2015 San Diego Padres: No waiting


Benito Santiago

Benito Santiago is one of two Rookie of the Year Padres (reliever Butch Metzger shared the award with the Reds’ Pat Zachary in 1976). Santiago batted .300, hit 18 homers, stole 21 bases and threw out 32% of potential base stealers, which made Santiago a unanimous choice in 1987. Pirates pitcher Mike Dunne, who won 13 of his 25 career games that year, was second. Voters skimmed over Santiago’s 112 strikeouts and 16 walks, 12 caught stealings and league-leading 22 passed balls, but they were more telling for Santiago’s future. He had power — 11 straight seasons of double-figures in home runs, topped by 30 with the Phillies in ’96, but no patience, retiring with a .307 career on-base percentage. He threw out 35% of opposing base stealers but was caught 43% of the time himself (91-160); and he won three Gold Gloves but led the league three times in passed balls, and had 157 for his career. Santiago was a frequent free agent: he played for nine teams, but was only traded once. Only three times in 20 seasons did he appear in the postseason — with the ’95 Reds, who lost in the NLCS; and the 2002-03 Giants — the former came within a game of winning the World Series. Career numbers: .263 average, .722 OPS, 93 OPS+, 217 home runs, 1,830 hits, 920 RBIs, 27.2 WAR with a season-high 3.4 in his rookie year at age 21, 1 vote for the Hall of Fame in 2011, his only year on the ballot.

On deck: Outfielder Hunter Renfroe fanned 134 times in 2014; catcher Austin Hedges fanned 89 times at a rate of nearly 4-to-1 in Class AA; first-year outfielder Michael Gettys fanned 66 times in 52 games in a short-season league. If only the Padres had so many minor-league pitchers with such a propensity for strikeouts. The Padres pruned their farm system in the trades to acquire Justin Upton and Wil Myers; two years ago Keith Law ranked their system No. 1 which is why this year it’s still as high as 18. Gone are 2012 first-rounder Max Fried, out already for 2015 with Tommy John surgery; 2011 first-rounder Jace Peterson, a middle infielder with on-base potential despite a 6-for-53 big-league cameo; 2013 second-rounder D.J. Peterson, a 19-year-old third baseman; 2012 first-round pitcher Zach Elfin, whom the Dodgers moved to get Jimmy Rollins; and 2011 first-rounder Joe Ross, a pitcher who reached AA at 21. Going is 2014 first-rounder Trea Turner, a shortstop who batted .369 in low Class A in 187 at-bats, as soon as the draft’s transaction exemption expires. There’s no reason new GM A.J. Preller should have felt attached to those high picks — they weren’t his. The Padres still have Renfroe, whose plate discipline improved from horrendous in 2013 to mediocre in 2014, and Hedges, who is lauded for his defense. He’d better be, given his Christian Bethancourt-like .695 career minor-league OPS.

Trivia: Jedd Gyorko has hit 33 home runs in his first two seasons, which makes him the Padres’ all-time leader at second base. Who was the previous all-time leader, and top five? Answer below.

What he said: New Padres pitcher James Shields: “It’s the fact that this organization is ready to win now, and that’s what attracted me to the San Diego Padres.” What he meant: “That, and $19 million a year.”

Outlook: The 2006-07 Boston Celtics won 24 games, lost 58, and finished last in the Atlantic Division, 23 games behind Toronto. Padres fans can relate.

And before the next season, GM Danny Ainge traded five players and two first-round picks for Kevin Garnett; three players and a second-round pick for Ray Allen; and a first-round pick for the just-drafted Rajon Rondo. Padres GM A.J. Preller can relate, only he probably thinks the Celtics kept too many draft picks.

Preller has only been on the job for a few months, but he traded 10 players, most of them minor-leaguers, five of them former No. 1 picks, to add MLB’s version of Garnett and Allen to his outfield. Padres fans, who’ve spent much of the last few years watching Cameron Maybin be frail or Will Venable helplessly flail, applauded.

A team whose leader in home runs last years was Yasmani Grandal with 15, now has an outfield with four 25-homer seasons each from two starters, and the potential for that many from the third, even in San Diego.

These aren’t Josh Byrnes’ Padres any more.

The Celtics won the NBA title the next year, but the Padres should be so lucky. The Padres haven’t had a winning record in the last four seasons and just one since 2007. All those No. 1 draft picks succeeded only in getting the Padres more high picks.

Preller took a different tack, and give him credit for that; sometimes patience is an excuse and not a strategy. But Preller apparently had none for the infield, short of hoping Gyorko can rebound (possible), Yonder Alonso can develop power (unlikely) and Will Middlebrooks develop patience (a better chance Kemp, who had a defensive WAR of -3.1 last season, will win a Gold Glove.)

The Padres start the season with three infielders with career on-base percentages of less than .300, which begs the question of who will be on base, besides Derek Norris, when the outfielders hit all their home runs. Solo home runs don’t often win championships.

It’s a good question, even if no one in San Diego wants to hear it or ask it.

The Padres are better, but given that they’re won 77, 76 and 76 games the last three seasons, and finished 17, 16 and 18 games out of first, it wasn’t that hard to be. The bigger question is whether it will last, and whether it will be worth it in 2016, when Upton is richer and Kemp’s health is poorer.

Or did all this binge trading just seem like a good idea at the time, like teenage hijinks. Preller’s Padres, like Ainge’s Celtics, won the offseason, but as the 2014 Yankees can testify, that’s the easy part. Winning when they start playing the games is the hard part.

Trivia answer: Gyorko passed Mark Loretta, who hits 32 home runs, including a career-high of 16 in 2004, as a Padre second baseman from 2003-05. The rest of the Padres’ best at the position: Damian Jackson (24, 1999-2001, 2005); Tim Teufel (24, 1991-93); Roberto Alomar (22, 1988-90); and Bip Roberts (20, 1986-91, ’94-95).

Team song: The Grass Roots: Let’s Live for Today

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