When the Opening Day roster was announced, some interesting observations were made. While management chose to carry only one player to back up 2B/3B/SS, there were five outfielders listed. This is a curious decision. Matt Kemp and Jon Jay figure to be everyday starters, so how would the Padres find playing time for Melvin Upton, Jr., Travis Jankowski, and Jabari Blash? Since the roster came out, some people have suggested that A.J. Preller might be up to something.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks traded Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte to the Braves as part of the Shelby Miller trade, they signaled that they were "all-in" on the 2016 season. Inciarte had a big season in 2015, playing excellent defense at all three OF positions while showing consistent improvement at the plate. By trading him, the Diamondbacks were gambling on the potential of breakout All-Star & Gold Glove centerfielder A.J. Pollock. In a tough case of misfortune, it was announced late last week that Pollock was to undergo elbow surgery to repair a fractured elbow, causing him to miss several months if not the entire season. With no MLB-ready centerfielder in their system, the Diamondbacks are currently exploring internal options, such as shortstop Chris Owings and minor leaguer Socrates Brito. It's more likely that the team will look for a veteran replacement. Michael Bourn and Will Venable have been mentioned as potential replacements, but neither performed well enough this spring to earn major league jobs with the Braves and Phillies, respectively two of the worst projected teams in the league.
The Padres currently have three players on their major league roster who can play center field, and at least two of them can be reasonably expected to play at a replacement level or better.
- Travis Jankowski was a surprise addition to the 2016 roster. His 2015 debut was less than stellar, as he struggled to translate his excellent OBP and batting average from his ascension through the minors. His speed and athleticism still make him an interesting prospect, and the bat showed an increased line drive tendency this spring. The consensus seemed to be that Jankowski would likely spend much of 2015 in AAA to get daily at-bats, but now he is mired in a timeshare with Upton and Blash. With years of control remaining, the Padres would surely like to hang on to him, but his timeline isn't far ahead of budding star Manuel Margot.
- Melvin Upton saw a return to form in 2015, pairing an OPS+ of 112 with excellent defense in center field. The acquisition of Jon Jay seems to have pushed Upton into a timeshare in left field, which is an expensive proposition considering that he's on the payroll for $31.9 million for 2016 & 2017. The Padres might be willing to eat some of that salary for the right return.
- Jon Jay came from the Cardinals in exchange for Jedd Gyorko. Long considered an above average defender in center field, Jay is coming off a down year at the plate, possibly caused by too quick of a return from a wrist injury. Now fully healthy, Jay led the team in AB's this spring while posting numbers that suggest that he is back to his career norm levels. Serving the final year of a $6.85 million contract, the terms of his labor might be what the Diamondbacks are looking for in a one-year replacement for Pollock.
This is all pure conjecture, but the pieces seem to add up. The Padres have a surplus at a position where the Diamondbacks have a need.