MLB hot stove: Padres reportedly covet one of the game’s top third basemen

MLB hot stove: Padres reportedly covet one of the game’s top third basemen

Under general manager A.J. Preller’s guidance, the San Diego Padres have shown a willingness to make bold moves. That figures to apply to their upcoming winter, too. It’s not all that surprising, then, that the Padres have popped up in relation with some of the market’s top players. The Padres

Team Roundup: Padres

Team Roundup: Padres

Christopher Crawford breaks down what went right and wrong — mostly wrong — for the Padres in our latest Team Roundup

Follow @Rotoworld_BB and @Crawford_MILB on Twitter.

San Diego Padres

2018 Record: 66-96

Fifth Place, NL West

Team ERA: 4.40 (26th)

Team OPS: .677 (28th)

What Went Right

Well, they got to pay 81 games in San Diego, so that’s nice. On the baseball side, not a lot. Franmil Reyes was one of the few breakout stars for the Padres; posting an .848 OPS and hitting 16 homers in his 87 games as a 23-year-old. Hunter Renfroe still isn’t a big fan of drawing walks, but the power showed up for the former first-round pick; hitting 50 extra-base hits and 26 homers in 117 games. Brad Hand proved that his 2017 breakout season wasn’t a fluke with 24 saves, and then he was deal for one of the best prospects in baseball for Francisco Mejia. Kirby Yates proved a more than competent replacement for Hand as the closer with a 2.14 ERA and 12.86 K/9 over 63 innings. Joey Lucchesi had a solid rookie campaign striking out a 145 hitters in 130 innings with a usable 4.04 ERA.

What Went Wrong

Pretty much everything else. Eric Hosmer hit .253, and that led the team among batters that qualified. Hosmer could really be this entire section; he signed for $144 million and registered a .720 OPS with 18 homers and 69 RBi over 157 games with the club. Wil Myers struggled with injuries, and when he was on the field, he wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring with a line of .253/.318/.446 in 83 games with 11 homers. Manny Margot not only failed to take a big step up, he regressed with a .245 average and .675 OPS. The Bryan Mitchell starting experiment was a failure, as he walked more hitters than he struck out (43/36) and registered a 5.42 ERA in 73 innings. He was a Cy Young candidate compared to Luis Perdomo, who posted an ugly 7.05 ERA and 1.88 WHIP.

Fantasy Slants

**Austin Hedges had a mixed season with the Padres; one that wouldn’t be considered mixed if he played any position but catcher. He was limited to just 91 games because of injuries, and he hit just .231 with a .282 on-base percentage. He also hit 14 homers, which translates into a 20-25 homer season if he would have been able to stay healthy, and the added power he showed in 2017 looks legit. He’s also a strong defender behind the plate, but Mejia is considered the future at the position. Will this be a timeshare? Or is it possible we see Hedges playing everyday for a different organization.

**Christian Villanueva looked like a breakout star at the beginning of the year, but his final line of .236/.299/.450 with 20 homers and three stolen bases leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it was his first full season in the big leagues, and this was once a top 100 prospect in baseball with the Cubs before he was usurped by several other players in that system. There’s certainly power in the bat, but this is a very volatile play for the 2019 campaign.

**Dinelson Lamet was supposed to be the No.2 starter in the rotation this year. Instead, he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in April and missed the entire season. It was obviously a huge disappointment, but especially because Lamet looked excellent in spring training, and showed flashes of brilliance in the 2017 campaign as a rookie. He’s expected to be ready to go for the 2019 year — though possibly not right out of spring training — and he could be a sneaky option to consider for those who forgot about his talent.

**Luis Urias played in just 12 games for the Padres in 2018, and he only hit .208 in his 48 at-bats with San Diego. Those numbers don’t mean much in that small of sample size, however, and there’s still plenty of reason for optimism going forward with the 21-year-old. He was listed on my Top 10 Prospect list for the majority of the season thanks to his ability to make hard contact all over the field, strong approach at the plate and a decent change to hit for some power; although asking for more than 10-12 homers is too much. Urias should have a chance to win the job out of spring training, and if not, he should be the starting second baseman before the end of the summer. There’s a lot of talent there.

**We talked about Margot in the disappointments, but he’s worth discussing again. A former top 25 prospect, Margot has shown the ability to hit for average, steal bases and play quality defense in the minors. He’s shown only one of those things in the majors, and it’s the one thing that isn’t fantasy relevant. There’s still some reason for optimism; he was streaky in 2018 and he’s not going to turn 25 until next September. He’s an intriguing buy-low candidate, but there’s nothing he’s done as an MLB player that suggests he’s going to live up to the hype. Yet.

Key Free Agents: Freddy Galvis

Team Needs: The Padres will need a shortstop if they don’t sign Galvis back — something they’ve talked about wanting to do as of late — but outside of that, the lineup is all back under team control. That’s obviously good news and bad news, because that lineup stunk in 2018. The rotation needs a few upgrades as well, and let’s remember that the team was pursuing starters at the deadline like Chris Archer. Don’t be surprised if they make a couple of splash moves this winter, but they’re going to need a tidal wave to get into contention in the NL West. If you’re looking for optimism, they have the best farm system in baseball, so there’s a bright future. It’s just gonna be a rough couple years without drastic change or improvement.

Rookie Vargas hits 1st homer in Arizona's 5-4 win vs Padres

Rookie Vargas hits 1st homer in Arizona's 5-4 win vs Padres

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Arizona Diamondbacks’ Ildemaro Vargas reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Rookie Ildemaro Vargas hit his first home run, got his first stolen base and drove in three runs to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 5-4 victory against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.

Vargas hit an RBI single in the first inning and a two-run homer in the fourth, both off rookie Jacob Nix (2-5).

Vargas was called up Sept. 3 from Triple-A Reno, where he was a mid-season and postseason All-Star. He made his big league debut last season, when he played in 12 games for Arizona.

Vargas’ homer staked Zack Godley to a 4-0 lead and the Diamondbacks held on to give the right-hander his career-high 15th win.

San Diego dropped to 65-96, five more losses than last year with one game to go. Executive chairman Ron Fowler expected the rebuilding Padres to be better this year than their 71-91 finish last year, but they’ve lost more than 90 games for the third straight year and fourth time in eight seasons.

San Diego pulled within one run in the fourth on Manuel Margot‘s two-run triple and a single by rookie Javy Guerra, who got his first RBI.

San Diego’s bullpen faltered in the sixth, when Jon Jay drew a bases-loaded walk off rookie Trey Wingenter.

The Padres again pulled within one run when Eric Hosmer homered off Brad Ziegler in the eighth, his 18th.

Godley (15-11) allowed three runs and five hits in six innings, struck out five and walked two. Yoshihisa Hirano pitched the ninth for his third save.

Nix allowed four runs and five hits in four innings, walked three and had no strikeouts.


The 38-year-old Arizona reliever, who’s in the last year of his contract, told manager Torey Lovullo he’d like to pitch in more than half of the team’s games. Saturday night’s appearance was his 82nd.

”When the big man runs the floor, you’ve got to give him the ball,” Lovullo said. ”I’m going to dish that one to him and let him dunk it. He deserves that. He’s had two managers who really relied on him and that’s a credit to him.”


Diamondbacks: LHP Robbie Ray (6-2, 3.91) gets the start in the season finale. He’s 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in his last 10 starts.

Padres: Rookie LHP Joey Lucchesi (8-9, 4.14) looks to break through against Arizona after going 0-5 with a 6.85 ERA in five starts against the Diamondbacks.

Almost one full season into his contract, Eric Hosmer isn't looking like a wise investment for the San Diego Padres

Almost one full season into his contract, Eric Hosmer isn't looking like a wise investment for the San Diego Padres

This past winter, the Padres inked veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract that included an opt-out after the 2022 season. Hosmer was coming off a career year at the plate, and he’d long earned praise as a clubhouse leader. It was in part because of that latter quality that the Padres — beginning to emerge from a deep rebuild — valued Hosmer. 

From this remove, there’s no real way to gauge the positive effects of Hosmer’s veteran guidance, but we can pass judgment on his statistical outputs now that we’re almost a full season into his Padres contract. The results to date are not promising from the team standpoint.

At this writing, Hosmer this season is batting .250/.315/.395 with 17 home runs in 151 games. Even after you adjust for the run-suppressing effects of Petco Park — those numbers yield a 96 ERA+ — that’s sub-par production for a first baseman. He’s also carrying around a .300 batting average on balls in play, which suggests those depressed numbers aren’t really the result of bad luck. His exit velocity is pretty much league average,  and his weight on-base average (wOBA, an all-encompassing advanced offensive statistic) is mostly in line with his expected wOBA. Again, he’s been a below-average hitter for reasons other than simple misfortune. 

Two more reasons to worry: Hosmer is striking out at a career-high rate, and he’s also showing the strongest ground-ball tendencies of his career. Striking out more often is an obvious concern in the absence of a power spike, but the latter trend is perhaps more worrisome. Hosmer has long been a ground-ball hitter, which isn’t ideal for someone lacking plus speed and manning a power-first position. For his career, including 2018, he’s got a ground-ball percentage of 54.2. This season, though, that figure has spiked above 60 percent for the first time in his career. Among 2018 qualifiers, only Ian Desmond of the Rockies has a higher ground-ball rate than Hosmer’s 60.1 percent. 

For much of Hosmer’s Royals career, we heard calls for him to focus on increasing his launch angle and tapping into his power. However, not much happened on that front — Hosmer hit 25 home runs in 2016 and 2017, but that was mostly the result of higher homer rates on fly balls, not a decreased ground-ball percentage. This season, though, his disappointing production prompted him to make changes. Here’s what Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote on Sept. 11 of this year

“I guess that’s what we’ve been searching for all year,” [Hosmer] said. “… It just got to the point where I wanted to focus on the main thing – ‘What is the main thing of getting the ball in the air?’ “

That’s pretty much precisely what he asked hitting coach Matt Stairs and assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington before the series in Cincinnati.

It’s not that Hosmer hadn’t worked previously on getting the ball in the air. In fact, it had been a focus of his offseason.

But he figured the final month was the time to narrow it down.

Lo and behold, simplifying it to Stairs’ advice to concern himself solely with the back leg — not his elbow or swing, typical instruments for manipulating launch angle — and timing his step more in sync with the pitcher’s delivery.

In that series in Cincinnati, Hosmer homered three times in four games. Sure, the Reds‘ pitching and ballpark probably abetted that surge, but when a production spike coincides with mechanical changes we’re inclined to think the player has unlocked something. 

Well, here’s what Hosmer’s done since the end of the Cincy series and since that piece was written:

  • .200/.273/.300 with two extra-base hits in 11 games;
  • 65.6 ground ball percentage and more than five times as many ground balls as fly balls. 

So since conferring with his hitting coaches and consciously undertaking swing alterations, Hosmer since that initial bust-out has been …. more ground ball-inclined than ever. That’s troublesome, and it’s a reminder that advocates of the “launch angle revolution” tend to oversimplify things. It’s one thing to declare that hitters should just go out there and hit the ball in the air and do so with authority. It’s another to do that in the face of muscle memory honed over the years and against the best pitchers in the world. Sure, guys like J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner have successfully remade themselves, but perhaps they’re more outliers than models?

Insofar as the Padres are concerned, it’s bad news that Hosmer has put up some of the worst numbers of his career, shown a greater proclivity for swinging and missing and putting the ball on the ground when he does make contact, and achieved nothing at the underlying level that allows us to dismiss it as an extended run of misfortune. He’ll also be going into his age-29 season in 2019, so the relative youth that drove his market won’t be in his favor all that much longer. 

Maybe over the winter, those swing changes will get a bit more sticky, and Hosmer will be able to drive the ball with more consistency. Recent results, though, suggests it’s not all that simple, and the Padres may need to wrap their heads around the idea that Hosmer’s value going forward is going to be driven by those human factors that have become part of his appeal. If this is his trajectory as a hitter, then he better be one heck of a clubhouse presence for the next seven years. 

Padres 7, Rangers 3: Francisco Mejía messes with Texas

Padres 7, Rangers 3: Francisco Mejía messes with Texas

Given the way the Padres have played over the last couple days, no one would have expected you to watch the game today. Even if you had watched it, any rational person would have turned it off before the ninth inning. But what happened at Petco Park this afternoon is the reason we still tune in to watch terrible teams play meaningless baseball in the middle of September. Watching a rookie on a September call-up hitting a goddamn two-out walkoff grand slam like it’s the last scene of a cheesy baseball movie is always going to be magical, no matter how miserable the context surrounding it might be.

The eight innings leading up to the dramatic finale were pretty perfunctory. Hunter Renfroe hit his 23rd homer to put the Padres up 1-0 in the first. Jacob Nix surrendered that lead immediately, as Willie Calhoun took him deep to right field in the second. He got stung with a longball again in the third, as Jurickson Profar went yard to start the frame. The Rangers picked up one more run in the sixth when Nix gave up a double and a single with one out.

The Padres got one of those runs back in the seventh. Franmil Reyes hit a one-out single, and a ground out would see him replaced on first by Freddy Galvis. Manuel Margot brought him home with his sixth triple of the year.

That’s the way things stayed until the bottom of the ninth, which didn’t seem like it would be terribly auspicious as Eric Hosmer started it by grounding out. But then Reyes singled, and Galvis brought pinch runner Travis Jankowski home with a double to left. That tied the game, but extra innings looked certain to any seasoned Padres fan when Margot flied out. But Jeffrey Springs was rattled and walked the next two batters to load the bases. Francisco Mejía got a juicy changeup for the very first pitch, and he destroyed it.

Hopefully the Padres can ride that energy into a better series against the Giants, who roll into town tomorrow. First pitch at 7:10 PM.

Video: Francisco Mejia hits walk-off grand slam to complete Padres’ comeback

Video: Francisco Mejia hits walk-off grand slam to complete Padres’ comeback

Padres catcher Francisco Mejia hit a walk-off grand slam to cap a five-run bottom of the ninth inning in a 7-3 win over the Rangers. Trailing 3-2 entering the frame, Franmil Reyes hit a one-out single and was then pinch-run for by Travis Jankowski. Freddy Galvis knocked in Jankowski with a double to tie the game at three apiece. With two outs, A.J. Ellis and Cory Spangenberg both drew walks to load the bases for Mejia, who delivered.

Mejia, 22, was acquired by the Padres from the Indians in the Brad Hand and Adam Cimber trade in mid-July. In 10 games since his call-up earlier this month, Mejia is hitting .259/.333/.630 with three homers, eight RBI, and five runs scored.

MLB Pipeline rates Mejia as the Padres’ No. 3 prospect and No. 21 overall in baseball.