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2018 Preview: San Diego Padres

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The future looks bright in San Diego. The farm system is loaded with talent. Young center fielder Manuel Margot seems poised for a breakout into a speed/power star we see so few of in baseball but about whom people get so excited when they arrive. Austin Hedges hit 18 homers from behind the dish last year and that pop from a catcher doesn’t come along every day. The club made its biggest ever free agent splash in signing Eric Hosmer, and he’s young enough — and his contract is long enough — that he should figure in the middle of the Padres order for many, many years. Interesting players like second baseman Carlos Asuaje and outfielder Jose Pirela will likely see full seasons in the bigs. Wil Myers, Freddy Galvis and old friend Chase Headley are familiar names who will show up on a lot of banners and posters around Petco Park, even they aren’t the most exciting dudes around.

Offensively, the Padres won’t be terrible. Not great, but interesting in some ways. There’s enough of a foundation there that when super exciting prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. eventually show up they could be downright frisky, but there’s not enough to compete in 2018.

The rotation is a much bigger problem. Clayton Richard, Tyson Ross, Chris Young, Bryan Mitchell, Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo are all certainly pitchers. There’s no real chance, though, that they’ll be substantially better pitchers than they or the other Padres pitchers were in 2017. That crew amounted to one of the worst rotations in the National League last year. They’ll probably be deep into the bottom half of those rankings this year too.

The bullpen has Brad Hand and Brand Hand is dang good. The rest of the relievers are, well, not. Craig Stammen — easily the second best Craig from Ohio — was a nice pickup last year and he stuck around to be the Padres setup man this year. Kirby Yates had some moments and strikes out a lot of dudes. Carter Capps is an interesting injury reclamation project, though he obviously will not be the same guy he used to be when he was with the Marlins. Everyone else is just an arm.

None of which is to say that the Padres won’t be fun to watch in 2018. They may not win a ton of games, but they’ll be super interesting from a team-building perspective. They’re past the purely talent accumulation part of a rebuild — like I said, that farm system is pretty stacked — and they’re now on the “learn how to win” part of things. If things go according to plan, many of the faces on this club will be on the next Padres club to make the playoffs. Think of Hosmer and Myers as those veterans who were around when things turned from bad to good, like, I dunno, Terry Pendleton in Atlanta or Magglio Ordonez in Detroit were. A few years later, when Tatis Jr. and Margot are studs, leading the Padres into yet another playoff battle, you may even forget how important the Hosmer signing truly was.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But it’s a dynamic we’ve seen with a lot of clubs before and it’s the one A.J. Preller and the Padres are counting on happening now. If things break right and they develop some pitching, this year will likely be seen as a turning point before the realization of future glory.

Emphasis on the future. For now, the Padres, however promising, are simply outclassed in their division and will likely finish in last place.

Prediction: Fifth place, NL West

Javier Baez, D.J. LeMahieu have disagreement about sign-stealing

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Fellow second basemen Javier Baez of the Cubs and D.J. LeMahieu of the Rockies got into a disagreement in the top of the third inning of Sunday’s game at Coors Field over sign-stealing.

LeMahieu reached on a fielder’s choice ground out, then advanced to second base on Charlie Blackmon‘s single. While Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story were batting, Baez was concerned that LeMahieu was relaying the Cubs’ signs to his teammates. Baez decided to stand in front of LeMahieu to block any information he might have been giving to Arenado and Story. LeMahieu got irritated and the two jawed at each other for a bit. Umpires Vic Carapazza and Greg Gibson had to intervene to tell Baez to knock it off.

There has always been a back-and-forth with alleged sign-stealing. As long as teams aren’t using technology to steal signs, it’s fair game for players to relay information to their teammates about the opposing team’s signs. Last year, MLB determined the Red Sox went against the rules and used technology — an Apple watch in this case — to steal signs from the Yankees. Other teams in the past have been accused of using binoculars from the bullpen to steal signs. In this particular case with Baez and LeMahieu, there was no foul play going on, just Baez trying to make the Rockies cede what he perceived to be their slight competitive advantage.

The Cubs went on to beat the Rockies 9-7 on Sunday.