2013 was another rough season for the San Diego Padres. The team struggled throughout the year and wound up with a 76-86 record that put them 16 games back of the division leading Dodgers. Chase Headley‘s followup to his breakout 2012 did not go as planned, as injuries robbed him of the beginning of his season and he struggled with ineffectiveness and slumps upon his return. Everth Cabrera was in the midst of a breakout season when he accepted a suspension for his involvement in the BioGenesis scandal. It wasn’t all dark clouds for fans in San Diego, however, as surprisingly great performances by Jedd Gyorko, Will Venable, Andrew Cashner, Chris Denorfia, Eric Stults, Cabrera and others made the product on the field quite watchable. The Pads’ bullpen was a bit atrocious overall, coming in below replacement level as a unit.
To begin the offseason, the Friars shipped one of their better relievers in Luke Gregerson out of town in exchange for a powerful left-handed bench bat in outfielder Seth Smith. They also signed former ace Josh Johnson to a one year, 8 million dollar deal as he attempts to reestablish value after a season in Toronto that was completely lost to injuries. To bolster their awful bullpen situation, especially after the loss of Gregerson and Cashner’s move to the rotation after starting April in the ‘pen, the Padres went out and made several moves to improve. They started by signing one of the numerous Tigers’ closers from 2012, and probably the best one, Jaoquin Benoit to a 2 year deal with an option worth 15.5 million dollars. They then traded replacement-level utility man Logan Forsythe to the Rays for left-handed reliever Alex Torres and nearly-ready minor league pitcher Brad Boxberger.
After opening 2013 with a payroll of just over 63 million dollars that was about average for the club throughout it’s history, San Diego’s payroll will skyrocket in 2014, jumping to a club-record 85.5 million dollars that shatters their previous high by 9 million. It’s no surprise, as Benoit and Johnson’s salaries alone combine for 14 million dollars next year. As salaries continue to escalate around the game, this doesn’t leapfrog the team very much higher than they already sat up the payroll leaderboard, but they are certainly remaining active and competitive.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Josh Johnson is only a season removed from putting up a 3.81 ERA for the Marlins as he recovered from major surgery on his shoulder, and only a few years removed from being a dominant ace who made consecutive All-Star teams and finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2010. Even in his lost 2013 with the Jays, Johnson posted the best strikeout rate of his career in a limited sample. He walked a few too many batters, but a lot of that was due to a couple very bad games early in the season. Johnson has a stipulation in his contract that states that the Padres can retain him for 2015 at a salary of 4 million dollars if he makes fewer than 7 starts for them this year. If Johnson could put up the type of performance that his peripherals supported in 2013, he would be a complete steal for the team at $8 million. If he can’t, the team can roll the dice on him again next year. It’s truly a creative win/win situation and Johnson’s performance will definitely be one to monitor as he attempts to rebuild his value in the thick air of San Diego.
NEEDS TO SHINE
Yonder Alonso is only 26 years old and only a year removed from a 1.4 WAR season. The young first-baseman has established that he knows how to hit the ball, maintaining an average-or-better production line for most of his time in the bigs. The Padres, however, need all the offense they can get, and Alonso needs to develop more than a little bit of power as he enters his prime to produce at the levels expected of a first-baseman with defensive challenges. As the prospect sheen wears off Alonso, this would be a good time to show some signs of improvement, both for the player and the club. A breakout year for Alonso would solidify a position for the Padres that currently appears unsettled, and with quality spread thin around their roster they would more than appreciate if his production could even equal the league average for first-basemen.
Huston Street posted the highest strand rate of all time in 2013. His seemingly-impossible 99.5% rate, along with his equally anomalous .213 BABIP, are nearly the sole reasons for his impressive surface-ERA of 2.70. These stats are largely thought to be at least partially out of a pitcher’s control, and Huston Street may be the biggest regression candidate in the game coming into this year. He gave up a lot of homers and has lost 2-4 MPH off of his velocity in the last 3 seasons, it looks as if Huston is about to fall off a cliff at any moment.
Chase Headley, Everth Cabrera Jedd Gyorko, Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Andrew Cashner, Josh Johnson and many others on the squad are all capable of having big years. If a few of them were to click together along with a healthy and productive season from Headley in his walk year, the Padres could be a surprising team in 2014. Grandal looks quite promising in spite of his PED suspension and injury history, Gyorko enjoyed a breakout rookie season, and if Venable can sustain his power gains from last year you can add him to the list of potential big contributors. They’ve built a fairly solid if unspectacular team in San Diego, and if they can avoid the slumps and injuries that have plagued them in the past they could surprise us all.