Let me start this off by saying I really, really, really want to be optimistic about all these moves the Padres have made. In fact, I would want to be optimistic about the Padres in general. It's part of the nature of my Padres fandom. However I'm also a bit of an analytical person, so I am curious if my subjectivity can align with my objectivity.
Like the rest of you, I marveled in December at the moves new Padres GM A.J. Preller was able to make. Acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Brandon Morrow and Justin Upton to name a few. I also follow Padres prospects pretty closely and knew the names going the other way: Lots of solid prospects left the organization, but them leaving didn't bother me that much. My honest assessment of the Padres farm system was that despite a lot of good prospects, there wasn't a future major league core on the way and something needed to be done. Moving them for big leaguers seemed like a good idea. I was on board. I was even okay with overpaying (whatever that means) in prospects for major leaguers. The Padres had a lot of good trade chits, but you only have so many major league roster spots. Something had to give so why not overpay a little?
However, the wheeling and dealing seems to be close to if not at the end. The first warning sign comes when you look at the team's payroll commitment for 2015: it's projected to be just shy of $90M, which is right around where it was last year. All that flash and pizzazz of bringing in established players and in the end the team is just as frugal as ever. While that might work for this season, the bill will come due in future seasons. Matt Kemp only counts for $3M of the payroll in 2015, but in 2016-2019 he will take up $18.5M. The Padres will free up some payroll commitments next year, but some of those players like Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy are expected to be pretty decent contributors in 2015 and would be big losses going forward, losses that are hard to replace when you don't have a lot of financial wiggle room. But that's all a problem for another day. What would be troublesome for 2015 is if this roster isn't quite good enough, but they are stuck with that payroll number.
So let's dig into projections for the 2015 roster. If you don't like using statistics then it's time to either read something else or roll your eyes, but I don't know a more accurate to project what a team might do without them. It is also my understanding that pretty much every team in the majors does something (more advanced, but) similar. When they build their team they use the numbers to project what that team might do. Just for fun, I've done the same thing since 2011. I don't have a fancy calculation to do it. I use 3 years worth of WAR data and weight them with the most recent year getting a weight of 5, the 2nd year getting a weight of 4 and the 3rd year getting a weight of 3. I also look at what would happen if players just repeated what they did the previous year. I Then take that data and adjust some things up or down based on my own judgement without getting crazy about it. I know regression has flaws like undervaluing rookie seasons, so that's why I make adjustments. The end result isn't as scientific as ZIPs or PECOTA or Steamer or whatever other projection system, but it does the job when those aren't out yet. Steamer is currently available via Fangraphs, but the results aren't that different.
For the upcoming season, the outcome is that even if I get optimistic about certain aspects, my projections (and also Steamer's projections) come up short. Even if Kemp is more like 2012 Kemp instead of 2013 or 2014 Kemp and Wil Myers is more like 2013 than 2014 and Gyorko bounces back some and they get some decent production from guys like Solarte and Spangenberg and Medica and the core of the pitching staff stays as healthy as it did in 2014, it just doesn't look good. It looks like a similar result to what we have seen for the last few seasons. This team made some very good additions, but it also lost Chase Headley, Seth Smith, Jesse Hahn, Yasmani Grandal and Huston Street. All those guys gave the team some very positive contributions in 2014. It's the same sort of two steps forward two steps back that the 2014 team experienced. That team got better pitching, but saw position player performances from Gyorko, Denorfia, Venable, Cabrera and Quentin drop off dramatically.
What A.J. Preller has done reminds me a lot of the 2013 team. Then-GM Josh Byrnes, in a less flashy manner, got a number of solid pieces in place, but it didn't propel the Padres to anything better than where they were. It took him two years to do it, but he had acquired Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Quentin, Huston Street, Edinson Volquez. He also had a solid platoon in RF in Will Venable and Chris Denorfia, a promising rookie in Jedd Gyorko, a stud 3B coming off his best year in Chase Headley, a re-established SS in Everth Cabrera, a good CF in Cameron Maybin, a veteran in Clayton Richard to buoy the staff and Eric Stults coming off a promising 2012 season. Again, it wasn't as flashy as this 2015 will be, but it didn't have the holes this one has either. Byrnes had a solid team. As it turned out pitching and health became that team's biggest flaws, but the team still wasn't bad. They just weren't good either.
This 2015 team has some flaws that are easier to point out without hindsight. It doesn't appear likely that they will get much production offensively or defensively from the infielders. The rotation has 3 productive pitchers, but none are likely to finish in the top 30 SPs in WAR and maybe only one will be in the top 50. The other two spots are big question marks. The bullpen has fine anchor in Joaquin Benoit, but you can't hang your hat on any of the rest of them. All you know is that they aren't likely to suck. These are not huge glaring flaws. They aren't going to sink the team to a bottom 5 finish. However, they add up to a projection that puts the team right back where they it was in 2014. I will add, though, that the team is definitely better than when they started the offseason. I think standing pat would have resulted in a pretty awful team.
But, like I said at the beginning, I really, really, really want to be optimistic about this team. And I want to be optimistic about them contending for a playoff spot. So, if I'm going to put on my fan hat and let the analytic side only tell me where the team needs help, then I can say that I have to root for the following: Wil Myers breaks out and plays a nice CF, Tyson Ross builds on 2014 to be better than ever, Cashner is healthier than ever, Kennedy is as good as 2014, Kemp works on his defense and hits as well as he did in the 2nd half of 2014, either Middlebrooks, Solarte or Spangenberg is a productive 3B, Amarista or Barmes plays an excellent SS, Gyorko plays more like 2013 than 2014, Norris is as good as he was in 2014, Kelley, Maurer, Torres or Quackenbush is dominant in the 8th inning and one of the others is good in the 7th. None of those are huge asks on their own, they just add up to being unrealistic on the whole. But what fan has ever stopped him or herself from rooting just because the odds were against it?