Ranking the Padres needs as Spring Training nears

Aug 9, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Jake Cronenworth (9) waits for a pitch during an at-bat against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The calendar is flipping to February, and Spring Training draws close. Still, the Padres have several glaring needs.

For the most part, the Padres and A.J. Preller have been uncharacteristically quiet this winter. Of course, they did swing the largest blockbuster trade of the offseason with Juan Soto, but most of the hype and attention went towards the New York end of the deal.

Now, Spring Training draws near. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is February 11, and the first full-squad workout is February 16.

The pitchers and catchers are set to work out on Super Bowl Sunday, less than two weeks from now. The clock is ticking. And yet, the Padres still have several monstrous needs if they hope to compete in 2024.

Let’s rank them by importance.

1. Outfield

Yes, a certain Platinum Glove Award winner in Fernando Tatis Jr. mans right field. However, last I checked, he isn’t able to patrol the entire outfield by himself (although he would fare better than most in the attempt). The Padres have little quality depth in the outfield after Tatis. Projections are all over the place as to who would man center and left fields if the Padres make no other moves.

The Padres got rid of two of their starting outfielders in one trade and have done virtually nothing to address it since.

FanGraphs projects Jose Azocar to take centerfield while non-roster invite Calvin Mitchell is slated in left.

Hardly ideal for a team with postseason aspirations.

Jakob Marsee is among those invited to big league camp in Peoria. The 22-year-old played all three outfield spots during the Arizona Fall League, coupled with a 1.215 OPS in those 24 games, earning him AFL MVP. He appears to be getting a shot to make the team. He finished last season as the No. 13 prospect in the organization.

Still, that is the ultimate best-case scenario. Even if that works out, that still leaves one of Azocar or another fringe 40-man roster player for a starting outfield spot.

That is a far cry from the 2023 version of the outfield in San Diego, with Trent Grisham (two Gold Gloves), Soto, and Tatis.

Plenty of free-agent outfielders still remain unsigned. Even ones who would not break the bank, like Michael A. Taylor, Whit Merrifield, Jesse Winker, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall, are still available.

The Padres need to make several significant moves to improve the outfield. Relying on A-ball prospects and non-roster invitees to fill the roles is not a recipe for a playoff run.

 2. Left-handed starting pitcher 

Even with the megadeal that sent Soto to New York garnering several arms, the starting rotation is a giant question mark.

In that deal, Michael King, Randy Vasquez, and maybe Jhony Brito will be candidates to make the rotation.

The top is unquestionably Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish. If healthy, one of them will surely start Opening Day.

As of now, King is slated at No. 3. The issue is, he has never been part of a starting rotation for a full season. He made nine starts down the stretch for New York last year, which was a career-high. Even with positive returns in those starts, slating him as the third-best starting pitching option is a giant risk. He has never pitched more than 104 innings in a season in his big league career.

Two spots remain for the aforementioned Vasquez, Brito, and incumbents Pedro Avila and Matt Waldron. Jay Groome is the only lefty on the roster capable of starting games, and he is fresh off of a troublesome 8.55 ERA in Triple-A last year.

After losing Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, the Padres have extremely limited options for a lefty starter.

Groome is all they have unless they make a trade or signing. Adrian Morejon has starting experience, but given his injury history, he might be set for a reliever role. Hyun Jin Ryu has been a well-documented fit in San Diego’s rotation. He still remains unsigned. Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Montgomery, and Snell also remain free agents among lefty starters.

The only reason the rotation is not No. 1 on this list is because they at least have five options for starting pitchers who have significant big-league experience, unlike the outfield.

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3. Left-handed bat (DH/1B/bench)

Much like the starting rotation, the Padres’ lineup took a huge blow to their stock in left-handers. Soto and Grisham both were dealt to New York, two starting left-handed outfielders. The only left-handed hitters remaining on the 40-man roster with any significant MLB experience are Jake Cronenworth and Tucupita Marcano. However, Marcano is still recovering from a torn ACL.

Last year, the Padres had Soto, Grisham, Matt Carpenter, Cronenworth, Rougned Odor, and briefly Ji-Man Choi as options on the left side of the batter’s box. That list has nearly evaporated now.

Lefty or not, the Padres are in need of more depth with the bats.

Brandon Belt, Eddie Rosario, Daniel Vogelbach, David Peralta, Mike Ford, Joey Votto, and Raimel Tapia are all left-handed bats still available (assuming the Padres are well outside Cody Bellinger‘s price range).

4. First base

Cronenworth moved to first base in 2023 to poor results. After getting an extension and moving from second base to first, he cratered in 2023. He went from 4.3 WAR in 2022 to a measly 0.8 last year. He was in the 29th percentile in Outs Above Average on defense, with a pedestrian 1 Defensive Run Saved. He was in the 81st percentile in Outs Above Average at second base in 2022.

Frankly, the move is a disaster. The Padres need to find a way to move Cronenworth off of first base, either by trading Ha-Seong Kim or even trading Cronenworth.

The best case scenario is getting the freedom to move Cronenworth around the infield again with a more potent bat to man first base. A .689 OPS (Cronenworth in 2023) as a first baseman simply will not cut it.

As mentioned, Brandon Belt or Votto are solid options. Carlos Santana is a switch hitter and could provide value at first base or DH.

Cronenworth is far from the prototypical first baseman. The Padres should find a way to remedy that with or without Cronenworth on the roster.

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