Matt Kemp

A J Preller, Bud Black, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Wil Myers

2015 Preview: San Diego Padres


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 2015 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: Who are these guys and what have they done with the Padres?

A.J. Preller was hired as the Padres general manager last August and he went into the offseason with a plan. Prior to the winter meetings, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Padres were “aggressively looking for hitters who can help them contend for (the) NL West title immediately.” The report drew some laughs, as it seemed incredibly ambitious and even unrealistic for a team which ranked last in pretty much every major offensive category last season while finishing under .500 for the fourth straight year. We quickly learned that he wasn’t messing around.

The biggest changes came in the outfield, with trades for Justin Upton (from the Braves), Matt Kemp (from the division rival Dodgers), and Wil Myers (in a three-team deal with the Rays and Nationals), but Preller also acquired 2014 All-Star catcher Derek Norris from the Athletics. There’s something to be said for not being loyal to the players you inherit from a previous regime. As a new GM, Preller was uniquely positioned for this rapid and unexpected overhaul. The cherry on top of their offseason was signing James Shields to a four-year, $75 million contract in early February. Joaquin Benoit’s $15.5 million deal was the franchise’s previous record guarantee to a free agent, so this is some uncharted territory we’re dealing with here. The Padres also threw money at some low-risk, high-reward types for their rotation with Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow. Despite all the activity, the Padres’ payroll isn’t going to be much higher than what it was last year. It helps that the Dodgers are paying nearly all of Kemp’s salary for this season.

Pitching was already a strength for the Padres, partially due to their home ballpark, but the addition of Shields makes them even better. He can now slot into the No. 1 spot while Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross all move down a peg. Odrisamer Despaigne held his own during his first season in the majors last year and should do fine as a fifth starter if Morrow and/or Johnson don’t pan out. Outfield defense is a concern, particularly in center field with Myers, but the Padres are hoping that what the trio does on offense offsets the deficiencies in the field.

Who knows if this is going to work out. Kemp is an injury risk and maybe all those innings finally catch up to Shields. Maybe Myers doesn’t bounce back and Upton (an impending free agent) becomes a trade candidate by midseason. But the Padres are trying something here and that’s pretty exciting. It’s always fun to be in San Diego, but even more so right now.

What else is going on?

  • It’s pretty remarkable that the Padres were able to make all of these moves and still managed to keep arguably three of their best prospects, right-hander Matt Wisler, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and catcher Austin Hedges. I guess you could throw Rymer Liriano into that mix, as well. So they didn’t completely sell out their future this winter. You could also say that they still have the flexibility to make another big move if they really want to go for broke. Cole Hamels, perhaps?
  • My goodness, something has to give with these extra outfielders. The Padres dealt Seth Smith to the Mariners over the winter, but they still have basically their projected starting outfield from a couple of years ago — Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, and Carlos Quentin — under contract. Liriano also saw time at the major league level last year. Quentin could get hurt by the time I finish writing this sentence, but one would think we’ll see a trade soon to clear this logjam.
  • While right-handed sluggers Upton, Kemp, and Myers could put up big numbers in that outfield, the infield is another matter altogether. It’s a glaring weakness. Jedd Gyorko showed some potential during his rookie season in 2013, but he’s coming off a down year and he’s surrounded by the likes of Yonder Alonso, Alexi Amarista, Will Middlebrooks, Yangervis Solarte, Tommy Medica, and Clint Barmes. Not the most inspiring group. Perhaps Alonso or Middlebrooks can surprise, but that would require a leap of faith. This infield would be more interesting if they managed to outbid the Dodgers for Hector Olivera, but that ship has sailed.
  • With the additions of Upton, Kemp, Myers, Shields, and Norris, it’s easy to overlook the work that Preller did with his bullpen. Brandon Maurer came over in the Smith deal with the Mariners while Shawn Kelley was acquired from the Yankees for minor league right-hander Johnny Barbato. Both are intriguing potential late-inning arms. Padres manager Bud Black has a handful of interesting alternatives for the closer role if Benoit goes down at some point. I wouldn’t rule that possibility out, as Benoit will be 38 later this year and dealt with some shoulder issues down the stretch last year.
  • Saying “if he can stay healthy” should be obvious with any pitcher, but that’s especially the case with Cashner. The 28-year-old has flashed frontline potential at times, with a 2.96 ERA across 51 career starts, but he was limited to just 19 starts last season with elbow and shoulder issues and has never thrown more than 175 innings in a season before. This rotation has some questions — even Ross was shut down after a career-high 195 2/3 innings last year due to muscle soreness in his right forearm — but if things break right, they could be one of the best groups in the National League.

Prediction: I think it’s going to be close with the Giants, but what the heck, I’ll drink the offseason Kool-Aid. Second place, NL West and the second Wild Card spot.

2015 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Andrew Friedman, Stan Kasten

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 2015 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Will the revamped front office put the Dodgers over the top?

After losing in the NLCS in 2013, the Dodgers won their second straight NL West title last season before being ousted by the Cardinals during the NLDS. It was bitterly disappointing, especially to see the division rival Giants go on to win the World Series, but such is life with the randomness of the playoffs. However, rather than stand pat and hope for better luck in 2015, the Dodgers decided to shake things up by reassigning GM Ned Colletti and giving big money to Andrew Friedman to lure him from the Rays. Friedman, who was hired as president of baseball operations, then brought on Farhan Zaidi from the A’s to serve as general manager and made a host of other changes throughout the organization.

Friedman and Zaidi were accustomed to making the most out of limited resources with their former organizations, so being free from these shackles allowed them to not only improve around the margins with their new team but also make some bold moves. After letting free agent Hanley Ramirez walk, the Dodgers remade their middle infield by acquiring Jimmy Rollins and cashing in on Dee Gordon’s big 2014 to get Andrew Heaney as a chip for Howie Kendrick. They flipped Matt Kemp to the Padres and landed a new primary catcher (Yasmani Grandal) in the process. They threw money at risk with the backend of their rotation by signing Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract, Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal and the rehabbing Brandon Beachy for $2.75 million. The Dodgers will pay $30.5 million (between Kemp, Dan Haren, and Gordon) for players who aren’t playing for them this season. Talk about a different world.

This is a lot of turnover for a roster that already had some great pieces in place. Clayton Kershaw, with three Cy Young Awards in the last four seasons, is the undisputed best pitcher on the planet. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke has been excellent during his first two seasons in Los Angeles and Hyun-Jin Ryu has gone underappreciated since coming stateside. Yasiel Puig is one of the most talented and exciting players in the game today and will likely face more pressure to be the face of this offense with Kemp and Ramirez elsewhere. Fortunately, Adrian Gonzalez is a durable and consistent force in the middle of the lineup.

Barring something unexpected, like an injury to Kershaw, it’s hard to not see the Dodgers as the overwhelming favorite to win their third straight NL West crown. Perhaps the gambles in the backend of the starting rotation won’t work out, but they have the prospect depth and the money to make a trade if an in-season upgrade is necessary. However, the great unknown of October lingers. And no front office change or player acquisition can bring certainty.

What else is going on?

  • The dynamic between Don Mattingly and the new Dodgers’ front office will be fascinating to follow. After Friedman joined the Dodgers and Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, many immediately assumed that they would be reunited in Los Angeles. However, the Dodgers stood behind Don Mattingly while Maddon ended up with the Cubs. Still, Mattingly wasn’t chosen by them. He was a holdover. Mattingly has never been vocal about his use of analytics in the past, but he said back in January that “you’re a fool” if you’re not using them as part of your decision making. He’s talking the talk, which is a good idea for a person who wants to keep his job, but we’ll have to see if he meshes with the new regime.
  • Kenley Jansen underwent surgery in mid-February to remove a growth from his left foot and is expected to miss the first month of the season. Some speculated that the Dodgers would throw money at Francisco Rodriguez (who eventually signed with the Brewers) or Rafael Soriano (who is still a free agent), but they appear content to rely on internal options to fill in. Joel Peralta was acquired from the Rays over the winter and figures to be in the mix, but keep an eye on Chris Hatcher. Hatcher, who came over to the Dodgers in the Gordon trade, is another former catcher (like Jansen) and quietly posted a 3.38 ERA and 60/12 K/BB ratio across 56 innings last season. There’s some uncertainty with this situation, but they should be able to get by for a month.
  • Juan Uribe currently projects to be the regular third baseman if he’s healthy, but the Dodgers are one of the teams who have been linked to Cuban free agent infielder Hector Olivera. In fact, they reportedly made a $77 million offer before Olivera switched agents. Who knows if that offer was legitimate — he’d probably already be a Dodger by now if that was true — but clearly they like him. He’s 29 and was one of the best hitters in Cuba, so he could be ready to make an impact in the majors right away.
  • While Andre Ethier is on the outside looking in for playing time, rookie Joc Pederson is penciled in as the Dodgers’ regular center fielder this season. He turns 23 in April and is coming off a monster season in Triple-A where he batted .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs and 30 stolen bases across 121 games. Baseball America recently ranked him as the No. 8 prospect in the game. He put up those numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and strikeouts are an issue for him, so expect some growing pains, but he should be exciting to watch.
  • Zack Greinke is guaranteed $71 million from 2016-2018, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract after this season and test the free agent market. He would almost certainly fetch more if his 2015 is anything close to his first two seasons in Los Angeles. From that perspective, the Dodgers likely won’t be upset if it works out that way. And heck, they certainly have the money to bring him back if they want.
  • Vin Scully is back in the booth for his 66th season, which is a treat for all baseball fans. Don’t take him for granted.

Prediction: The Dodgers will win the NL West handily.

Tim Federowicz out 3-6 months with a torn meniscus

Tim Federowicz
3 Comments’s Barry M. Bloom reports that Padres catcher Tim Federowicz will miss the next three to six months with a complete tear of the meniscus in his right knee. The initial diagnosis had been a small tear in his lateral meniscus, which would have required arthroscopic surgery.

The Padres had acquired the 27-year-old Federowicz along with outfielder Matt Kemp in the December trade that sent Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland, and pitching prospect Zach Eflin to the Dodgers.

With Federowicz out of the picture, veteran Wil Nieves will back up Derek Norris behind the plate. Nieves, 37, hit .254/.270/.344 with one home run and seven RBI in 128 plate appearances as Carlos Ruiz’s back-up in Philadelphia last season.