Add to the bullpen
Besides All-Star closer Kirby Yates, the bullpen is very much in flux. The Padres used 28 different relievers in the 2019 season. Jose Castillo was hurt for almost all of 2019, but if he can come back healthy, he is a big weapon late in games. Michel Baez, Andres Muñoz, Matt Strahm, and Trey Wingenter are likely candidates to compete for a bullpen spot. San Diego should add at least one veteran reliever.
With the Padres paying a reasonable amount for Wheeler in free agency, the preference here will be to seek one in a trade. John Gant has quietly put together a strong career in the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals with a 3.54 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 90 appearances in the last two years. He posted a 117 ERA+ last year, but a really rough September (13.50 ERA in nine games) left him off of the postseason roster. This means the Cardinals might agree to deal him despite them being a contending team.
Let’s offer the Cardinals outfielder Buddy Reed (25th ranked prospect in the organization) and Lake Elsinore reliever Dylan Coleman for Gant, who is 27 years old with three seasons of control left. His ERA+ has improved each of his first four years in the big leagues. The Cardinals will likely ask for a prospect near the big leagues, which Reed is, plus Coleman can perhaps eventually fill the void of a reliever with Gant’s departure.
His salary for 2020 is a meager $1.4 million, pushing the Padres total 2020 payroll to just under $129 million.
Explore options for catcher and second base
Much like the last offseason, the Padres are looking to improve at second base and catcher. Luis Urias, now with two separate seasons of stints in the majors, is still very much a question mark. Ian Kinsler is more or less dead weight, with one year and almost $4 million owed, as he floundered to the tune of a .217 average and 70 OPS+ in 87 games last year before being benched and eventually shut down due to injury.
Austin Hedges continues to be elite behind the plate defensively yet looks completely overmatched as a hitter. Among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, Hedges was dead last in batting average (.176) and OPS (.563). He also finished with a -0.6 WAR while his competitor, Francisco Mejia, finished at 0.7, over one win better. It’s time to give Mejia the keys to the house and find something to do with Hedges.
Mejia certainly has work to do defensively, yet he had an even 0 Defensive Runs Saved and 0.1 dWAR meaning he is not a liability. Those are better numbers than Marlins backstop Jorge Alfaro and Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
Having dealt Austin Allen, the next catcher in the system is Luis Torrens who was a Rule 5 pick in 2016. He can be a serviceable backup to Mejia.
Hedges will not be happy being sent down again and will likely want out of the organization. We will swing a trade involving him to acquire a second baseman that can play every day and help Luis Urias along.
Adam Frazier of the Pirates played 142 games at second base in 2019 with a solid 6 Defensive Runs Saved with a .278 average and .753 OPS at the plate. He has experience playing in the outfield as well if needed, and he would be another welcome left-handed bat. He will be 28 and has three seasons left of control.
A straight swap of Hedges for Frazier might not be enticing enough for the Pirates given Hedges’ lackluster offense, so we will throw in Lake Elsinore lefty Osvaldo Hernandez. Frazier would be an instant upgrade over Urias and Kinsler, who combined for 0.7 WAR while Frazier posted 2.7 last year.
The Pirates are strapped for catching talent as they were 20th in Defensive Runs Saved at the catching position as a team in 2019, so Hedges is an instant upgrade defensively, and he gets a change of scenery. Hernandez is an enticing lefty who had a 3.90 ERA in 12 games for Lake Elsinore last season.
Frazier’s arbitration is estimated at $3.2 million in 2020, with the dumping of Hedges’ $2.9 million, which puts the payroll right around $130 million, below our limit.
Roster Review (new acquisition in bold)
Remember, rosters increase to 26 players in 2020.
Starting Lineup (2019 WAR)
C: Francisco Mejia (0.7)
1B: Eric Hosmer (-0.3)
2B: Adam Frazier (2.7)
SS: Fernando Tatis Jr. (4.2)
3B Manny Machado (3.1)
LF: Hunter Renfroe (2.6)
CF: Manuel Margot (1.8)
RF: Nomar Mazara (0.7)
Shane Bieber (4.9)
Zack Wheeler (4.1)
Chris Paddack (2.6)
Joey Lucchesi (1.6)
Dinelson Lamet (0.4)
Kirby Yates (2.8)
John Gant (0.6)
Matt Strahm (1.1)
Michel Baez (0.6)
Jose Castillo (0.0)
Andres Muñoz (0.2)
Cal Quantrill (0.1)
Trey Wingenter (-0.5)
Ian Kinsler (-0.3)
Luis Urias (1.0)
Josh Naylor (0.1)
Greg Garcia (1.4)
Luis Torrens (N/A)