A year ago, Padres fans were as excited as ever to see the team that AJ Preller had built. This season it's a completely different feeling after a milder offseason from the Padres GM. With less of a buildup this Winter and pretty much every sports outlet in the world expecting the Friars to place no higher than fourth place in the NL West, can fans expect the team to compete in 2016 or will we have to wait another year or more? What can we expect from this group of players and coaches?
One thing we've learned from Spring Training is that the Padres' new manager, Andy Green, is bringing an entirely new attitude to the clubhouse, and hopefully that can translate into some on-field chemistry. Green has already won over media, who have shown an interest in his ways of thinking and had nothing but nice things to say about him throughout the Spring. But will the first-year manager prove to have beginner's luck on his side when the regular season comes?
It'll be an interesting year for sure, and only time will tell if all the changes on and off the field will prove to be a success, or if we just get more of the same ol' Padres.
AJ Preller's sophomore year as the Padres' general manager isn't starting out as explosively as his 2014-2015 offseason. But maybe that's a good thing. In his first year in San Diego, Preller managed to elevate expectations to astronomical levels with moves that brought Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and James Shields - just to name a few - to America's Finest City's baseball team. But that team was an utter disappointment, ultimately finishing in fourth place in the National League West with a 74-88 record.
This time around Preller made some moves that were less flashy, but perhaps better in the long run for the Padres. And maybe even better in the short run - or at least that's what the Padres front office would like you to believe.
This past Winter the Padres lost Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy to free agency after they both declined the team's qualifying offers. Josh Johnson, whose time with the Padres was marred by injury and included no actual playing time, also became a free agent this offseason after his third career Tommy John surgery ensured he would miss the entirety of the 2016 season.
Cory Luebke, another pitcher to undergo two Tommy John surgeries in his tenure with the Padres, cut ties with the team as well and was picked up by the Pirates this past offseason. Lastly, Will Middlebrooks, Clint Barmes, and Bud Norris also elected for free agency.
But the Padres also made some significant free agent gains this offseason. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez signed with the team on a one-year deal, placating the fans who clamored for a real shortstop to be added to the roster. Fernando Rodney was another free-agent pickup that should bring some spark to the bullpen in 2016.
But AJ Preller's most important offseason transactions of this offseason came in the form of trades. He added some good talent at both the Major League and Minor League levels, including a couple of prospects - CF Manuel Margot and SS Javier Guerra - who have already turned heads out in Spring Training. The additions of Jabari Blash (Rule 5 draft), Jon Jay, and Christian Bethancourt have so far been promising and will hopefully continue to pan out for the big league club in 2016.
The Padres lost some of their key everyday players from 2015 - think Justin Upton, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko - but in 2016 we'll be seeing a revamped lineup that will hopefully be more rounded and productive. It'll include some old and new, some veterans and rookies, and it could take a while for Andy Green to find a consistent lineup that takes advantage of everyone's skills and abilities. But it could look something like this:
|1||Jon Jay||LF||Bench||Alexi Amarista||IF|
|2||Cory Spangenberg||2B||Christian Bethancourt||C|
|3||Wil Myers||1B||Brett Wallace||1B/PH|
|4||Matt Kemp||RF||Jabari Blash||OF|
|5||Derek Norris||C||Jose Pirela||IF|
|6||Yangervis Solarte||3B||Jemile Weeks||IF|
|8||Melvin Upton Jr. / Travis Jankowski||CF|
One of the big question marks going into Spring Training was the Padres' rotation. We knew the pitching staff would be built around a core of James Shields, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner. One thing we didn't know was that new Padres manager Andy Green would flip the switch on us and announce Ross as the team's Opening Day starter over last year's pick, James Shields. The Padres' 2014 All-Star didn't have the strongest 2015 season, but he got the job done and he's not undeserving of the promotion. He's been as reliable as anyone on the staff and it'll be a treat to see him lead the 2016 team.
The final two rotation spots are still up for grabs, though, and there are a number of guys at camp fighting for those four and five spots, though some have stood out more than others. Colin Rea seemingly already has one of the rotation spots locked up, leaving everyone else battling for the last one. Drew Pomeranz might have had a shot going into Spring, but as the weeks go on it's looking more like he'll start the season as a reliever. Brandon Maurer was also a favorite to transition from relief to starting pitching this Spring, but it's also looking like he'll start the season in the 'pen. That still leaves us with some nice options in Robbie Erlin, Luis Perdomo, and maybe even Brandon Morrow.
There was a lot of turnover with the Padres pitching staff this offseason, and the bullpen lost and gained some key players. There are seven or eight roster spots available for about 20 reliever candidates, and narrowing down the list won't be an easy job. But if we had to, that list might look like this:
That 2014-2015 offseason left the Padres farm system pretty depleted, and AJ Preller has had his work cut out for him this past Winter trying to add back some much-needed organizational depth. While his offseason activity did add some considerable young talent to the farm, he still has a long way to go to rebuild the organization.
The Padres and their broadcasting partners went through some staff overturn this offseason. The big headline of the season in this regard was probably all the changes to the Padres coaching staff. Not only did AJ Preller bring in a new manager in Andy Green, he also hired a new bench coach, hitting coach, and first base coach - Mark McGwire, Alan Zinter, and Tarrick Brock, respectively.
Petco Park will look a lot different to visitors this coming season, thanks to a number of ballpark changes Mike Dee and his staff made over the past few months. Some of these changes were for the better (i.e. lighting upgrades, improved safety netting), but others could be deemed as downgrades, depending on one's figurative and physical point of view. New seating options sound like a good idea, until you realize the average fan likely won't be able to afford or enjoy those options. And the Padres front office would like you to think that their decision to move the retired numbers from Petco Park's batter's eye was one made to benefit the fans and celebrate the team's history, but we know it's really more of a money grab than anything.
Looking ahead at our opponents in the NL West, probably the most intriguing team going into the 2016 season will be the Diamondbacks. This past Winter, Arizona beefed up the front end of their rotation by acquiring Zach Greinke from the Dodgers and Shelby Miller from the Braves. Not that the Dodgers have too much to worry about after losing Greinke, however. They're still the consensus favorites to win the NL West, though the Giants look like they'll give them a run for their money or at least contend for a Wild Card spot. Then there's the Rockies, who are the only team in the division projected to have a worse 2016 than the Padres.
See our 2016 Season Preview in its entirety here.