The Padres have made some progress in 2019, but they’re still a long ways from contending for that elusive playoff spot. That and much more was evident in the team’s abysmal 8-16 month of July.
After taking three out of four games from the Dodgers to go into the break at 45-45, the Padres had many people thinking that they still had an outside chance at a playoff run and the very least were a team that could sustain their pace and finish the season at .500 or better. After the break, however, they’ve yet to win a series and have dropped multiple games to the Mets, Marlins, and Giants, to name a few.
Combine that with the fact that Franmil Reyes and Logan Allen (along with rookie ballplayer Victor Nova) were traded away to the Cleveland Indians as part of a three-team deal, and it’s been a rough month for the players and fans alike. With all that’s happened throughout July, it leaves many questions still unanswered as the season heads into the stretch run and the final months. Here are some of the biggest questions/concerns that plague the team for the rest of 2019 and beyond.
1. Does Trading Away Reyes and Allen push back the window another season?
Throughout the course of this year and even during the 2018 season, A.J. Preller and the rest of ownership had preached that 2019 would be somewhat of a developmental year to gauge what the club had, and 2020 was going to be the start of “the window” that would evidently see the club contending for a championship on an annual basis.
As it stands now, the Padres probably wouldn’t be a slam dunk choice for the playoffs next year, given their current roster construction. The team had also been a trendy choice this season to make at least some solid progress and contend for a wild card, but they’ve really stalled in the second half (with a brutal August schedule coming up).
However, there’s still reason to be optimistic for next season. Taylor Trammell has the potential to be the team’s center fielder of the future as soon as mid-2020 and could make a serious impact upon arrival. Mackenzie Gore has been really good (save for one start) since being promoted to Double-A and figures to be given a serious chance at cracking the 2020 rotation. Luis Patiño has been almost as good at High A and is seemingly just a couple months behind Gore’s timeline.
The payroll is also still well below league average, and if the team expects to contend they’ll more than likely have to sign a frontline starter or impact player at a position of need. Astros ace and pending free agent Gerrit Cole is the obvious choice to lead the young staff next year but will likely command upwards of $200 million this winter. If the Padres are serious about next year being a year where they contend for the World Series, they’re going to have to make a run at him.
Overall, the window may not necessarily be pushed back after this deadline deal, but it puts more pressure on Preller and the front office to start producing a winning product. If there isn’t significant progress made next year and Trammell winds up leaving much to be desired, Preller could find his seat getting warmer.
2. What does the outfield situation look like now (and for the future)?
After dealing away Reyes, the Padres find their outfield a little less crowded. What’s certain now is that Hunter Renfroe is going to receive at-bats every day as the presumed right fielder, while some combination of Wil Myers, Josh Naylor, and Manuel Margot will man the other two spots (Travis Jankowski also figures to get into the mix at some point, and has hit .487 over 41 at-bats since recovering from his broken wrist in the spring).
In what’s been a mostly forgetful season for Myers (most notably his -8 DRS in center field), he has actually begun to spark a little of late. He’s gone on a quiet five-game hitting streak and is hitting .281 in the past week of games. While Myers is in no way the player he was in 2016 and for the rest of his early Padres tenure, it’s at least somewhat encouraging to see him having success that will boost his offseason trade value if nothing else.
Margot also figures into this outfield picture, as Reyes departure likely moves Myers to left full-time and completely frees up center. Since taking back the centerfield job full time on June 23, Margot’s been showing flashes of his rookie season and prospect status, when many thought he would be a perennial all-star candidate. While he isn’t there yet, he has shown better and made the front office at least consider whether or not he can be a mainstay when the team gets better in the coming years.
To go along with young centerfielders, the Padres now find themselves likely flush with the position for the future. As well as Margot, the system now boasts Trammell, C.J. Abrams, Xavier Edwards, and Buddy Reed (Abrams and Edwards are both middle infielders currently but profile better in the outfield long term, especially with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urías up the middle for the big club).
3. Can the bullpen keep up their solid run of late?
For most of the first half of the season, the Padres bullpen was considered one of the worst in all of baseball. The bullpen ERA for the first few months sat around or above five as the middle relief struggled to bridge the gap to Kirby Yates and his sparkling 1.02 ERA and MLB leading 31 saves.
Lately, however, the team has really picked up the slack in that department. Save for last night’s fiasco that saw the bullpen give up three earned runs (including a grand slam); they’ve been much better. Since the second half started Padres relievers have been one of the best groups in baseball by posting an ERA under 2.
Thanks to the immersion of Andres Muñoz, Michel Baez, and Adrian Morejon, the bullpen has been able to add velocity and rest their key relievers more often. Craig Stammen‘s also been solid outside of his terrible June, where his ERA was above 6.
There’s no reason why the bullpen can’t continue their run of success as long as they are deployed in the right situations. Andy Green‘s decision to throw Trey Wingenter in with the bases loaded and a one-run lead a day after being recalled from Triple-A can be considered questionable at best. It’s at least been encouraging to see the young arms have success and bodes well for the rest of the season and beyond.
4. What impact will Garrett Richards have for this year and beyond?
Richards is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery that he suffered back in July of last season but has made some progress worth noting. He has made a rehab start for the AZL Padres as well as for High A Lake Elsinore, where he flashed a fastball up to 95 and more than a strikeout per inning. If all goes according to plan, he could be back with the MLB club by the end of the month.
Richards has always been somewhat of a wild card in his tenure with the Padres. They rolled the dice with him by granting him a two-year, $15 million deal in which they figured he would miss all of 2019. Therefore, they see him as a potential “ace in the hole” that they can deploy for 2020 to hopefully be a veteran anchor in an otherwise young staff.
While he may never reach the form that he did in his time with the Angels, Richards’ performance at the end of this year could very well dictate whether or not the Padres pursue starting pitching help in the offseason. While they should still do so regardless, it would be wildly beneficial if he could produce league average to above league average numbers throughout an entire season.