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MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Between 2 Dugouts: A Conversation About the 2020 Padres Season, with johnjprecoda

Let’s talk about the 2020 season!

Alright all, I’m back after an appropriate time of grieving following the demise of our Padres’ 2020 season. While I’m sure all of us would have preferred to get a slice of that Big Cake at the end of the year, I’m also not going to pout too much. Because simply, this was the best “season” the Padres have had in YEARS, with more highs in one season than I can remember having since before I went to college (which was a looooong time ago, for those keeping track).

So with that, based on the recommendation from one of our commenters, I reached out to our very own GIF-master, FTJ hype-man, and future doctor johnjprecoda for some of his takes on the 2020 season, while throwing in a few of my own. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to fire away with your thoughts down in the comments!

So john, for most of us Padres fans, 2020 marked the first year where we got to experience regular joy and happiness from the Padres season. I know for me, the very fact we HAD a season at all made me pretty happy. After that, we had so many individual and collective moments throughout the season that we can hold on to for years to come. So, I’ll kick this off by asking you: What made you happiest about the season?

johnjprecoda (jjp): Despite the tantalizingly short nature of the 2020 season, there was a LOT to love. But no matter how many positives there were, everything took second fiddle to the fact that we have very clearly developed an absolute superstar… maybe even THE superstar of the entire MLB. Going in to this season, we knew that Fernando Tatis Jr. had unprecedented talent and an extremely high ceiling. But we still had questions. Could he consistently make the routine play at shortstop? Would pitchers adjust to him given an offseason to prepare? Were his numbers bolstered by an unsustainably high .410 BABIP? Were his strikeout rates going to be a problem? Would his full-bore playing style lead to injuries over the course of an entire MLB season?

MLB: Wild Card-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

While 60 games may not have completely answered each of these questions, I would argue that a healthy Tatis Jr. is going to post phenomenal numbers (and even more phenomenal watchability) for the next four years that he’s currently under contract as a Padre and likely for many years afterwards… hopefully all in a Padres uniform. He followed up his .317/.379/.590 line in 2019 with a .277/.366/.571 line in 2020 and a .318/.444/.682 line in his first attempt at postseason ball. In 2020, he was in the 100th percentile in exit velocity, barrel % and hard-hit percentage, the 98th percentile in sprint speed and xwOBA while performing in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average playing shortstop! He’s incredible and he’s going to be a problem for opposing teams for a long time. We might have the MLBs best asset and most marketable player as our shortstop and that’s amazing.

San_Diegan_in_a_Strange_Land (SDiaSL): Really and truly, I think if you’d asked me this question, I’d have just copy and pasted FTJ’s name over and over again 20-30 times and/or posted every Tatis GIF you made this year, because I agree with everything you just said. While I personally thought back at the beginning of the year FTJ would regress a bit (which I’m VERY happy to have been wrong about, btw), Tatis Jr. instead became a SUPERSTAR. He’s a guy that kids are going to cite as their favorite player in baseball for years to come, and might inspire a whole new wave of kids to play baseball over other sports for years to come. He’s that good, and he has that kind of infectious personality. I personally have a hard time coming up with another player with his mix of talent/swag/personability. He’s a once in a generation type player,, and he’s on OUR team, potentially for years to come. This is phenomenal.

And let’s not forget, he’s the one who founded Slam Diego this year against the whiny Rangers, which then sent the team on that incredible run of 25-30 games. For singular moments, that’s when I became convinced we not only had a good team, but a potentially special one as well.

jjp: So, you’ve touched on something that begs a follow up question (it’s weird, it’s almost like you planned/edited this). Would you, as a fan, understand and be willing to sacrifice any major free agent signings over the next 2-3 years if it meant reallocating the money into a 10 year, $400 million dollar contract for Tatis Jr.?

SDiaSL: I can neither confirm nor deny any editing/planning for this article took place in lieu of conducting my “official” duties.

You’ve hit on something that strikes right at the core of any Padres’ fans psyche. So often in the past, we the fans saw the team either refuse to commit financially to the young players it developed and parted ways with them (Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Benito Santiago, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., Roberto Alomar, the list goes on) or invested in the wrong guys (Matt f!#$-ing Kemp, anyone?). While I’ll be the first to say the current ownership group ain’t like so many others in the past, I think we all realize that the team has shelled out a considerable amount of cash the last few years that may hamstring them a bit in any FTJ negotiation. While I might balk at a 10 year/$400 million contract (which would then make FTJ the highest paid player in MLB right now, despite having played less than 160 total games), I would not blink or mind very much if the team threw a 10-year/$300 million deal his way. If that means we miss out on a guy like Trevor Bauer, Chris Archer, Joc Pederson, or another free agent, then I’ll deal with it. FTJ means too much to this team to not have him. We saw what this team looks like without him for prolonged stretches in 2019; he’s the team’s sparkplug, it’s heartbeat. We’ve got to lock him up long-term.

So, while most folks at the beginning of the year were expecting good things from the team, I’m not sure anyone predicted all the success we had from so many players. Wil Myers finally looked… comfortable, I guess? Eric Hosmer, despite some unfortunate/silly injuries, finally hit for power and consistency in a Padre uniform. Manny Machado looked like he wanted to earn every dollar in his contract this year, Dinelson Lamet looked like a veritable ACE, and possibly a half-dozen more guys all stood-out/played well. What about you? What surprised you the most?

jjp: If I would have told you before the season started that Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth would not only decisively take over the starting roles, but also post lines of .251/.352/.456 and .285/.354/.477 while providing spectacular defense up the middle, you would have laughed me off as a hopeless optimist. If you combine those two with Austin Nola and his .273/.353/.472 line (although a less exciting .222/.324/.381 as a Padre), we now have 3 players who could possibly provide good offense, good defense up the middle and are all controlled through the 2025 season who weren’t even on the roster just 1 year ago.

They’ll probably all have to adjust to the adjustments pitchers will make on them and they will have to sustain success over the course of an entire season, but their defense and cheap control will certainly make each of them extremely valuable members of our team even if their numbers take a slight dip over 162 games. I’ve got high hopes for each of those three.

MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

SDiaSL: You don’t have to convince me on Grisham, I was looking forward to his play back in February. But he carried promise already, having made an impact for the Brewers the year before, so that it fairly easy. Cronenworth, he made the move from being an intriguing potential 2-way player/prospect to likely NL Rookie of the Year while playing well at multiple positions. I feel safe saying that not even the Tampa Rays, the team that gave him up, saw that coming, and they may have the best talent evaluation system in MLB.

But for me, the biggest surprise for me was the play of some of our much-maligned and high-priced veterans. Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, and Manny Machado all posted numbers that, in a full-season, would be career years for them, and Machado would have been the only guy I’d have bet on. Machado will probably finish somewhere in the Top 5 in NL MVP voting. I personally had been vocal that the team needed to part ways with Myers, so I definitely owe him an apology. Hosmer looked like the guy we paid big money for. The fact we gave up a number of players that were otherwise blocked because of their play, allowing us bring in likely ace (depending on injury severity) Mike Clevinger as well as shore up other holes in the lineup like the volatile bullpen and the black hole of suck that was our catchers this year. Simply, if Myers, Machado, and Hosmer weren’t playing as well as they did this year, I don’t believe the team trades away guys like Josh Naylor, Ty France, Eddy Olivares, Luis Torrens, Taylor Trammel, or Hudson Potts in all those trade deadline deals. Those guys were our back-up plan in case the aforementioned 3 Veterans all underwhelmed again this year. Clearly, the team believes the Vets are the answers for their positions for at least the next 2-3 years.

jjp: Speaking of the catcher position, as you mentioned, it was not very good this year. The Padres now have Austin Nola, Francisco Mejia and Luis Campusano potentially vying for playing time. They can’t all be long-term solutions for us at catcher. How would you navigate that situation going forward?

SDiaSL: For me, it’s pretty easy. Even though I’m a HUGE fan of Campusano (I think I’ve compared him to Benny Santiago in the past, and have stated he’s probably the most complete catcher prospect in the Padres’ farm system) it’s worth noting that, prior to this year, Campusano hadn’t played a game above Hi-A Lake Elsinore. Hell, he hasn’t even appeared in AA yet, and he just turned 22. So, he’s got some additional development/seasoning to do. I’d start him off in AA this coming year, because as tantalizing as his bat is, he needs more time developing behind the plate. There’s a reason we never saw him strap on the “tools of ignorance” this year, and it wasn’t just because he got hurt so quick. That’s not to say he’s bad behind the plate, just that he needs more time.

That leaves Nola and Francisco Mejia. I think Nola is our primary catcher for the next couple years at least, simply because it became pretty obvious at the end of the year that Mejia fell out of favor within the organization. Simply, he’s still too much of a free-swinger, slashing an infinitesimal .077/.143/.179 in 39 ABs in 2020, but more importantly, he K’d at a 21.4% clip last year while posting an atrocious .069 BABip. Yes, small-sample size and all that, that’s still not going to cut it. I personally would not be surprised if Mejia starts the year back off in AAA and keeps him there until he finally refines his approach, causing the team to bring back Jason Castro on a 1 or 2-year deal. If Mejia can’t, then I see him becoming available via trade, potentially as soon as the next trade deadline. He’s still got value, but not if he keeps putting up stats at the plate like that.

Alright, time for the hard stuff. Even in a season with so many highs, there were undoubtedly some lows. Whether it was Hosmer breaking his finger on a bunt attempt, Tommy Pham breaking his hamate bone, Clevinger and Lamet going down late in the year, or Chris Paddack just falling off a cliff, what most disappointed you about the season (besides exiting the playoffs early)?

jjp: In reality, what disappointed me even more than exiting the playoffs was exiting the playoffs without being able to actually assess where we stand in comparison to the big-bad Dodgers. If we were to have been swept after Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet made starts against Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, at least we’d know now that we need more upgrades to be competitive with the Dodgers. Right now, I have no idea how well a fully-healthy Padres squad compares to a fully-healthy Dodgers squad… and that’s disappointing.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Individually speaking, the biggest disappointment of 2020 to me has to be Chris Paddack. Coming into the season, we were wondering if he’d successfully be able to incorporate a 3rd pitch to his nasty fastball/changeup combination. Not only did he not successfully incorporate a 3rdpitch, his fastball suddenly lost its ride and its command and was torched to the tune of 10 home runs in 59.0 regular season innings. Somehow my expectation on Chris Paddack went from him being a solid 3rd starter with the upside of an ace at the start of the season to a 5th starter or bullpen piece with the upside of a 3rd starter at this point. In this one offseason, he’s probably going to have to focus on the following:

  1. Reestablishing his fastball both in terms of movement and command while also possibly changing his fastball location from predominantly up in the zone to predominantly down in the zone
  2. Work on his curveball
  3. Work on his cutter

I’m not saying he can’t improve in all three aspects that I have listed, but that’s a lot to have to worry about in a single off-season. I still expect Paddack to establish himself as a good starting pitcher in this league, but he is suddenly more in need of development at this point in time than I thought he was at the start of 2020.

SDiaSL: I expected Paddack to regress a bit this year, but this was a whole ‘nother level. I worried that Paddack would be too predictable this year, based on what he showed in 2019, and hitters would take advantage. But while the loss of command is troubling, I have confidence he’ll bounce-back next year; everything he did wrong this year is fixable, with time and a watchful eye from the team. To me though, the most disappointing part of the team was the struggles of the bullpen. We suffered numerous injuries, or just had guys not performing this year. Jose Castillo never came back this year after a lat injury. Kirby Yates went down with elbow issues, which is troubling to me, simply because Kirby’s 33-years old. Rosenthal pitched well, but he’s a free agent and may not be back. Emilio Pagan struggled this year as well, dealing with a mysterious biceps issue. At least Drew Pomeranz looked like he was worth every dollar we spent on him, but he’s really the only guy in that ‘pen that was reliable all year.

This was supposed to be a bullpen that would be among the best in the game, and didn’t perform anywhere close to that for most of the year. Their showing over the last half of the season gave me encouragement (best fWAR in MLB, woot!), but that was mostly only after we acquired a bunch of arms at the deadline. Thankfully, they have several years of control left, so we should be good going forward; I just didn’t expect a Padres bullpen to be such a question mark this year, especially when so many baseball types were calling for this group to be great.

jjp: So I gotta ask then: What’s your level of confidence that Chris Paddack comes back in 2021 as a strong #3 starting pitcher? What would have to happen for you to start thinking of Chris Paddack as more of a back-end of the bullpen relief option than a bonafide starting pitcher? Would you try to convince him to spend a month or two trying to establish a 3rd pitch in the minors if he doesn’t come out dominating in spring training?

SDiaSL: I’m highly confident Paddack will return to form next year. The guy has a great work ethic, he’s posted great/dominant stats in the past, and I’ll remind everyone that, before Spring Training got canceled, Paddack looked like a burgeoning ace, with only 1 bad start (really, 1 bad inning) marring his record. Like a lot of pitchers around MLB this year, I think the time off between Spring Training and Summer Camp allowed him to develop some bad habits, habits that some constant supervision could have prevented or at least mitigated. Even this year, if the team could’ve sent him down to the minors for a few weeks, like they did back in 2019, I think he would’ve been much better and avoided many of the problems he had this year. All of his problems are fixable; it’s just going to take time, which is something the team didn’t have during the season.

Still, we can’t ignore what happened to Paddack this year. To answer your question, if 2021 ends up looking like a 2020 redux, I’ll start having some serious questions about Paddack. He can’t keep throwing his change and fastball 90% of the time, and he especially can’t throw it 90% of the time where 1 pitch only went into the upper half of the zone, and the other going to the lower half.

I’m confident the team will give Paddack every resource available this off-season. After the 2019 season, the team invested time and resources, sending staff to the Dominican Republic to work with Dinelson Lamet to strengthen his fastball velocity, and make mechanical tweaks to improve the pitch’s efficiency. Last I checked, Texas isn’t quite as far away as the DR, so I think they’ll take the same actions with Paddack. I’d also personally love to see Paddack come into spring training, and only throw his cutter, curve, and change-up for his first few outings, locating each of those pitches all around the zone. If he and the team does that, I think Paddack returns to Sherriff status in 2021, and emerges as a potential 3rd ace of this staff. If he can’t, well, a trip to the bullpen might be in his future, but that won’t be until 2022 (probably). The team can afford to take it a little slow with Paddack, thanks to the emergence of Zach Davies. Assuming Clevinger and Lamet are healthy to start 2021, I see the team slotting Paddack as the team’s #4 or #5 starter, at least initially/pre-All Star break, giving them some additional time to refine his pitch sequence and give Paddack some more rest between starts. Otherwise, I could see the team pushing him a bit more, especially if Lamet/Clevinger aren’t quite as healthy or Davies struggles a bit.

So that’s enough about 2020. Let’s start looking at the off-season. What, in your eyes, are the priorities for the team this off-season?

jjp: I don’t know why Joey Lucchesi and his career 4.21 ERA, 1.28WHIP and 9.26 K/9 can’t serve as a respectable 5th starter, but I think we’ve made it abundantly clear that he’s not a major part of our plans going forward. I think the first step is to consider who we are going to target as a return for Joey Lucchesi in a trade this offseason. Personally, I would love a very good defensive outfielder who has good splits against LHPs and who has at least a couple of years of control. If we can trade Lucchesi for essentially a Manuel Margot clone, I would be happy. Our depth in the outfield is shockingly shallow with very few answers on the minor league horizon, and our struggles against LHPs in 2020 was concerning.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the additions don’t have to be drastic but rather players who provide depth along the fringes of the roster so that we are never forced to call up prospects before they’re ready or ever have to cross our fingers on a waiver-wire reclamation project. I’d love to sign a veteran starter as a Garrett Richards replacement so that we aren’t forced to push Lamet or Clevinger if they need extra time at the start of next season and so that we can call up Gore, Patino, Morejon, Baez and/or Weathers only when they force our hand. Names like Rich Hill, JA Happ or Cole Hamels on a short contract would be all that I’m looking for out of a free agent starter.

I’d also like to put my scouts to the task of identifying underperforming relief talent on either the free agent or trade market. We likely have enough bullpen depth barring injury, but I find it unlikely that we resign either Rosenthal or Yates and you can never have too much relief insurance. I’d also definitely look into a Jurickson Profar reunion but I think he may have proven himself worthy of a decent-sized contract that might be hard to justify financially. Another veteran utility player and/or outfielder, ideally with platoon splits, would probably round out my offseason. Any upgrades beyond that would likely be better-addressed during the trading deadline next season depending on whichever injuries or surprise underperformances happen in the first half of 2021.

SDiaSL: While I have no clue as to why Lucchesi wasn’t brought back into the fold, especially when Lamet and Clevinger went down with injuries, I believe the team still has faith in Joey Fuego. I think they see Lucchesi as two things: the Paddack insurance plan, and the guy that allows the team to pump the brakes a bit on the MacKenzie Gore/Luis Patino/Ryan Weathers/pick-a-pitching-prospect arrival train. Lucchesi was fine in 2019, a totally viable 4th or 5th starter, and I think that’s exactly what he’ll be next year in 2021. While I could see the team signing a starting pitcher, I think that’ll be more contingent on the health status of Clevinger and Lamet. If those 2 guys are good, I think the team stays with what they have for the rotation.

As for the outfield, I’m not super concerned with it, but mainly because I see the team bringing Jurickson Profar back as an OF/back-up infielder option. Profar breaking out in 2020, and seemingly being best buddies with FTJ, will lead the team to offer a 3 year, $30 million total contract, which hopefully will be enough. That helps shore up not only our bench, but also provides some insurance if Pham continues to decline or has another… unfortunate social outing. Greg Allen, who is still arbitration eligible until 2025, can provide depth, and allow Jorge Ona to head back to the minors and await his next call to the Majors (he’s fine, but he’s another guy with limited time at AA before making his MLB debut; he needs more time, like Campusano). Given it’s only going to cost the team $3 million, I also expect 1B/DH Mitch Moreland to come back as well. Throw in either Greg Garcia and/or Jorge Mateo (depending on how Mateo does this winter and in spring training), and I think our bench is pretty solid. We need it to be, because most of our top position prospects are, most likely, at least a year (maybe 2) away from being able to contribute reliably.

To me, I’d invest heavily in the bullpen. We saw how, in the first half of the season, the volatility in the ‘pen nearly sunk our chances, and forced AJ Preller to make a few more deals at the deadline than he would’ve liked (maybe; it’s Preller, after all, so he might’ve just been looking for an excuse to deal). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team try to bring both Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates back on team-friendly deals, because you can never have enough weapons in the bullpen (1 of them getting resigned is an absolute must, though). I also see 2021 as another year of pitchers struggling, as so many arms didn’t get the work they’d normally get or will be recovering from injuries. For most pitchers, 2021 will be a big jump back up in terms of innings thrown, so I expect the Padres to specifically look for and target guys who can potentially go 2 or more innings per outing. With a longer season and the increased potential for arm injuries, they’ll have to use their arms longer, to allow them to then rest those arms more between appearances. Now, whether our coaching staff will let them go longer, that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Still though, that’s not going to address every situation, nor is everything that worked this year going to work out the same way next year. What are your biggest questions about the team, going into next year?

jjp: I think my biggest question overall is whether Clevinger and Lamet are going to be healthy enough to serve as dual aces at the top of our rotation. As we’ve seen, their presence completely alters the quality of our ballclub.

But it’s difficult to speculate on health, so I think a better question might be… what exactly do we have in Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer? Both players are signed through at least the next two years and will be making $22.5million and $21 million per year, respectively. Given that we don’t tend to operate near the top of the league’s payroll, we really need production out of players that we are paying over $20 million. Before the start of this short 2020 season, I think most of us would have been willing to pay nearly 50% of those contracts if it simply meant getting those players off our roster. But both players improved their stock in a short 60 game spread.

MLB: NLDS-San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

First, let’s look at Wil Myers. The 29-year-old has always had tantalizing talent, but has never put up a line even relatively close to the .288/.353/.606 line he sported in 2020. Even more exciting, the more you look into his numbers, the more you think he might have made changes that will stick. Myers’ BABIP actually dropped from 2019 to 2020, so it probably wasn’t luck. So what was it?

  1. Myers’ K% and chase % both went down in 2020.
  2. Myers dramatically reduced his pull % (39.4% compared to 43.8%for his career) while dramatically increasing his opposite field % (27.5%compared to 21.5% for his career).
  3. Always a good fastball hitter, Myers has tended to struggle against breaking balls and offspeed pitches… but this year he actually hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches BETTER than the fastball (.347 wOBA on fastball,.442wOBA on breaking ball, .445wOBA on off-speed pitches)

The way to get Myers out has always been the same, get ahead in the count and then throw a breaking ball low and away and watch him flail away at a ball off the plate for strike three. Here’s the thing, he was still quite terrible at hitting the ball low and away. But if you wanted to get him out, you had to make sure you placed it perfectly, because he wasn’t chasing off the plate at quite the same rate, and if the ball leaked middle away or middle down, he would crush those pitches up the middle or the opposite way.

The narrative on Myers has always been that when he’s at his best, he’s hitting the ball the other way. That’s easy to say, but probably a lot more difficult to accomplish. Well, he deserves credit for sticking to an approach, because he went the other way FAR more than any other year in his career and the results were amazing. Was 2020 a short-season aberration in which sticking to a designed approach was much easier given the duration of the season, or has Myers made a change that can stick? Are we going to try to unload him this offseason while his stock is high, or are we suddenly thinking “hey, he’s worth MORE than $22.5 million at the rate he’s producing!” If he can stick to his new-found approach, his $20 million option in 2023 could even look appealing.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hosmer also provided hope that he might have finally quit his high exit velocity ground-ball approach and finally started lifting the ball into the air. As mentioned in this great Fangraphs article, Hosmer appears to have changed his approach and is now laying off breaking balls and hunting fastballs (which he is better able to create adequate launch angle on). He has also dramatically increased his pull %to create extra power. The approach seems to have worked, as he dramatically increased his fly ball and line drive percentages while dropping his groundball rates.

Hosmer finished the season with a much-improved .287/.333/.517 line that provides optimism that he may be a decent offensive contributor for the next two seasons (he also has a 3 year, $39 million player option after 2022). Like Wil Myers, his BABIP was actually reduced from 2019 and near a career low for him. Unfortunately, I think the low BABIP is here to stay with his new approach. If he’s hitting more balls up the middle and to his pull-side against a shift, I would imagine his increased fly ball rate would struggle to compensate for the effect of theshift.

I’m not quite as optimistic about Hosmer being worth the price of his contract as I am about Myers. Partially, this is because you have to hit a ton to be worth $20 million as a first basemen when you’re providing the defensive quality (or lack thereof) that Hosmer is providing. Additionally, Hosmer didn’t hit breaking balls much better than he has over the course of his career, he simply laid off of them more often. I would imagine that the offseason will provide pitchers with a new book on Hosmer and that they may simply become more inclined to throw breaking balls more frequently to Hosmer and see if he is able to adjust. I’m cautiously optimistic about Hosmer, overall, but I think some adjustments will be in store for next season. Hopefully, he can continue to produce.

SDiaSL: I have a real hard time disagreeing with you, but just to be a little different, my biggest question centers on not just the health of Lamet and Clevinger, but the effectiveness of the Padres starting rotation as a whole. Will Clev and Lamet be healthy? Can Paddack return to at least 2019 levels of effectiveness? Will Zach Davies, he of the smoke and mirrors stuff on the mound, repeat his 2020 success, now over a full season? Can Joey Lucchesi return to the fold and be a reliable back-end starter? If one or more of those guys goes down/struggles, who will step in/step up among the crop of kids we have in the wings: Gore/Patino/Weathers/Baez/Morejon?

I said I have faith in Paddack recovering in 2021, and I do. A full off-season, and the regular supervision of the club during that off-season to get back his command/improve his stuff (like they did with Lamet), will help him greatly. Lucchesi, I have some doubts about, but like you’ve said, he’s proven to be at least a viable 4th or 5th starter in the past. What he seems to need to do is work on his command, which I think A LOT of pitchers struggled with in 2020, specifically with his sinker and cutter. This year, Lucchesi threw his sinker nearly 50% of the time and his cutter another 15.4% of the time, and both pitches got shelled. Really, Lucchesi became a 1-pitch pitcher; he had to rely solely on guile and on his curve, which, as we know, ain’t going to cut it most starts. He just became too predictable.

MLB: NLDS-San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

What Lucchesi needs to do is follow the example of and become the lefty version of Zach Davies. Davies sports almost the exact same mix, and almost exclusively operates in the lower half of the zone. This is the roadmap for Lucchesi: he needs to reduce his sinker usage, maybe up his changeup usage a bit, and locate his pitches exclusively on the edges or in the lower half of the zone. He does that, I think he becomes a MUCH more effective pitcher, especially when you factor in his delivery funkiness. He has effective-enough stuff; he just needs to locate it better, so that stuff plays up more.

Saying all that, if Clevinger and Lamet are on the shelf for a prolonged period, I’d stare long and hard at leveraging some of our rejuvenated vets to land another proven arm. Given our current OF situation, I’d hang on to Wil Myers, and instead try to move either Hosmer or Moreland (while Grisham/Pham/Myers/Profar/Allen is fine to good most of the time, I really don’t want to rely on just 4 of those names for a long stretch of time). We don’t necessarily need a Bauer-level arm (though that’d be nice); I’d just want a reliable enough arm to give us a few weeks, in the event either Clevinger or Lamet aren’t quite ready to go at the start of 2021. If 1 or both are out for significant time, then that changes things significantly, and moving Myers becomes MUCH more likely. Like you said, Myers finally looks to have found a sustainable approach to make use of his talent, something I no longer thought he was going to do. Now, we need him to stick around for at least another year or two, at least until some of our kids can start moving up through the minors. Ona might have power, but so far, he may just be a Hunter Renfroe/Franmil Reyes clone: a big power bat that strikes out a ton, doesn’t make a ton of contact or get on-base much, with average to sub-par defense in a corner OF spot. That’s… not ideal. Safe to say, we might have to make a play in free agency for an OF as well.

Alright, so that’s what I’ve got questions on going into next year. But let’s end this on a high note: what’s giving you optimism going into next year? What make you think that everything just might be all right in 2021?

jjp: The offense has arrived. With the exception of Luis Campusano and Jorge Ona, nearly every hitting prospect in the upper minors has either graduated or been traded away. The next wave of offensive talent (the CJ Abrams/Robert Hassell III/Hudson Head class) likely won’t be ready until 2022 or 2023. What sounds like a potential problem is actually quite refreshing. The reason we’re not desperate for young, fresh offensive blood is because we already have a very talented offense! You can arrange Tatis Jr., Machado, Hosmer, Myers, Moreland, Pham, Cronenworth, Grisham and Nola in whatever order you want, the important thing is that we have a damn good lineup. As I stated above, I’d love to round out the bench with solid defensive talent with platoon splits but we have a VERY solid core to work with for many years to come. There may be regression by a player or two, but ranked us as the #1 offensive squad among playoff teams. That remains absolutely unbelievable to me.

As much as I loved watching Adam Eaton keep us alive for 5 innings before we slammed the door on a 2-1 or 3-2 victory with Akinori Otsuka, Scott Linebrink, and Trevor Hoffman, this is MUCH more exciting. I am very much looking forward to watching 9 straight hitters who are all at least as talented as our average3-hole hitter for most of the past decade over the course of a full season.

It may be cheating to add on, but while I’m not confident that our pitching will quite measure up to our offensive potential from the jump next season, I AM quite confident that our next wave of arms is quickly approaching. At least one or two of Gore, Patino, Morejon, Baez, and Weathers should be properly seasoned by summertime, which will be perfect for grilling up some NL West opponents! I know, I know, I’m being corny.

SDiaSL: Don’t let me stop you from being corny. I’m right there with you on the offense. It’s just an absolute joy to know that, even if we’re down 3+ runs going into the 6th or 7th inning, we have more than enough firepower to make something happen. Also, some fun food for thought: even if the Padres offense takes, say, a 10% hit in production from what it did this year, it would still be a Top-10 in MLB offense, or very close to it. Given our offensive struggles in our recent history, that amazes me. Another incredibly fun aspect of this lineup is that like you mentioned, for the first time in MANY years, we can be selective in who we call up, at least on the offensive side of things. That’s mainly because we sent some of our closer-to-MLB-ready prospects got shipped off, as you mentioned, but really, where would they have played? Machado, Tatis Jr., Cronenworth, Hosmer, Nola, Myers, Grisham, and some combo of Profar/Pham, and that’s basically our team for the next 2+ years, barring injuries.

Yes, we have concerns with our starting pitching, but that’s mainly based on the uncertainty surrounding Clevinger and Lamet. Thankfully, they both appear to have avoided surgery, so should be ready to go for spring training. That will help a ton. Add in a return to form Chris Paddack, and we’re right back to going toe-to-toe with the Dodgers.

Now, here’s where it gets REALLY fun. If you scan the available free agent outfielders list, you see some pretty intriguing names. Say AJ Preller skips out on resigning Profar because someone else decides to throw some silly money at him (not a far-fetched idea). Instead, though, Preller somehow convinces the ownership group to open the coffers yet again, and lands, say, Joc Pederson or George Springer? Yes, I get that wouldn’t mitigate against our biggest potential shortfall, our starting pitching, and they’re both likely well out of our team’s price range. But c’mon; you can’t tell me you aren’t intrigued as all get out with the possibility of adding just one of those names to our lineup.I know I am.

Even if we don’t sign a marquee name like Springer or Pederson, I still like the firepower we have, especially when you consider how the luxury tax may start affecting our nearest rivals in the VERY near future.

jjp: I’m glad you brought this up, because it’s something I noticed too. After arbitration raises and barring any major trades, the Dodgers are going to be near $200 million in salary next year. The competitive balance tax threshold will be $210 million in 2021, which means they won’t be able to sign very many of the following free agents: Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Blake Treinen, Kike Hernandez, Pedro Baez, and Alex Wood. They will, however, have David Price back, barring another opt-out situation. Feel free to tell me I’m dreaming, but with all of their potential player losses and all of the pitching talent on our horizon… could our window of potential NL West supremacy start in 2021?

SDiaSL: This is EXACTLY what I was talking about. Simply, we might be witnessing the dawn of a new leader in the West, just as the old one suffers from bloat and excess. The Dodgers can’t resign all that talent; they’ll have to start relying on some of their prospects, or maybe some cheaper free agents (always dicey). I get that they’re one of the best teams in MLB at restocking/reloading, but at some point, they’re going to miss on someone, and the odds of that happening only increase when they have to bring more folks up or in. Why not now?

John, thanks again for doing this! It’s been a blast.

jjp: Thanks for the fun conversation, how much longer until spring training?

SDiaSL: Not soon enough!

Again, many thanks to johnjprecoda for taking the time to banter about the Padres. What about you all? Fire away in the comments!

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