San Diego had one of the best finishes to the season last year, but still didn't end up above .500. The Padres finished tied for third in the NL West with the Giants with a record of 76-86. As San Diego gets ready to start a new campaign, I caught up with Ryan Potter over at Gaslamp Ball to talk about the team's offseason and upcoming season.
DAVID: What was the biggest offseason move the Padres made?
RYAN: Signing Josh Johnson to a 1 year, $8M has the potential to be huge. If Johnson can remain healthy enough to recapture the form of his Marlins days, he could be the anchor of playoff pitching staff. It's a low risk/high reward move for GM Josh Byrnes and San Diego front office. Johnson has only thrown more than 200 innings once in his career, but he's shown flashes of brilliance when he has been healthy.
DL: What was the biggest offseason move the Padres DID NOT make?
RP: Obviously we all wanted the situation with Chase Headley's contract to be resolved by now, but it doesn't appear that saga will ever be resolved. I would've liked to see Headley locked up under a long term deal this offseason, but it's increasingly more likely he'll find himself manning the hot corner in the Bronx or some other market with a team willing to pay him much more than the Padres could without wrecking their payroll.
DL: What was the worst offseason move the Padres made?
RP: I was not a fan of the Luke Gregerson for Seth Smith move. Gregerson was arguably the Padres most reliable reliever in 2013 and moving him for a guy who looks like he'll wind up being a bench bat didn't sit well with me. I should add that the Padres did wind up strengthening their bullpen with the additions of Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres this offseason, so the point may end up being moot.
DL: Where does the team stand now as a whole? Are there a lot of weaknesses that will be fixed in spring training?
RP: The 2014 Padres are a well assembled bunch. No big name stars, but also no glaring weaknesses in their lineup once Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal return from their suspensions. Losing Cameron Maybin for the beginning of the season due to a biceps injury hurts, though Maybin has been injured so often lately that his absence is almost expected.
DL: What is San Diego's biggest strength heading into the season?
RP: Pitching. which was often the Padres weakness last season, has become the team's biggest strength. The albatrosses of Edinson Volquez and Jason Marquis (who had the highest FIP in MLB among qualified starters last season) have been removed from our necks and replaced with guys who have the potential for breakout years like Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy. The bullpen has also been strengthened by the additions of Benoit and Torres.
DL: How long do you think Chase Headley will last in a Padres' uniform this year?
RP: I would be very surprised if Headley is still in a Padres uniform on July 15th and he certainly won't survive in San Diego past the trade deadline. The sooner the better, in my opinion. Headley is a good player and I'd like to keep him, but his contract saga distracts from the other great storylines going on in San Diego. We have an exciting young team primed to make a run for the playoffs, if he doesn't want to be a part of that, good riddence.
DL: Who is a rookie to look out for this year?
RP: You might hear quite about 1B/OF Tommy Medica challenging Yonder Alonso for his spot in the starting lineup. Medica is a 26 year old 1B prospect with a fringe average hit tool and a little power who's been old for his level at every step. He'll likely wind up a decent bench bat. Medica and Ryan Jackson (acquired from the Cardinals for Jesus Guzman) will likely be the only true rookies on the Opening Day roster. Neither of those guys really get my blood pumping. Austin Hedges is probably still a year away, so if you're looking for impact potential from a Padres rookie, you'll probably have to settle for Matt Wisler when he arrives around mid-season. Wisler, a righty, works 92-94 but can run it up into the high 90s and backs up that up with a changeup that'll play and a sharp slider that is his put away pitch. An NL scout from another organization recently told me he thought Wisler could end up being a mid-rotation starter.
DL: Who is your pre-season Cy Young for San Diego?
RP: Andrew Cashner is going to be a monster. He's going to get a shot to start 30+ games this year and I really believe the rest of the league is going to sit up and take notice. If the strikeout numbers ever catch up to the kind of arsenal he's packing, we're talking about an ERA in the mid-2.00s. Watching Cashner pitch last season you really could watch him become more confident in himself with each start. I wholeheartedly believe that the Padres have something special in Andrew Cashner.
DL: Who is your pre-season MVP for the Padres?
RP: Jedd Gyorko is really going to step forward come into his own this season. In 525 PA as a rookie in 2013, Gyorko hit .249/.301/.444 and the 23HR he hit landed him second only to Robinson Cano among 2nd basemen. That was all while adjusting to playing a position that he hadn't played regularly since his freshman season at West Virginia. He'll never be a great defender but that type of power profile is uncommon at his position and can provide the Padres with a ton of value. Look for a .280 AVG 25-28HR type of season from Jedd Gyorko this season.
DL: What does San Diego need to do to make the playoffs?
RP: Anyone reading this interview or anything else I've written about the Padres lately will notice that I seem to compulsively insert "if healthy" into sentences where you wouldn't normally find them if you were reading about any other team. Injuries have decimated Padres teams the past few seasons. Promising young pitchers in particular have been the hardest bitten.
RP: Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke, and Joe Wieland are just the tip of the iceberg. It's come out in the past few days that it's likely Luebke and Wieland are looking at their second Tommy John procedures. I'm not sure if it's the throwing program or that the scouting and player development department doesn't do a great job in assessing the pitching mechanics of prospective draft picks for injury risk or just bad luck, but it's a definitely more of a problem for the Padres than it seems to be with other organisations.
RP: However, staying healthy is the necessary for any team to make a playoff run. The NL West is strong. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are going to be a couple of solid ball clubs. I was assigned the Diamondbacks team preview for Beyond the Box Score and I came away from it really thinking they're in a position to make a deep playoff run. The Dodgers seem to have a weapon at every position and a rotation full of guys who can beat you on any night. Don't forget the Giants, they have a pretty good team, but I think they lack the pieces in their farm system to cash in for an extra starter or impact bat at the deadline to put them over the top. At present, the only team in the NL West you can almost certainly say the Padres will be better than is the Rockies, they still appear to be a few years away but have a lot of talent in the minors.
RP: Essentially what I'm getting at is that is the Padres want to make the playoffs out of this division they're going to need a lot of their guys to max out their potential. Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy are going to have to be at least most of what they were a few seasons ago, Andrew Cashner is going to have to develop into a guy who can be counted on to give his team a chance to win every time he takes the ball, and as I said above I believe he can be. If they get even 75% of what they got out of Eric Stults last season, that has to be considered a win.
RP: If they can put all of that together and have the position players put up the numbers they're projected to, they have a good shot at a Wild Card spot. They have the talent in the minor leagues they can cash in on to go out and grab a rental to bolster the lineup near the deadline if needed, but I don't really think that's what Josh Byrnes and company are about.
DL: Where do you see the Padres finishing at the end of the regular season? Record, place in division, place in playoffs, etc.
RP: The Padres are a popular sleeper candidate entering the season, and I'd love to see them make some noise. The fanbase could really use it. However, I think that they're still a year or two away from making a serious run. For smaller budget teams like the Padres, it's all about a slow build and giving young players a chance to develop and take their lumps at the major league level. After back to back 76-86 campaigns, I expect the Padres to take a significant step, but not a leap, forward in 2014. Forced to make a prediction, I'd say they finish 81-81, behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. I, for one, would be thrilled with that.