Are the Padres for real this year? It's one of the questions answered in this edition of the team's mailbag.
DENVER — Andy Green sat in the visiting manager’s office at Coors Field, sifting through the wreckage of a 9-6 defeat. The Padres had fallen to 33-36, their 11-5 start a distant memory. The Colorado Rockies had moved to 36-32, a far cry from 3-12. Late Thursday, a manager attempted to maintain a sense of perspective.
“I think we showed some really good signs of life offensively today,” Green said. “I think we’re really encouraged by those signs of life.”
The Padres matched the Rockies with 13 hits, including four in consecutive at-bats to open the game. Yet they also struck out a dozen times and failed to draw a walk. A baseball put in play is liable to find empty spaces on an expansive field. The Padres remain liable to flail away.
It was only one night, of course. The season is little more than 40 percent complete. But the July 31 trade deadline is less than seven weeks away. The box scores and standings will be increasingly scrutinized. In the meantime, let’s get to another mailbag.
The Padres are three games under .500 while sporting a minus-37 run differential. That indicates the presence of some luck. You do not need to know the Pythagorean win-loss record (30-39) to recognize that this is not a good team.
The Padres have a few cornerstones and some promising pieces, but they remain a highly flawed collection. With the exception of home runs, they rank in the bottom quarter of the majors in seemingly every offensive category. The rotation busted outside expectations early in the season, but Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm, who had been the most effective starters, are contending with regression and innings limits. The bullpen has shouldered a heavy load and buckled amid recent meltdowns.
As most suspected, this is not shaping up to be an ahead-of-schedule arrival; 2020 continues to be the more realistic target for contention. The Padres have Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. Those three represent a pretty decent core. Regardless of what moves are made, San Diego theoretically should have enough to finish around .500. A .500 team, paired with a top farm system, is an interesting team. Clearly, it is not yet a good team.
José Castillo recently had his rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A El Paso, where he struck out the side in his first appearance. The left-hander represents a potential cure for the Padres’ struggles to bridge the gap to Kirby Yates. He could be among the club’s most impactful midseason additions.
Andres Muñoz, also with El Paso, should get an opportunity in the near future. His fastball sits at or above 100 mph; controlling it is the challenge. But an arm like that should be deployed against major-league batters, sooner than later.
Other Triple-A relievers who could be summoned this season include Eric Yardley and Tyler Higgins. Robert Stock, who was recalled Wednesday and optioned Thursday, will be up again.
The expected return of Dinelson Lamet, plus the debut of a starter such as Logan Allen, could push a pitcher from the rotation to the bullpen. Later in the season, as the innings pile up for Strahm, he could return to a relief role.
The current focus for Adrian Morejon is staying on the mound. He narrowly cleared 60 innings in each of the past two years, and he’s missed time this season because of a shoulder impingement. His development has been anything but smooth, largely due to an absence of health.
Meanwhile, the Padres are evaluating where the 20-year-old could best be used. They can continue him on his starter’s progression. They can accelerate his path to the majors via a relief role. Regardless of the route, some team officials have characterized a big-league debut this season as a long shot. It is not impossible, however.
Morejon still possesses considerable upside in a rotation capacity, but lost time and uneven results have dulled his prospect status to some extent. Long-term, I think he’ll still get a shot to start in the majors. The Padres could explore easing him in as a reliever.
Craig Stammen. But if they wind up trading Kirby Yates, that would leave them with a bullpen comprised entirely of unproven options or relievers who, like Stammen, are illustrating the volatility of the position.
In the end, I suspect the Padres hang on to Yates at the deadline. They will require an enormous return to part with him, a scenario that seems unlikely. Brad Hand had two-plus years of control when he was shipped to Cleveland last summer. Yates will be eligible for free agency after next season. Of course, A.J. Preller will listen to offers.
This ownership group is nearing the seventh anniversary of its purchase of the team. Ron Fowler, Peter Seidler and their co-investors understand that any lengthy commitment cannot be judged on its first 2 1/2 months. Privately, there might indeed be some disappointment, especially after Eric Hosmer’s underwhelming 2018. But again, it’s 2 1/2 months.
Machado has endured significant slumps and anemic first halves before; in 2017, he hit .230/.296/.445 before the All-Star break. He still wound up posting a three-WAR season. The Padres should and do have faith that, in time, he will hit plenty.
On Thursday, Machado collected two home runs in Coors Field’s friendly environs. His defense at two infield positions has made the sluggish offense more palatable. But yes, he does need to start producing on the offensive side. His track record indicates that he will.
Hunter Renfroe has been the most popular subject of early trade talk. Wil Myers’ contract, you might have heard, will be difficult to move. The Padres have been impressed with the development of both Renfroe and Franmil Reyes, but Reyes is younger. Renfroe, who has made noticeable progress on defense, could be a useful piece for helping the Padres upgrade another area of the roster.
For now, the best guess is that Renfroe is on the move before August. The Padres would then have to sort through an outfield of Myers, Reyes, Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, Josh Naylor and, when he comes off the injured list, Travis Jankowski. Feel free to bookmark this for when I am inevitably proven wrong.
He wouldn’t receive everyday playing time, but assuming Austin Hedges’ offensive struggles continue and Francisco Mejía returns free of the left knee trouble that affected him earlier in the season, the prospect deserves at least a more even split.
Hedges’ defense and game-calling are among the best in the game, but the Padres currently have too many lineup holes. Mejía has the tools to provide rare offense at a premium position. The Padres should give him a chance to prove he can put them to use.
The Padres intend for him to start. On his current rehab assignment, Lamet stretched out to four innings in his third and final appearance with High-A Lake Elsinore. He has progressed to El Paso, where he will continue throwing all four of his pitches.
Of course, there will be limits to what Lamet can do this season. Depending on pitch count, starts of seven or more innings should be out of the question. Assuming he does return to the big-league club, you likely will see him capped around six innings per turn.
I do not. At least not anytime soon. The Padres desperately need hitters who get on base at more than a league-average clip. Luis Urías has the potential to provide that and more. He has taken 82 plate appearances in the majors. He should get many more opportunities with the Padres before they consider moving him.
Like Luis Patiño, MacKenzie Gore is getting a bit of a mid-season breather. He went just two innings, by design, on June 5. He is scheduled to start again Friday night. The California League All-Star Game is next week. I expect Gore will be promoted to Double-A Amarillo before the end of the month.
Why isn’t he already there? Scouts who have seen Gore say the 20-year-old is the best young pitcher in the Cal League in more than a few years. The goal, however, is not to push him to the majors this season. Building a foundation of innings is, particularly after the blister problems of 2018.
I like this question, Hector. The burritos at Ortiz’s in Point Loma have never let me down.