will be platooned throughout the year in Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Manuel Margot, and Franchy Cordero. Because of this surplus, one should not be surprised to see one or two of these names as pawns for a trade for pitching as the season progresses. Hedges will return be behind the plate and have the responsibility to tutor the young Padres arms. Slick-fielding shortstop/second baseman Luis Urias rounds out the lineup until baseball’s number two prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives in the lineup permanently.
20 year old Tatis is an athletic shortstop who has been strong defensively and at the plate in the minors. He is returning from a thumb injury that limited him to only 88 games last year. Ideally, the Padres would want Machado to step out of his comfort zone and become a mentor to Tatis. Adding Tatis and Urias to gold glove winning corner infielders Hosmer and Machado will be a formidable infield in the upcoming years.
Manny Machado was asked if he thinks he might play any shortstop. "Hopefully Tatis breaks camp with us and he's our shortstop," Machado said.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) March 2, 2019
San Diego Expectations
Be patient. Yes, the Machado signing is huge. However, this is not the year the Padres make a drastic jump from the cellar. Starting pitching is a necessity and will be addressed at some point via trade this season. San Diego has 10 of the top 100 prospects, which will be enticing to other teams. Take a glimpse into the future as Tatis will be called up sooner than later.
Record Prediction: 76-86
Team MVP: Manny Machado