Just over a month into the 2015-2016 offseason, A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres have already been very busy. That level of activity kept up at the Winter Meetings, with Preller and company making several moves.
Perhaps the biggest of all the moves so far this offseason, was the trade of second baseman Jedd Gyorko to the St. Louis Cardinals in return for center fielder Jon Jay. With Gyorko now gone, this raises several questions about what the Padres infield will look like in 2016. At the top of that list, is whether Cory Spangenberg can be an everyday player in the absence of Jedd Gyorko.
While Spangenberg did get a good chunk of playing time in 2015, this would be his first opportunity to be the full time starter, barring any further infield additions this offseason. For all intents and purposes, Spangenberg was better than Gyorko in most aspects of the game. In 2015, Spangenberg finished with a slash line of .271/.333/.399 with a wRC+ of 105 and a WAR of 2.1. Add to that an UZR of 1.5 in just over 500 innings at second base last season, and Spangenberg had a good overall season for the Padres.
By comparison, Gyorko finished the season with a slash line of .247/.297/.397 with a wRC+ of 93 and a WAR of 0.7. In over 700 innings at second base, Gyorko also finished with a negative UZR of -1.4. Spangenberg hit for a higher average, got on base at a higher clip, and even had a higher slugging percentage. Spangenberg was also 12% better by wRC+ and provided three times as much WAR. Add Spangenberg’s superior speed/defense combination, and it is clear which player had the better season overall.
Fangraphs steamer projections projects Spangenberg for over 600 at bats, a slash line of .260.309/.371 and a wRC+ of 90 with a WAR of 1.6. Gyorko on the other hand, projects for just over 200 at bats, a slash line of .254/.311/.423, and a wRC+ of 103 and a WAR of 0.7. These numbers will obviously change if Gyorko is given full time playing time in St. Louis, but that appears unlikely. While Spangenberg may have been a better player than Gyorko last season, and may even be slightly better next season, the differences are not as vast as one would think.
Even if Spangenberg is better than Gyorko, which is still up in the air at this point, it remains to be seen whether he can be an everyday player for the Padres next season. Spangenberg has yet to play a full season in his career, setting a career high in games (108) and at bats (345) last season. If Spangenberg can maintain his performance from last season, which the steamer projections are not confident will happen, he could easily be a 3 WAR player if given full playing time. This would make him a solid, above average regular Major Leaguer.
While at this point Spangenberg seems to be the starting second baseman for next season, there is still a lot of time left between now and opening day. With Carlos Asuaje, Jose Pirela, and perhaps even new additions vying for playing time, it remains to be seen how much playing time Spangenberg will get. If Spangenberg does play every day, he provides a strong mix of speed, defense, and good contact that the Padres will benefit from having at the top of the order. Spangenberg isn’t great, but he’s the best the Padres have, and arguably better than what they had.