We’ve all allowed ourselves to imagine it.
The final out is recorded. The stadium erupts. Players pour out of the dugout and mob the mound. The National League West banner (or dare we dream for more?) once again flies above America’s Finest City.
Yes, the return of the San Diego Padres from baseball’s basement is sure to be met with cheers (and possibly tears, if you’re anything like me). However, we know that return is not happening in 2017. Nor will they be the talk of Title Town next season either.
That begs a relatively simple question: when?
With the Friars’ window to contend so firmly shut today (and locked, and possibly shuttered), when will the hometown team manage to loosen the hinges again?
The answer is a little more complicated. There is the organization’s own roster, currently a tank-worthy blend of has-beens and newbies, with the best assets still seasons away from the Show. There are the free agents to come, both journeymen to fill roster spots and, hopefully, legitimate additions to provide the last push to prominence. There’s also the other teams in the division, Giants and Dodgers and Rockies (oh my!) who will be looking to keep the soon-to-be upstart Friars from the promised land of the playoffs.
The answer is also imperative. It controls every roster move at the major league level, payroll considerations both now and down the road, and amateur additions who bring their own major league timelines to the mix. Negotiate an extension with the star first baseman (hypothetically…) to keep him around for the long-term? Save money by holding onto a hot prospect on the cheap? It all has to be a part of a bigger picture, with an end goal pinpointed somewhere in the distant horizon.
And where exactly is that goal? What should be the date that Preller and company have targeted for a return to contention, and that fans should know the organization is on schedule for?
Let’s take a look.
With the current season confidently out of the picture, it only makes sense to begin our research with next year. Unfortunately, the outlook won’t improve much by next summer. The starting rotation is likely to see the losses of a large part of the current Richards-Weaver-Chacin-Cahill mix, all of whom will be free agents after this current campaign. Outside of them, the free agent class gives little reason to splurge, with names like Derek Holland and Matt Cain among the possible winter targets (forgive me for not getting too excited). Those in the bullpen, including Ryan Buchter, Brandon Maurer, and Carter Capps, should all return as long as they survive this summer’s swaps, and could be supplanted by young arms such as Jacob Nix, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Lauer, and Phil Maton as well as Tommy John bounce-back, Colin Rea, and developing sinkerballer Luis Perdomo.
On the offensive side of things, Wil Myers, Yangervis Solarte, and Ryan Schimpf will likely all be counted on to lead the line-up, while Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot will be expected to continue their development into high-end major league bats. The team will lack much in the way of top talent in the upper minors, however, with Carlos Asuaje and Jamie Romak being the only likely call-ups of note.
Outside of a couple big question marks (with left field and shortstop being chief among them), the Padres’ prospects at the plate may not look so bleak next season, especially if Austin Hedges continues to make the adjustments he has so far. However, the rotation will hold the team back once again, leaving the Padres’ window latched shut in 2018.
This is where things begin to get a little more interesting, with a rush of top young talent all reaching or nearing the majors. Dynamic middle infielder Luis Urias and slugging first baseman Josh Naylor (a potential trade option given Myers’ entrenchment at the position) will likely be on the roster by now, at the same time that Anderson Espinoza and Cal Quantrill join the fray on the mound.
Barring a major splash in a historically-stacked free agent market, Solarte’s $5.5M club option is likely to be picked up given the team’s lack of long-term infield talent. Myers will enter his age-28 season planted firmly in his prime, while Renfroe, Margot, and Hedges will all play their third full seasons in the majors and, if all goes accordingly to plan, begin to approach their ceilings. Luis Robert, a current Padres’ target on the international side of things and a player who’s drawn (admittedly ambitious) comparisons to Mike Trout could slot into the vast Petco Park outfield as well if he ultimately becomes a Friar.
Speaking of that stacked free agent class, A.J. Preller and company may want to give serious consideration to breaking the bank on a long-term addition. On the pitching side of things, Carlos Carrasco and Matt Harvey would be more than worthwhile to pursue, as would hometown guy, Cole Hamels (although maybe not at the price tag he is likely to command). My preference though, would be that the team makes a run at Manny Machado. He certainly won’t come cheap as he enters his age-26 campaign, and may not even be available given the Orioles’ likely desire to keep him in Baltimore. However, if he’s out there, the superstar would offer a fits-like-a-Golden-Glove addition to the left side of the Friars’ infield, and imagining a Machado-Myers combination in the middle of the order is sure to make any San Diego fan start to salivate.
We’re getting closer…
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