Padres buy more time for success with new lineup


It’s more fact than opinion: the San Diego Padres had the absolute worst offense in 2014. They finished dead-last in the majors in runs scored, hits, total bases, and both on-base and slugging percentage. The lineup became so notably poor last year that the discussion turned from them being the worst in the league, to them possibly being the worst ever.

Well, things have changed, and so has the discussion. Pulling in a horde of talent this offseason — including Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks — and retaining what sparse production they had in veterans Carlos Quentin, Yangervis Solarte, Will Venable and Cameron Maybin, San Diego has the most interesting lineup going into 2015. Supplant that with a quietly top-tier rotation that also added James Shields, and the Padres are Vegas darlings before Opening Day.

It’s certainly reasonable to buy into the excitement for this year’s squad; this is the sort of lineup you put together in a fantasy draft on the video game MLB The Show. But it’s not a false hope of immediate improvement that differentiates the San Diego front office from the others that have tried a similar spending spree. It’s their realist approach of making this a multi-year plan that gives these new Padres an edge.

Kemp, Upton, Myers, Norris and Middlebrooks are an average age of just under 27. Myers and Middlebrooks are both fresh off disappointing follow-ups to electric rookie seasons, Norris just had a breakout All-Star campaign with Oakland last season at 25, and Kemp and Upton, who seem to have similar careers of high ceilings battling inconsistencies, are respectively 30 and 27. This is a group of players in different tiers of production, connected by trends that say they’re not valued appropriately.

It’s as easy to predict Myers putting together an All-Star 2015 season as it is to say he’ll hit under .250 again. What does that make his price tag? Aside from Kemp — who’s still living on that eight-year, $160 million Dodgers deal — none of these guys are making franchise money yet, despite having shown franchise-level talent. Their time as a Padres in 2015 will be a talent show to prove their genuine worth. San Diego swapped certain misery for uncertain potential at a cheap price tag — all the while keeping the benefit of youth on their side.

The 2014 Padres’ most common lineup was 28.5-years old — which was the exact league average. However, they only scored 3.30 runs per game, as opposed to the league-average 4.06. Their Opening Day lineup, projected by, is an average age of 26.63, making them one of just six teams to have a projected lineup one full year younger than their 2014 average (And really, the Yankees and Phillies lineups could not have gotten older than they already were in 2014).

Additionally, projects the Padres to pace .44 runs per game more than they had in 2014 — or, 71 more total runs. They’re one of 16 lineups expected to up their runs amount, and join the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays as the only teams expected to improve offensively while dropping a full year of age on their projected lineup. That doesn’t entirely equate to this expected 2015 improvement, but it does equate to the Padres buying some time for this mini-dynasty.

Realistically, time needs to be allotted. It isn’t natural for a lineup to sync with almost entirely new faces joining it. There’s a prioritization of production and responsibilities that falls onto everyone from the No. 1 to No. 9 hitter. Just because Kemp and Upton are used to being “the guy” doesn’t mean hitting next to each other will make their jobs easier; one’s production might increase because the other is pitched around more.

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All the younger newcomers will have minute but crucial roles to learn and fill around the lineup’s heart as they offensively mature. What that all demands and how it finally shapes is yet to be seen, but it has the potential to be as dynamic as any other lineup in the National League — even if it isn’t complete until 2016. Until then, the value of a bench with depth in Clint Barmes, Venable, Maybin and Quentin helps them stay clear of that offensive basement while pitching has the opportunity to shine.

A friend asked me a few weeks ago how many games San Diego would win in 2015. I lamely narrowed it down to between 75 and 95 games, and even that prediction doesn’t seem as vague as these new-look Padres. Immediate success could mean them getting Upton to sign an extension and keeping that outfield together through 2017. But if Upton wants to get back to the playoffs, he might need to practice some foresight on this possibly weird upcoming season, and realize that this project doesn’t end after 162 games.

Something is happening in San Diego. There’s no idea yet if “it” is good, bad, stupid, brilliant or just cool. What’s important is that, after last season, something is happening in San Diego. That’s reason enough to give them a chance.

Next: How James Shields signing with Padres can impact MLB