Padres Improve on Paper but Will That Translate?

Justin Upton

This is the time of year in baseball when you hear the phrase “on paper” a lot. Such as on paper they’ve upgraded a certain position.

If you’re in San Diego, it seems that you might be hearing that often. The Padres capped the winter meetings by getting center fielder Matt Kemp from the Dodgers in a deal that was not made official until Thursday. Then they began talks about acquiring Wil Myers from the Rays in a deal that also was official Thursday and finally this morning they added Justin Upton in a trade from the Atlanta Braves.

It’s easy to see why the Padres made those moves. While winning 77 games last year, their 535 runs were last in the National League, their 1,199 hits were the fewest in baseball, and their .226 average was the worst in the game by far as the next highest batting average was the .238 mark achieved by the Reds. We can go on and on, noting that their 109 home runs were 28th in the game or that their .634 OPS was the worst in the game.

In a span of a few days, the Padres went from having an outfield that posted a .234/.307/.347 slash line last season while producing 25 home runs and 135 RBI in 1,766 at-bats to three players that have proven they can hit to various degrees.

Kemp is the most proven as he finished second in the 2011 MVP race after batting .324 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI. Over the next two seasons, he played in 179 out of 326 games and combined for 29 home runs and 102 RBI while batting .290. The injuries and the combination of playing 81 times in San Diego create a reason for pessimism but you wonder if the Padres bought high here based on Kemp’s performance of .309, 17 home runs, and 54 RBI after the All-Star break.

The Padres are taking on a lot of money even though the Dodgers are kicking in $23 million of the remaining $75 million but if Kemp is somewhere between the second-half hitter from last season or his runner-up MVP season, then this will be a good move.

Upton is on his third team after batting .270 with 29 home runs and 102 RBI for the Braves last season and has been rumored to be on the block for most of the offseason. As for Myers, he was the rookie of the year for the Rays two years ago but slumped badly to a .222 average with six home runs and 35 RBI while missing 75 games due to injury.

In terms of defense, Kemp will likely be the center fielder, where he played 41 times last season and was a minus-12 in defensive runs saved. Upton will be a corner outfielder and Myers could either play the other corner or even more to first base.

What’s interesting to note is that Upton and Myers come from teams that were not much better offensively than the Padres. Upton would have had a better year but was a .169 hitter in September while Myers batted .197 after returning from the disabled list.

One thing we learned about this series of moves, and that’s before you get into acquiring Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks, is that new GM A.J. Preller places a high value on right-handed power bats.

The Padres still have holes at shortstop and other areas but in theory they should escape their recent rash of win totals in the 70s. San Diego has been bad offensively recently (not withstanding Chase Headley‘s second half of 2012) and although it surrendered numerous minor leaguers, it did not give up a lot of the top end prospects.

One thing we know is that the Padres suddenly become more interesting and if these moves actually work then they become even more interesting and perhaps approach their first playoff spot since 2006.

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Larry Fleisher
Larry Fleisher has covered sports in various capacities for nearly 15 years. He is a writer/editor for the Sports Xchange and has also worked for SportsTicker and Metro New York newspaper. Larry also has worked on many NBA broadcasts doing stats, on several TV shows as a background actor. He is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association and the Internet Baseball Writers Association.