At the end of Spring Training, if anyone had come to a Padres fan and said “Hey, if you guys are an even .500 and within 2.0 games of a National League Wild Card spot at the All-Star Break, would you be happy with that?” … the overwhelming response would have been “ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY.”
In reality the 2019 season is going about as well as anyone could have hoped. The Friar Faithful should be ecstatic right now about the progress this franchise has made in just one season.
Last year the Padres hit the break with a 40-59 record. Yes, a full 19 games under .500 (why there were nine more games before the break in 2018 I have no idea). They limped into the Midsummer Classic on a 5-game losing streak.
This year they’re riding an almost inexplicable 3-game winning streak with all three of those wins coming at Dodger Stadium, a place L.A. had not lost more than two in a row all season long.
Plus, this team is something that very few San Diego baseball clubs have ever been: EXCITING.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is a revelation. Manny Machado is living up to his contract. Hunter Renfroe has figured out how his game translates to the Major Leagues. All three of those guys deserved to join closer Kirby Yates (the only Padre in history to have 30 saves before the All-Star Game) in Cleveland. Chris Paddack, once he gets past his pitch limit next year, is a no-hitter waiting to happen.
And yet despite all that it’s hard for Padres fans to shake a strange feeling of disappointment because as good as this team has been it’s also missed plenty of opportunities that would have it in the driver’s seat for a playoff push.
Baseball’s youngest starting pitching staff has well exceeded expectations and Kirby Yates is the most reliable closer in the game. The problem has been the bullpen’s inability to bridge the gap between the two on a consistent basis, letting far too many leads slip away. No pitching staff is perfect but for a franchise whose one traditional strength (the bullpen) to be the least consistent piece of the puzzle is puzzling.
There’s also the feeling that no matter what the Padres do they’re not going to catch the Dodgers in the West. Like, ever. Right now the Friars are 14.0 games out of 1st place. Last year at the break (remember with a 40-59 record) the Padres were … 14.0 games out of first place.
A huge improvement in their play yet not a dent made in the standings can be disheartening. But, there are far too many good signs and there has been far too much progress made to fixate on the negative. The bottom line is this:
The Padres are improving at the pace they wanted to so their timeline is intact, if not slightly accelerated. That’s nothing but a good sign and the first half of the season has been a runaway success.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you simply sit on your laurels if the playoffs are within grasp, which they are and should continue to be.
So here are a few things Padres General Manager A.J. Preller and the front office might want to consider doing after the All-Star break to make the team better this year and for the next several years:
1) Hand The 2nd Base Keys to Luis Urias
The Friars are giving Francisco Mejia the bulk of the starts at catcher and he’s responded nicely. Since coming off the disabled list in mid-June Mejia is slashing .268/.318/.439, numbers far superior to what they were getting offensively from Austin Hedges. Mejia is still not the defensive stalwart that Hedges is (very few are or will be) but he is more than capable behind the plate. It’s time to do the same thing at 2nd base. Throw out April and Ian Kinsler has been alright. The platoon of Kinsler and Greg Garcia has been pretty good. Moving Urias into Kinsler’s role and continuing to give Garcia consistent at-bats would make the Padres 2nd base situation VERY good. It’s time to trade Kinsler for whatever you can get (the Cubs could use veteran help at 2nd base with Addison Russell struggling) and let Urias get the on-the-job training he needs to live up to his substantial Major League potential because they don’t want him to be experiencing growing pains next year when they fully expect to contend.
2) Go Get THIS Starting Pitcher
With Paddack steamrolling towards his inning limit, Matt Strahm likely moving back to the bullpen and Cal Quantrill seemingly better suited for a relief role the Padres are very much in the market for a starting pitcher. Any move Preller makes is going to have the future in mind. That means Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler, both free agents after this season, are out. Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard are both effective All-Star names who are controllable beyond 2019. But the guy the Padres should target is Matthew Boyd. The 28-year-old lefty from Detroit has a pretty good pitcher for a few years. This year he’s using a re-tooled slider to ring up a ridiculous 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, more than three whiffs better than his career average. Plus, he doesn’t hit free agency until after the 2022 season. That means he’s going to be pricey and plenty of contenders will go after him but none of them have the depth in the minor league system that San Diego has. Boyd is exactly the kind of player the Padres should target as the trade deadline nears because he’ll eat effective innings this season to ease the strain on the young pitching staff, then be a really good rotation piece for several years to come.
3) Do NOT Trade Hunter Renfroe
This will be awfully difficult because Renfroe could fetch quite the bounty of prospects. But is Preller going to get back what Renfroe finally became this year: An affordable slugger entering the prime of his career? Hunter is 4th in the Major Leagues in home runs and didn’t even spend most of the first month of the season in a starting role. It took a few years but Renfroe has finally figured out how his game translates to the big leagues and now, both offensively and defensively, he’s an above-average player with three full years of arbitration control left. Unless someone offers up a fabulous trade package there’s no reason to deal Renfroe. Of course, if the Tigers say they want him in a Boyd deal we’ll be in a pickle because that’s a scenario where both teams win, and it would be awfully hard to weight the pros and cons there.