Friday, December 19, 2014

Will the Padres be Any Good?

Myers (pictured) and Kemp make the Padres considerably better (UTSanDiego)
Offensively, the 2014 San Diego Padres were pathetic. Among all 30 major league teams, they ranked dead last in hits, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases, and, not surprisingly, runs scored. Nobody in their lineup hit more than 15 home runs, and only one player (Seth Smith) surpassed 20 doubles. Nobody who logged more than 70 plate appearances for last year's Padres batted over .270, just as nobody reached the modest totals of 60 runs or 60 RBI. And for a team with such dreadful power, San Diego did not run nearly enough, stealing just 91 bases (ninth in the NL). Unlike the Royals, they failed to overcome their lack of power by manufacturing runs.

And yet, thanks to a sneaky-good pitching staff that ranked second in the National League (and fourth in baseball) with a 3.27 ERA, San Diego finished third in the NL West at 77-85, just four wins shy of a .500 season. With a few lineup upgrades to complement their talented rotation, the Padres would be legitimate postseason contenders in 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen, enter Matt Kemp and Wil Myers, two middle-of-the-order mashers who bring some much-needed thump to San Diego's anemic lineup. Better yet, both are under team control for the next five years. Kemp, dealt by the Dodgers last week, was the 2011 NL MVP runner-up to Ryan Braun, hit 25 home runs last year, and has put up a 140 OPS+ or higher in three of the past four seasons. He's making boatloads of money, but the Dodgers are covering enough so that he'll only cost San Diego around $15 million per year.

And then there's Myers, recently netted through a blockbuster 11 player, three team swap. A product of the Royals farm system, Myers has already been traded once before, going to the Rays (for James Shields and Wade Davis), with whom he earned 2013 AL Rookie of the Year honors despite playing just 88 games. He struggled mightily in his sophomore season, losing more than 200 points off his OPS has he battled injuries and a slow start. He's yet to play more than 90 games in a big league season and must prove he's capable of holding up over a full season, but there's no denying his superstar potential.

PetCo Park is notoriously tough on hitters, but both are coming from sever pitcher's parks in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. Kemp's numbers should be expected to decline with age (he's already 30), but one would expect Myers to match or exceed his rookie production. Their monster power plays anywhere, so 81 games at PetCo shouldn't murder their numbers (though it definitely won't help). Between them they should be good for five or six additional wins next year, maybe more if Myers really takes off.

So where does that leave the Padres? With an abundance of outfielders (I hear the Red Sox have a similar problem) and a lineup still rife with question marks (do Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable bounce back? Can Carlos Quentin stay healthy? Will Seth Smith replicate his success). They'll score more runs with Kemp and Myers aboard, but perhaps not significantly more given Kemp's age and injury history and Myers's recent struggles.

Assuming the pitching holds steady, San Diego could easily improve to .500 next year, 85 wins if everything goes right. The Dodgers and Giants are still heavy favorites to take first and second place in the division, but both have gotten weaker this offseason and could be ore vulnerable next year. The Padres aren't quite ready to overtake them, but they're definitely going in the right direction. Another big bat or proven starter would go a long way, but they've already improved considerably and it's not even Christmas.

Then again, it's not like the Padres lineup could have gotten any worse.

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