The San Diego Padres are trying to buy their way into the playoffs, but don’t spring for Padres' World Series gear just yet.
Free agent pitcher James Shields is the latest acquisition, signing with the Padres earlier this month. The deal is worth $75 million over four years, with a fifth year option at $12 million.
The former Kansas City Royal is the cherry on top of a very active and fruitful offseason for the Padres, with new General Manager A.J. Preller leading the charge to bring the Padres back to relevancy.
Hired back in August, the former assistant GM with the Texas Rangers immediately started hinting at future changes.
Preller said: “It’s always a situation, just, how you can improve, big-picture, in general. And I think, you know, when you’re finishing in third place, we’re going to look at every aspect.”
Again in December, Preller was foreshadowing the major moves that were to come: “I think it’s a situation where, ownership has been in the loop so far throughout the whole process. They understand that, depending on what happens here in the next few weeks, it may take our budget to different levels, our payroll to different levels.”
With trades for outfielders Justin Upton, and Wil Meyers on December 19th, along with Matt Kemp a week earlier on December 11th, plus new catcher Derek Norris on December 18th, it’s easy to see why many believe the Padres can be playoff and even World Series contenders. Talk of a “super team” may be premature, however, as they rarely, if ever, can be put together.
Before signing with the Padres, the 33-year-old Shields remained the last marquee free agent available. Shields will anchor the team’s pitching staff, providing consistency, durability and quality to a talented, under the radar Padres staff.
He joins starters Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and relievers Kevin Quackenbush and Joaquin Benoit. Shields has thrown 200 or more innings every year since his first full season in 2007. In his last four seasons, Shields has put up a 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, pitched nearly 1000 innings, and tossed 17 complete games. GM A.J. Preller thinks Shields will solidify the pitching staff and is hoping his other moves will boost a dreadful offense.
Last season the Padres finished dead last in the entire MLB in runs scored, tallying 535 runs in 2014. Preller has done a great job at addressing that need in acquiring outfielders, 2013 AL rookie of the year Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays (interestingly, Myers was traded from Kansas City to Tampa for Shields in December of 2012), Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves, and 2011 NL MVP runner up Matt Kemp from division rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
Myers in his two years in the big leagues averages 19 home runs and 88 RBIs, Kemp in his nine-year career averages 26 home runs and 96 RBIs, and Upton averages 26 home runs and 84 RBIs in his eight years. Both Kemp and Myers have had issues staying healthy missing significant time in recent years, and none of these outfielders are known for their defense. Upton, Myers, and Kemp each have posted negative defensive WAR throughout their careers. In the spacious outfield of PetCo Park, this could prove disastrous. The infield also looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
Fangraphs projects the entire Padres infield to put up a collective WAR of 5.5, the third lowest in all of baseball. Teams rarely if ever win more than 88 games if the infield puts up a collective 15 WAR. There are exceptions to this, especially in recent years.
In 2012 both the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics won more than 90 games with a weak infield. But both teams were known for their outfield defense, something this group will likely struggle with. Last season the Padres won 77 games and should see an improvement overall but with a weak infield it can drag a team down.
One trend in recent years has been to try and create super teams, whether it’s through trades or through free agency and stack the odds in a team’s favor. But these super teams rarely, if ever, win the World Series. In recent years, going back to 2007, the teams that spend the most during the offseason often fail to even make the playoffs.
In 2014 the New York Yankees spent nearly $500 million on free agents, and failed to make the playoffs. In 2013, The Toronto Blue Jays created a star team through trades, getting shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins, and acquiring 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, to go along with star outfielder Jose Bautista and slugging first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
The Blue Jays failed to make the playoffs. The Miami Marlins and Anaheim Angels in 2012, the Boston Red Sox in 2011, none of them made the playoffs. This is something Preller must beware of.
The Padres have undoubtedly improved from last season, especially with the signing of Shields to anchor the rotation. But a lot has to go right for them to be the team everyone expects them to be.