Friday, February 25, 2011

The Perfect Pickup: San Diego Padres

The Padres entered this offseason in a somewhat awkward position. On one hand, they’re a competitive team, and were knocked out of playoff contention by the eventual World Champion Giants on the last day of the season. On the other, their best player, Adrian Gonzalez, was coming to the end of a ridiculously affordable four-year, $9.5 million deal, and as a smaller-budget team they simply don’t have the payroll to make the kind of commitment Gonzalez would require in order to sign a long-term deal. In order to avoid the possibility of losing Gonzalez for nothing, the Padres completed the trade that had been rumored to be in the works for at least a couple years. In exchange for their All-Star first baseman, the Padres received a package of prospects from Boston including Casey Kelly, Raymond Fuentes, Anthony Rizzo, and Eric Patterson.

In addition to losing a large chunk of their offense, the Padres had some holes in their starting staff that they needed to fill. Mat Latos led the rotation with 4.0 WAR, and Clayton Richard impressed with 2.3 total WAR. However, after that, they were pretty pedestrian. Tim Stauffer, who totaled 0.8 WAR in 7 starts at the end of last year after spending most of the season coming out of the bullpen, is slotted into the 3rd spot in the rotation. New signee Aaron Harang is penciled into the fourth spot after his worst year in 7 seasons, in which he accrued only 0.9 WAR in Cincinnati. Moving from one of the most-hitter friendly parks in the league to what is generally considered the best pitcher’s park in baseball will certainly benefit Harang, especially because he’s allowed a flyball rate of over 41% in each of the last four years. Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc, and Dustin Moseley will compete for the fifth and final spot.

Their bullpen was the best in baseball last year, and though they traded away some of their relievers, they should maintain their status as one of the best in baseball. So they should mostly be looking to replace some of the offense that will leave with Adrian Gonzalez’s departure, and having a bit of defense both to replace Gonzalez’s outstanding glove and to help their staff, which does seem like it could leave something to be desired.

They’re paying roughly $3 million for their first-base patch job, which involved signing Brad Hawpe to a deal for $2 million for this year with a $1 million buyout on a mutual option for 2011, as well as picking up Jorge Cantu for $850,000. Hawpe put up 0.5 WAR last year for the Rockies and Rays, while Cantu finished at 0.0 splitting the season between the Marlins and Rangers. Instead of that $3 million, I believe they would be better served spending $5 million and picking up Lyle Overbay, who signed for that amount with the Pirates this offseason. Overbay put up 1.5 WAR last season, and has averaged 2 WAR per season over the last 3 years. He’s been a plus defender for the last 4 seasons (although he was basically league-average last year), and up until last year, he had put up a LD% of over 20% in every season of his career. Bill James and Marcel’s projections both have him bouncing back next year to finish with a higher wRC+ than in 2010. If the $2 million difference isn’t possible for the team’s budget, hold off on signing Chad Qualls and trust the bullpen to come back strong with most of the core personnel from last year’s outstanding group. Though the Padres can’t replace the production they received from Gonzalez last year, they can at least ease the blow of doing so by adding someone who can provide a little thump in the middle of the lineup. Hawpe and Cantu are both unlikely to help much in that respect.

Overbay is the Padres’ perfect pickup because he would allow them to pick up a pretty consistently strong hitter and a solid defender. He’d provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse and is much more likely to provide them a solid return on their investment than Hawpe (who’s played 8 total games at first in his career, all last season) and Cantu.

So that’s it for the non-playoff teams. I’m going to do a quick review of the offseasons for all of the teams who played October baseball last year, and then move into predictions for the coming season. I did pretty well in the playoffs, so I’m excited to see whether I can prove I know what I’m talking about over the course of a season.

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