Here is a look at the best players at each position for the Padres since Petco Park opened in 2004.
The MLB lockout is still frozen over, with no end in sight as the calendar turns to 2022. Pitchers and catchers would be reporting in just over a month. To distract ourselves from the doom and gloom around the sport at the moment, let’s have a little fun and field the best Padres team possible from a pool of those who played in San Diego since Petco Park opened in 2004. This eliminates the obvious choices like sticking Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn, in right field on an all-time team. The Phil Nevin/Ryan Klesko era also narrowly misses the cut, as they did most of their damage at Qualcomm Stadium.
Going position by position, here is the All-Petco Park Era Padres squad (since 2004).
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Some younger fans may forget just how good Hernandez was. He arrived in San Diego ahead of the 2004 season and caught the first official pitch at Petco Park from David Wells. He was a true two-way catcher. Most prefer a defensive-minded catcher first and then if he hits well, then it’s a huge bonus. The Venezuela native did both well. He spent just two seasons in San Diego but racked up more WAR than Nick Hundley did in seven (5.6). He hit 18 home runs with an .818 OPS and 118 OPS+ in 2004, one of the best offensive seasons for a Padres catcher. He also posted 2.0 dWAR in those two seasons, more than Hundley did in any two-season stretch during his time in San Diego. In 2005 alone, he earned 7 Defensive Runs Saved behind the plate.
Over his two seasons in San Diego, he posted a 114 OPS+ and .796 OPS, a far cry from what the Padres have received recently from their catchers at the plate.
Honorable Mention: Yasmani Grandal (4.3 WAR), Nick Hundley (5.1 WAR)
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez
File this under “no, duh.” Yes, the Padres got priced out and he eventually went to the hated Dodgers and thrived further. However, that does not change the fact that he was one of the most productive hitters in Padres history. He received MVP votes in each of his final four seasons in San Diego while being named an All-Star for each of those campaigns. He turned in four straight 30-plus homer seasons with at least 99 RBI. His 2009 campaign was one of the best in Padres history, with 40 home runs, 99 RBI, with a .958 OPS and 162 OPS+. He was named an All-Star, earned a Gold Glove and finished with 6.9 WAR. The Chula Vista native finished his Padres career just three home runs shy of being the franchise home run king, with 161 dingers in five seasons.
He also is top five in several offensive categories in Padres history, including RBI, runs and WAR.
Honorable mention: Yonder Alonso (5.5 bWAR in four seasons)
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Second Base: Mark Loretta
There may come a time where this discussion must involve comparing Loretta to current Padres’ second baseman Jake Cronenworth. Make no mistake, Cronenworth is gunning for Loretta’s top spot, but not just yet. Loretta’s 2004 campaign alone is likely the best single-season by a Friars’ second baseman. Everything came together for him as he collected 208 hits, which is the most by any Padres hitter in franchise history not named Tony Gwynn. That year he batted .335 with an .886 OPS and 138 OPS+, all strong numbers by a second baseman’s standards. It was complemented with 6.0 bWAR. He earned his first of two career All-Star selections, won the Silver Slugger and finished ninth in MVP voting.
Over his Padres career, he batted .314 in three seasons. He also helped the Padres win the NL West crown in 2005, hitting .280 in 105 games. He still has the edge over Cronenworth in WAR and wRC+ during his time in San Diego, for now.
Honorable mention: Jake Cronenworth (6.5 bWAR, 123 OPS+, .808 OPS, 2021 All-Star)
Shortstop: Fernando Tatis Jr.
Shortstop is another one that sticks out as much as a fan wearing brown and gold does in a sea of blue. Tatis may very well turn out to be the best Padres player this side of Mr. Padre. An argument can be made that he is already the most electric, recognizable, international star to ever wear a Padres uniform- and he just turned 23. His nickname “El Niño” fits, since he is the most exciting, trendy player in baseball since “The Kid” himself, Ken Griffey Jr. His 2021 season was one of the best in franchise history as his 42 home runs were the second-most in franchise history and despite just playing for parts of three full seasons with the squad and being so young, Tatis is already 17th in franchise history in career homers. With a few more years of health and expected production, he will make Nate Colbert’s franchise home run mark of 163 a distant memory very soon. In less than three full seasons, he already has 13.6 bWAR to his name along with back-to-back top-four MVP finishes. He is one of the most talented hitters in the game today, with a career .965 OPS through 273 career games. Among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, his career OPS mark ranks 17th all-time, higher than several all-time greats. He is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, so long as he stays healthy.
Honorable mention: Khalil Greene (9.1 fWAR)
Third base: Manny Machado
This one was tougher than originally thought. Of course, if you look at talent and star power, the clear answer is Machado. But if you look strictly at numbers while in San Diego, technically, Chase Headley has a higher career WAR with the Padres. Of course, that is due to him playing about 600 more games in a Padres uniform than Machado to this point. Plus, people too often gloss over Headley’s out-of-this-world 2012 campaign when he led the NL with 115 RBI along with 31 homers, a Gold Glove, finishing fifth in MVP voting. That was good enough for a 6.4-WAR season, something Machado has not yet accomplished in San Diego. However, Machado gets the nod because no one in their right mind would pick Headley over Machado. Machado already has 76 homers as a Padre, just 11 less than Headley in six less years, along with a higher OPS and wRC+. Machado earned MVP votes in each of the last two years including finishing third in 2020 after a .950 OPS and 160 OPS+ in the shortened season. Plus, Machado will add to these totals for at least two more seasons, before his opt-out year. If he chooses to stay in San Diego, it will be for another five years after that, where he could cement himself as one of the greatest Padres of all-time.
Honorable mention: Chase Headley (18.9 fWAR)
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Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.