By The Common Man
Continuing with the 3 Questions series here at The Platoon Advantage, the San Diego Padres are under the microscope today. As always, you can find a complete list of the 3 Questions that we’ve covered so far here.
Question 1: Was 2010 a fluke?
On one level, this question doesn’t matter very much. 2010 happened and the Padres were, unexpectedly, very competitive. The construction of this team was brilliantly executed by current GM Jed Hoyer and former GM Kevin Towers around a central philosophy of maximizing the run suppressing environment of PetCo Park through exceptional defense. The 2010 Padres were a terrific reminder that defense remains an undervalued and readily available commodity, and their success speaks well of the Padres brass’ ability to construct successful clubs in the future.
On the other hand, the question above is not just academic. Because if 2010 was a fluke the Padres’ management team needs to adjust their approach to this offseason. Is this a club that just needs to be strengthened around the margins, or should the Padres continue to look to fundamentally remake their club? Is this a team that is still rebuilding, or are they ready-made to compete? The Common Man leans more toward the former answer, but understands that the Padres will need to be in a continual process of rebuilding and renewal as their players (ahem, Adrian Gonzalez, ahem) get too expensive for the club to hold onto.
Question 2: How long can you hold Adrian Gonzalez?
Speaking of Gonzalez, San Diego’s remarkable success has created an impossible decision for the Pads. The slugging 1B, who has emerged as one of the best hitters in the National League, was not supposed to be with the club this year. Supposedly, when the Padres fell out of contention, they were going to unload him for a bevy of prospects that would form the central cast of the next great Padres team. Of course, as we’ve learned, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
When the Padres stayed competitive, Gonzalez stayed on the Padres as virtually their sole source of offense. And if the team wants to contend in 2011, Adrian Gonzalez is indispensible. But if they keep him until the end of the year, Gonzalez is prepared to walk away via free agency, leaving the Padres holding only a couple of compensatory draft picks. Those are valuable, but not nearly as valuable as the prospects the Pads would get back in a trade. It’s a dilemma worthy of Solomon himself. If the Pads deal Gonzalez, they essentially forfeit 2011. But if they keep him, they severely damage their ability to compete in 2012 and beyond.
Question 3: How do you improve the offense without sacrificing defense?
It’s not all about the defense. The Pads sported the second best K/9 and K/BB ratio in the National League, after all. But a large portion of their success at keeping runs off the board stemmed from the team’s ability to catch the ball. They turned in the second best defensive efficiency rating in the National League (.701) thanks to a fly ball oriented staff, a park that suppressed homers, and some outfielders who cover a lot of ground.
The trouble is that those outfielders don’t tend to hit all that much, even given their hitting environment. Tony Gwynn Jr., whose defense in CF was otherworldly, managed just .204/.304/.287, a 68 OPS+ that was not out of line with the rest of his career. Will Venable has emerged as a decent offensive player in RF, but his lack of on-base skills and power seriously limits his upside as a player. Chase Headley has been seen as a good prospect, but hit just .264/.327/.375 last year at 26 years old, so there’s not a lot of room for growth.
Fortunately, the Marlins are available to help solve part of that problem. Despite not having an in-house replacement, Florida was moved to act when San Diego offered up two whole relievers for Cameron Maybin, a former top prospect with good defensive skills, who still has significant upside and a strong minor league track record. But the team still needs to fill holes at SS and 2B, while hoping that Ryan Ludwick figures out where he misplaced his bats after being acquired from the Cardinals if they’re going to keep pace with the Giants, Dodgers, and Rockies again.