You are currently reading a season preview about the San Diego Padres. This probably means that you're Tony Gwynn. Wow, this is really, really an honor. Mr. Gwynn, I've always respected how you played the game, and even as you were frustrating me as a fan of a division rival, I never lost sight of how truly amazing you were as a hitter.
Though I guess there's a small chance you are reading this and you aren't Tony Gwynn. You could be Bud Black, I guess. You signed my '83 Fleer card! Thanks.
The San Diego Padres might be the most boring team in baseball. Hear me out before you get all upset. They don't have an established star like they used to. They play in a park that is murder on offense. I enjoy pitchers' duels, but a run or two usually adds to the fun of baseball. Their traditionally strong pitching is often a sum of the team's parts rather than lopsided performances by a couple of dominant pitchers.
But boring isn't bad. The Houston Astros aren't boring -- they're hilarious! Boring isn't a synonym for awful. The Padres should take pride in being boring. Right now, there are pundits punditing all about the National League West, and when they get to the Padres, they'll mumble something about prospects and 2015, and then they'll move on. In one respect, that makes sense. The Padres are set up for the long term, for sure, with all sorts of prospects that rank among the best in baseball.
While folks were busy dismissing them in the present, though, they were building a completely boring team. More importantly, it's a complete functional and boring team. It isn't bad. It's far from bad. And it might even surprise you just how good they are. They aren't favorites in the NL West, but I'd put money on them finishing first before I'd put it on them finishing last. As long as it was someone else's money. But the sentiment is legit. They should be a decent team. And decent teams can turn into something more when you're not paying attention.
Unfortunately, the best way to visualize this is with a subscriber-only chart over at Baseball Prospectus, so apologies for the non-subscribers. I'll do my best to explain it. It's a chart that has the projected WARP (similar in idea to WAR) for every position for every team, and it color codes them relative to their peers at their position. Red is bad, yellow is okay, and green is good. The Braves, for example, have positions that range from dark green (catcher, Brian McCann) to the dark red (shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky).
The Padres cruise along with a yellowish-green hue from catcher to right field. It's a lineup without stars, but it's also a lineup without holes. It's a boring lineup, for the most part, and they'll collectively hit .210/.290/.310 (110 OPS+), but there isn't an offensive sinkhole in the bunch. The projected lineup, via MLB Depth Charts:
Not an overwhelming name in the bunch. Completely and utterly whelming. But pretty okay. With almost every one you have use the disclaimer "for their position" when trying to say nice things about their hitting … but that's the point. The Padres have accumulated a bunch of hitters who should be okay for their position, which means that they should have a lineup that'll be surprisingly effective.
Another note about that collection of players: It's an impressively sound group of defenders. They're good-to-very-good up the middle, and Venable is a fine defender in right. That'll help the pitching, which will also be better than a lot of people will realize. They have lower-upside competence in Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley, a late-blooming plus in Tim Stauffer, and a couple of unknowns in Cory Luebke and Edinson Volquez. Luebke had a fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 starts, and if he's 75% as effective, he could still be an above-average starter. Volquez still has the strikeout stuff he had when he was an All-Star in 2008, but his control has gotten much worse. There's no better prescription than Petco Park and a good defense to make a pitcher more willing to throw strikes.
The Mat Latos trade hurt them in the short term, and this is still a team built for the long term. For all of the nice things up there, it's still a team that looks like an average bunch if everything goes as planned. Somewhere between 78 and 84 wins would be a good guess. But sometimes the long term can get obnoxious and impatient, forcing itself into the short term. Just to give one example, the two prospects (Robbie Erlin and Joseph Wieland) the Padres got for Mike Adams are extremely polished, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if one or two of them showed up in the majors. And a combination of their talent and Petco could give the NL West fits.
Not a great team. Not a bad team. A team. You fell asleep while reading about them, didn't you, Mr. Gwynn? Understandable. But just about every year, there's a team that comes out of nowhere to make baseball pundits and their preseason picks look foolish. Unless you're convinced that the Royals can find competent starting pitching, the Padres are probably your best bet for a surprise season.
Coulda Shoulda Woulda (Move they didn't make)
I don't care how hard Andrew Cashner was throwing in his first spring appearance: A team with a trade chip like Anthony Rizzo should get back something more than a reliever with shoulder problems. Rizzo wasn't going to bring back Bryce Harper, but there had to have been a way to get more than a reliever. The Padres have been effective for the past few years finding relievers in the recycling bin. There will never be a good reason to trade a top hitting prospect for a reliever, even if the reliever is also a prospect. That was a missed chance for a team on a budget.
It's the minor-league system. Jedd Gyorko could make an impact when he's called up from Mos Eisley, Yasmani Grandal has a lot of potential, Jaff Decker will be screwing with copy editors for years, possibly starting this year … it's a loaded system.
Exactly .500. On the nose. No more, no less. That's not really vague, but it's a prediction. And every time I think about the prospects making their way through the system, fans of other NL West teams should clutch rosary beads and mutter "Josh Barfield Sean Burroughs Xavier Nady Tagg Bozied Jake Gautreau" over and over again. Those players were the nightmares of the NL West a decade ago. Just because they didn't pan out, though, doesn't mean that the current crop won't. This is a franchise heading in a positive direction.