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Work Left to Do: An Early Look at the Opening Day Roster

With the Season on hold and likely to get reduced, the Padres will need to make efficient use of limited time to determine their Opening Day roster.

Major League Baseball Suspends Spring Training
Closed signs and MLB news releases are displayed on box office windows outside of Peoria Stadium
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With MLB placing the 2020 season on hold due to concerns over COVID-19, many teams are stuck in limbo. Simply, MLB suspended Spring Training before teams got to play enough games to solidify their rosters, or get their veterans into form. Since MLB allowed players to return to their homes if desired (and several players around the league have done just that), it seems pretty likely that MLB will need to allow for some prep time prior to beginning the season, whenever that will be.

In my mind then, the team will need to prioritize their remaining work, so that when MLB announces when Spring Training and the regular season will be, they can hit the ground running by focusing on as few roster decisions as possible.

Before MLB placed the 2020 season on hold, the Padres announced several roster moves, bringing the number of players in the MLB camp to 55. While that seems like a lot of players, in reality, the team only has roster spots available for a few of them, especially if the remaining Spring Training period gets compressed into only a week or 2. In my mind, the Padres will then focus on getting their primaries geared up for the regular season, giving them the preponderance of playing time, while extraneous folks get sent down to the Minors camp for their additional work. This then leaves only a few decisions to make on which players stay, and which ones go; by my estimation, it’s selecting 26 players from a viable pool of 33 or so. With that, here’s my take on what decisions the team will need to make prior to finalizing their Opening Day roster.

Position Players: 9 locks, 4 spots open.

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres
Padres 3B Manny Machado interacts with Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Based on salary and spring training playing time, here’s my guess as to who are the position player locks on the team at the moment:

Catchers: Austin Hedges; Francisco Mejia

Infield: Manny Machado; Fernando Tatis, JR; Eric Hosmer; Greg Garcia

Outfield: Tommy Pham; Trent Grisham; Wil Myers

Bubble: Jurickson Profar; Brian Dozier; Franchy Cordero; Josh Naylor; Jake Cronenworth; Ty France; Luis Torrens; Breyvic Valera; Abraham Almonte; Juan Lagares

Big decisions remain at 2nd Base, which will then drive decisions on the back-up combinations. I personally believe Jurickson Profar is too versatile to be let go, despite the salary savings if he’s cut before the regular season. One way or another, he’ll be on the Opening Day Roster, as either part of the team’s starting 2B combo, or as a super-utility player, with Brian Dozier and Greg Garcia manning the keystone.

That leaves decisions regarding the Outfield. While I think the Opening Day starters in the OF are set (again, barring injuries), with Pham in LF, Grisham in CF, and Myers in RF, the back-ups take on increased importance. Simply, while Josh Naylor is the more advanced batter at the moment, selecting Breyvic Valera, Juan Lagares, Abraham Almonte, or even Franchy Cordero can give the team more flexibility in the OF in the event of injuries (though the team would need to add Almonte or Lagares to the 40-man first).

Alternatively, the Padres could go in a different direction. Hypothetically, the team could name Dozier the starting 2B, cut Profar, and retain potential 2-way player Jake Cronenworth as a back-up infielder along with Garcia. The team could then use those remaining roster slots to send Cordero back down to AAA for every-day playing time/refinement, while Naylor serves as the 4th OF/back-up 1B/bench bat while carrying a 3rd catcher, or even another back-up INF/bat in the form of Ty France. Or they could send France/Torrens down and retain Franchy Cordero as a 5th OF/platoon-option on the MLB roster. They’ve got A LOT of options, is what I’m saying.

Primarily, the team will need to decide between Dozier and Profar during whatever remains of Spring Training, to solidify who the primary at 2B will be. That single decision will then influence the back-ups, deciding between some combo of either Naylor/Valera/Cordero in the OF and Cronenworth and France in the INF. I believe the team will initially go with Dozier as the primary 2B, using Garcia as the primary INF back-up, with Cronenworth and Profar filling super-utility roles, and Profar also serving as an emergency OF option. Naylor makes the Opening Day roster as the team’s 4th OF, with the team accepting risk in the OF by sending Cordero down to AAA for additional refinement/everyday play; Juan Lagares, Valera and/or Almonte get to try and sign on with another MLB team in the event they don’t want to accept an assignment to the minors. C Luis Torrens and INF Ty France would also get sent down to AAA to be called up in event of injury or future deals.

Pitching Staff: 12 locks, 1 spot open.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres
Garrett Richards delivers a pitch.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Starting Rotation: Garrett Richards; Chris Paddack; Dinelson Lamet; Zach Davies; Cal Quantrill

Bullpen: Kirby Yates; Drew Pomeranz; Emilio Pagan; Craig Stammen; Joey Lucchesi; Luis Perdomo; Matt Strahm

Bubble: Pierce Johnson; Javy Guerra; Andres Munoz

While Cal Quantrill and Joey Lucchesi are still technically fighting it out for 5th spot in the rotation, for my purposes here, the decision is moot as I think both players make the 26-man roster. The winner gets the final rotation spot, while the loser gets to be the long-man in the bullpen/6th starter. Given his performance the last few times in Spring Training, I think Quantrill gets the first crack in the rotation, with Joey Fuego heading to the bullpen, with both getting plenty of chances during the year.

That leaves only 1 real decision on the pitching staff, and that’s who gets the final bullpen spot. To me it comes down to 2 names: RHPs Pierce Johnson, and Javy Guerra. This decision really comes down to options. Specifically, Guerra’s out of minor league options, and Johnson’s been signed to the 40-man. While I’d normally add Andres Munoz to this list (and I’m personally higher on Munoz than Guerra or Johnson), the simple fact is that Munoz can start the year in AAA. Guys who throw a high-90s MPH fastball paired with a wicked slider don’t grow on trees, so the ability to stash Munoz takes on increased importance. This will also allow the team to deploy Munoz in high-leverage situations, and get him more experience in those situations while he’s in AAA.

That leaves the team to throw Johnson and Guerra into as many innings as possible in whatever Spring Training teams get, while working out a deal for one of them. Preller likely won’t let either player hit the waiver wire and get claimed for free. If I had to pick one right now, I think Guerra makes the roster, with Johnson getting dealt or waived (not ideal, to say the least), but it really could go either way.

That’d leave an Opening Day roster looking like this, with 13 position players and 13 pitchers:

Catchers: Austin Hedges; Francisco Mejia

Infield: Manny Machado; Fernando Tatis, JR; Eric Hosmer; Brian Dozier; Jurickson Profar; Greg Garcia; Jake Cronenworth

Outfield: Tommy Pham; Trent Grisham; Wil Myers; Josh Naylor

Starting Rotation: Garrett Richards; Chris Paddack; Dinelson Lamet; Zach Davies; Cal Quantrill

Bullpen: Kirby Yates; Drew Pomeranz; Emilio Pagan; Craig Stammen; Joey Lucchesi; Luis Perdomo; Matt Strahm; Javy Guerra

This is just an initial thought on the Opening Day Roster; obviously, the team has a ton of options based on their current roster flexibility, so their final decisions could go a number of ways. The one encouraging piece I took from doing this (other than it felt good to think about something other than COVID-19), is that the team’s biggest decisions center on which of 2 MLB veterans start at 2B, and who our final bullpen piece will be while sending down several promising players down to the Minors for more seasoning. That’s an improvement over recent years, at least.

Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? Fire away in the comments and let’s discuss!