Sunday, June 27, 2010

They've gotten by with great pitching so far, but can it carry them all the way?

Through 74 games they have a team ERA of 3.03 which leads the Majors by a wide margin. They are tied with the New York Mets with 10 shutouts as a team. Their pitching staff has struck out more batters than any other team this year and of the 6 guys in their bullpen that have pitched in at least 20 games, the highest ERA is 2.92.

This same team has a team batting average of .245 and on base percentage of .315, better than only four other teams in the Majors. The four guys that have spent the most time patrolling their outfield have a combined slash line of .216/.303/.364. Not a very good offensive output by any means.

The 2010 edition of the San Diego Padres is just downright dominant on the pitching mound. However, this dominance combined with a lack of offence essentially means that the Padres will win most of their games by only a few runs.

As noted in this article by Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union Tribune, Jed Hoyer is fine with winning games by only a few runs. In fact, he has developed a strategy where he tries to make San Diego an appealing destination for free agent pitchers. Having the only manager in the league who is a former pitcher himself in Bud Black certainly helps.

There was much talk in the media this off-season of Adrian Gonzalez being traded with many outlets listing the Red Sox as a prime destination. With the Padres holding onto a 3.5 game lead over the Giants atop the NL West, it would appear as though Gonzalez will not be going anywhere this season.

Another name mentioned in trade rumours as recently as only a few weeks ago, Heath Bell, has saved 21 games for the Padres this year. Despite the fact that the entire Padres bullpen has mowed down the competition this year, Bell is the only experienced closer on the team. This should be a signal that the Padres should not trade Heath Bell this season as doing so may hurt their chances of reaching the post-season. It has been said that closers have a different mentality than other members of the bullpen. Bell clearly has this mentality, and is thriving in his role as closer.

Looking at the Padres lineup, some holes and gaps are clearly visible. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, no other member of the team has an average above .300, and he leads the team with 16 home runs while two others on the team, Will Venable and Scott Hairston, are tied for second on the team with 7.

While their infield could use some offensive help, it is the outfield that is the biggest cause for concern at the moment. While Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable have swiped 13 and 14 bases respectively this year, neither of these guys manage to get on base frequently enough to provide the Padres with consistent offence.

If the Padres are to make a real playoff push this year, they need to acquire another outfielder who can put the ball in play more than the current group. While I also think that the Padres would do well to pick up some speed in the outfield, they would do better to pick up somebody who could be a threat to hit for extra bases every time he comes to the plate. Based on this criteria, let’s take a look at some potential trade targets.

David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals
While some may argue that Scott Podsednik could be a good fit in San Diego, I agree with this idea but think the team would be much better off to go after David DeJesus. First of all, Podsednik has been limited to playing only left field in recent years whereas DeJesus has played all three outfield positions within the past few seasons. Second, while it is clear that Podsednik is much more of a stolen base threat, DeJesus is more of a threat to hit for extra bases as shown in his .326/.394/.479 slash line for this season. While he has only 5 home runs so far this season, he has an amazing 22 doubles. That shows extra base power, and that is clearly something that the light-hitting Padres need. If you go to David DeJesus’ player page on the MLB web site and look at his hitting chart here, you can see that some of the doubles, triples and fly outs that he’s had at Kauffman Stadium this year would have been home runs at Petco Park as it is a shorter distance to centre field and the power alleys are about 18 feet shorter in Petco. I realize there are other factors to account for such as wind and elevation, but this is certainly promising. DeJesus could come over to San Diego and take over any one of the outfield positions, and his $4.7-million salary with a club option for next year would be affordable for the Padres to take on.

Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are now 33-41 and 8.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central. Leading the team in home runs and RBIs is not Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun, but Corey Hart. Primarily a right fielder throughout his career, Hart has managed 18 home runs this year while putting up a slash line of .272/.339/.576. Hart is almost three years younger than DeJesus, and makes only a little more money this season at $4.8-million with another year of arbitration left. Historically, Hart has been more of a stolen base threat than DeJesus, but he has seen a drop in those numbers this year most likely due to his increased power. Hart would most likely play right field with the Padres, moving Venable to either left or centre. Another thing Hart has going for him is his tendency to pull the ball. From looking at his home hit chart for this season, he could potentially have about 5 more home runs or at the very least 5 more base hits off the wall had he been playing at Petco Park instead of 5 fly outs due to the shorter porch in right that Petco has when compared to Miller Park.

Austin Kearns, Cleveland Indians
I’m not as big a fan of Kearns as I am of the other two guys, but you can’t argue with those numbers he’s put up in Cleveland. He’s managed a slash line of .279/.359/.438 in 61 games this year, so he would still be an upgrade over what the Padres currently have. Kearns is not the same extra base threat that the other two are and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, but his $750,000 salary makes him much more affordable. It should also be noted that Kearns has seen a dip in his batting average lately and is hitting only .253 for the month of June, so there are indications that he is now settling back in line with his career numbers and thus may not be as valuable at the trade deadline should the Indians elect to trade him. Though, he could still be an upgrade for many teams such as the Padres.

Of the three guys I have listed, I think Kearns would be the easiest to obtain for the Padres, but I would like to see them go after either DeJesus or Hart. The only question now is: what would those teams want in return?