Friday, February 25, 2011

The Padres will be better than you and Vegas thinks

By The Common Man

Aside from The Common Man, who praised the Padres to the heavens for their offseason moves here and here, the conversation from the national media has largely dismissed the San Diego Padres, given that they traded superstar Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox this offseason. Jayson Stark gave them an C, for instance. And now, according to the Vegas sports books (h/t to Aaron Gleeman), the San Diego Padres are going to finish with somewhere around 76 wins. Frankly, that’s a bet you should take. And take the over. Here’s why:

1) San Diego was legitimate last year.

The Padres finished with 90 wins in 2010 and actually underperformed their Pythagorean record by a game. They did this despite getting almost nothing out of their outfielders, including a disastrous run by mid-season pickup Ryan Ludwick that’s unlikely to be repeated. All of their returning hitters performed roughly in line with expectations last year, and so did their pitchers (with the exception of Tim Stauffer). While Mat Latos and Stauffer may see some regression, there’s also room for improvement by Wade LeBlanc. The point is that the Padres were not a fluke last year, but a smartly constructed team that took advantage of a very competitive division, with no dominant teams, to almost walk away with the NL West crown. And to suggest that the Padres are going to see essentially a seven game swing in their performance is hard to believe. Especially considering…

2) Yes, they lost Adrian Gonzalez, but they brought players in too.

The production of Adrian Gonzalez is going to be tough to replace. To hold his position, presumably until Kyle Blanks is healthy and ready to resume mashing, San Diego brought in the underwhelming duo of Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu. That’s obviously a huge downgrade. Probably on the order of 4-5 wins (again, until Blanks comes back and starts to hit).

But while that was going on, the Padres used the savings acquired in the Gonzalez trade to bring in Jason Bartlett to stabilize the shortstop position, and Orlando Hudson to play 2B. San Diego 2B put up a 80 OPS+ relative to the positional average in 2010, whereas Hudson, in his worst year since 2007, posted a 98 OPS+ relative to his position, so he looks to be a big upgrade on the offensive end. And while Padres 2Bs were fairly strong on the defensive end in 2010, Hudson looks to have been at least as good in Minnesota, if not better. Meanwhile, Padre shortstops from last year are essentially a wash with Jason Bartlett, though Bartlett’s a good bet to see a nice offensive jump in his move away from the American League East.

The Friars also traded some of their reliever depth to bring in Cameron Maybin to stabilize centerfield. Maybin has seen his prospect status fall since joining the Marlins, perhaps because of the Marlins’ proclivity for bouncing him back and forth between Miami and AAA. The various projection systems are all united in seeing Maybin posting an OPS north of .730, and he brings elite defensive ability to the spacious outfield in Petco Park.

Finally, Aaron Harang had ace stuff while he wasted away in Cincinnati. If he’s healthy and rested, he should easily match Jon Garland’s performance. And despite Garland’s defection to the rival Dodgers…

3) Nobody else got appreciably better.

The Giants replaced Edgar Renteria with Miguel Tejada, which is not a significant upgrade, and focused on re-signing Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell. While they’ll get a full season of Buster Posey, Cody Ross, and Madison Bumgarner, they’ve also likely seen the best that Andres Torres has to offer, will have to deal with a slight decline from Aubrey Huff, and may still have a hole at 3B if Pablo Sandoval doesn’t recover as expected.

Aside from handing out 5 year contract extensions to everyone, including the groundscrew, the Rockies only acquisition of note, Jose Lopez is only a minor upgrade at the keystone. And the Dodgers seemingly spent all winter avoiding upgrading themselves in LF. These rivals may still be better than the Padres, but neither have they truly separated themselves from their performances in 2010. Again, the NL West looks to be a fairly competitive division where no one appears particularly dominant. So San Diego will be facing a similar level of talent to that they faced in 2010. Also, nine of San Diego’s 15 Interleague games are against the Royals and the Mariners.


Taken as a whole, the relatively easy interleague schedule and the lack of dominant teams within the division suggests that the Pads would be hard pressed to fall too far, especially given how strong they were last year and the moves they made to shore up weak spots in the wake of the Gonzalez trade. Indeed, if The Common Man were a betting Common Man, he would put a couple hundred down on the Pads winning more than 76 games, and perhaps as many as 85 (depending on how Blanks and Harang come back).

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