Leftfield belongs to Tommy Pham if he can secure it. But, his 2020 health, defense, and batting numbers create a quandary heading into 2021.
Pham carries capable offensive production and street cred from his history, but he seemed fawn-like in the outfield at times, missing even an easy pop fly on occasion. His off-season stab wound seemed, at least momentarily, to cloud his role even further. His guts and toughness, as well as his ceiling, make him a potential difference-maker, but that is less than certain. Jurickson Profar surged in the final month of the 2020 season, approximating his own ceiling. Is that a sign of his future? Was it an aberration just as his abysmal start to 2020 turned out to be?
Profar’s off-season value in this market sits at a below-expectation one year/$7 million contract offer for one season or 2 years at $15 million if extended. Profar has company in this free-agent market, including Michael Brantley (2/$28M) and Joc Pederson (2/$20). Brantley is an exceptional hitter from the left side who plays underrated, playoff defense in left, and Pederson is the sort of hitter who can handle the toughest opposing pitcher in the big moment. But, based upon this philosophy and cash flow, Profar at a two-year/$15M price tag with maybe $6M/$9M splits makes the most sense of these three. His smile, team personality fit, and positional/switch-hitting profile make him a good candidate, but is he the best fit as the band gets back together? The way he was used down the stretch implies the Padres may have been moving away from him. Who else could be a bargain, impact-free agent in left if those options are not the perfect fit? A few stand out: Ryan Braun (?), Jay Bruce (?), Adam Eaton (?), Robbie Grossman (1/$5M), Enrique Hernandez (2/$12M), Josh Reddick (?), Steven Souza (?), and all could flash in the short term.
Hernandez, a Swiss Army knife, would be a great tool to add to the box, but he’s a right-hander who primarily plays infield, duplicating Pham at the plate and adding unnecessary competition in the infield. He’s simply not the ideal fit. Braun (another right-hander) and Bruce would be potential veteran fits, but they will likely have greater contractual value to someone else unless they play for the chance at winning, undervalue. Souza is a true unknown with talent but also a propensity to get injured and probably can’t be considered in a “go for it” year. Grossman and Reddick are good options, but the best fit may be a rebound year from World Series champion Adam Eaton. He hits lefty, can play a solid left field, having been a longtime center/right fielder, and has the pedigree to grind out at-bats against great pitching, having hit second in the order for the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals. If he’s interested in a value-building 1 year deal with a winner, he may be the perfect fit, and in this market, he becomes much more affordable than his previous contract. ADAM EATON, OUTFIELDER: 1 year/$5 MILLION $15M-$5M=$10M
The rotation could easily stay as is, banking on the rise of players named Luis Patino, Adrian Morejon, MacKenzie Gore, or David Weathers. One or more of these pitchers may mature into a fixture of the Padres rotation as early as 2021. The problem is they all have significant improvements to make, and Covid-19’s limitations make their growth a less-than-projectible bet in a year where practice and development are hampered. Minor league reorganization and disbanding is in full flex. Also, the current returning rotation options are all balky to some degree. A low-cost veteran is certainly a need, and ideally, that choice should occupy one of the top 3 spots in the rotation on a shorter-term deal. There are only a few legitimate options here: Mike Minor (1/$6M), Charlie Morton (1/$8M), James Paxton (1/$10), Masahiro Tanaka (3/$39M), and Taijuan Walker (2/$16M).
Mike Foltynewicz (?) and Julio Teheran (?) are interesting upside signings, but they probably don’t move the needle more than simply standing pat and giving one of the four youngsters their chance on the bump. Mike Minor would be a nice bounce-back bet maybe, and The Big Maple would be a fun bet in some seasons. The other names, all valuable, mostly exceed the budget, and frankly are more costly than needed when the perfect fit is there at a great price. If an add is here, it can only come in the form of the one perfect pull: Charlie Morton. There’s no guarantee he’ll even pitch this year, but the Padres have a chance to win it all, and that’s his only remaining goal for playing. As one of the best big-game pitchers of all time, he’s a no-brainer here though the projected price seems low to me. CHARLIE MORTON, STARTING PITCHER: 1 year/$8 MILLION$10M-$8M=$2M
At catcher, the Padres arm themselves with a quality Nola/Campusano mix in theory. Francisco Mejia gets another opportunity to earn a roster spot in a utility type of role, and this positional threesome costs next to nothing. It’s an almost perfect scenario in the talent/cost/production matrix. However, if there is legitimate concern over Campusano’s immediate future, or it appears that the alleged infractions could limit his season in some significant way. The team may have to reluctantly alter the personnel. Jason Castro, James McCann, Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, and Mike Zunino are names that stand out as possible matches. In that unenviable scenario, the Padres would benefit from a veteran with at least a partially left-handed swing who could possibly fill a designated hitter role if called upon.
With a “cap” of $27 million, cost will be a significant factor here as this isn’t the most important area of need. But, imagine a worst-case scenario with a season without Campusano and a significant injury to Nola. The position needs to be addressed. According to MLB Trade Rumors projections, lifelong St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina will earn a 1 year/$10 million contract while ex-White Sox backstop, McCann, will pull a 2/$20 million offer. Meanwhile, FanGraphs free-agent tracker projects Zunino will earn a 2/$10 million contract. Castro and Wieters were not projected by either service, but in this market, neither will likely earn their paychecks from last season at $6 million and $2 million, respectively. Bringing Castro back makes sense, but he didn’t play a significant role down the stretch. He will cost a significant chunk of the free-agent money pie in relation to need, and Molina, McCann, and Zunino simply cost more than the position warrants. The wisest choice, Matt Wieters, is a switch-hitter, who performed well in limited duty in St. Louis at a contract of $2 million. He wields a veteran voice and has successfully played in the same lineup with Manny Machado for a period of years.
He’s the best fit for this philosophy though late-season add, Castro, isn’t being brought back against the title of this philosophy. Wieters is simply a more cost-effective version of Castro. MATT WIETERS, CATCHER: 1 year/$1.5 MILLION$2M-$1.5M=$.5M=$159.5M
That’s 5 players coming in under budget that give the band a similar look to the 2019 Padres, who operated at a higher winning percentage for the season than any other Padre roster. Depth and playoff quality reign. Youth and playoff experience abound. And, most importantly, sticking to the philosophical concept: this group, now confident and united, can take a full season to prove what they believe they could have accomplished if only they’d had their aces available.
The designated hitter position may not return to the National League this year, and even if it does, the preceding decisions give the Padres a number of possible options. Tommy Pham, Austin Nola, Adam Eaton, Matt Wieters, Jorge Ona, and Luis Campusano all could claim the spot on this roster as constructed if the right circumstances existed. The team would be “under budget” and be ready to hunt bear. But, if the organization wanted to add one more piece, if they wanted to address the designated hitter role, if they wanted to really get the band back together, they’d splurge for one last roster piece. If another piece was needed, it would be a left-handed bat that has all-around hitting potential (average, power, grinder, clutch). They’d have to be cheap, and they’d have to fit. Though I’m sure the Red Sox will at least kick the tires, as they say, that perfect fit is now-former Padre Mitch Moreland, and his $3 million tag from 2020 will likely be lower, so this roster could add potentially him for a $2M cost and finish only slightly over budget. MITCH MORELAND, Designated Hitter/First Baseman: 1 year/$2 MILLION$.5M-$2M=$161.5M
The dream never dies for loyal fans who sit by the off-season fire, warming themselves with thoughts of grandeur for the season ahead.
The roster and lineup following this philosophy may look as follows: 2021 San Diego Padres Lineup and Roster: The Get the Band Back Together Philosophy.
Additions are shown in bold (Depth options are shown in italics), Potential Platoon shown underlined. Can this “band” take the big cake? Regardless of responses that will inevitably be all over the board, with some worrying about some fabled trade machine while others obsess over a given player number, in the coming days, two other philosophies will be investigated and plotted out for comparison and contrast. Dream on till the dream comes true.