Byrnes Talks Progress, Future of Present Roster, Part I
It’s safe to say the Padres season is over aside from their efforts to surpass the Giants and Rockies for 3rd place in the NL West. In fact, their campaign has been over since the club dropped nine straight to lower their record to 40 – 50 on July 8th. Since then they’ve essentially been playing for pride. Padre management is well aware of that and has probably spent more time than they would have otherwise liked planning their offseason strategy.
Barry Bloom of MLB.com recently caught up with Friars GM Josh Byrnes to discuss the upcoming winter and a few questions and subsequent answers caught my eye. While he (Byrnes) doesn’t give much of a clue as to what the Friars will do this offseason the article does provide some insight into how the organization feels about the current roster. Consequently we can attempt to deduce what moves the FO might make and I can certainly express my opinions on what they should do in their attempts to improve this club.
In a two part piece we will recount the portions of the interview I found most informative and address Byrnes’ responses (“My interpretation”) while providing “my plan” on the roster construction of the team and what the Friars should look to do this winter.
First up we’ll cover the pitching side of the article. Bloom queried Byrnes on the state of the pitching staff and more specifically about where Ian Kennedy slots into the rotation next year.
MLB.com: With Kennedy, you can slot him in as your No. 1 starter next season as you’re putting the team together.
Byrnes: There’s a lot of ways you can look at it. Obviously with Kennedy, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, that group has pitched very well for us. Eric Stultz has pitched pretty well for us ever since we got him, even though his last few starts have been a little rocky. We have all these guys coming off injuries. As we sort it all out, it’s interesting, but it’s good to have a number of choices and a core of three or four guys who really should be part of stabilizing things.
MLB.com: Is the pitching going into this offseason better than it was heading into last offseason?
Byrnes: Much better. Pitching, even in the second half of this season, has been a lot better. We’ve definitely gotten better, and I think we’ll continue to get better. What was our weakest area [last year] was our starting pitching. Now, not only is it better, but it will be significantly better as we head into next year.
My interpretation: Byrnes is obviously comfortable with some combination of Kennedy, Ross and Cashner fronting the Friars rotation. I wrote about that trio and how they’ve given the Padres hope with their recent performances and evidently Byrnes and Co. see it the same way.
He’s also putting a lot of stock into the players returning from injury. The thinking there is that between the aforementioned trio the Friars will have lots of contenders for the last two spots. Byrnes points out Eric Stultz specifically as someone who has thrown well for them. With Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly ready to return from injury at some point next year, Robbie Erlin stringing together three consecutive strong outings, and other young pitchers looking to make the jump (like Burch Smith after Sunday’s performance), it would appear that the Friars should be able to cobble together a strong and deep rotation. Reading into Byrnes’ thoughts it would appear the Padres might be satisfied simply letting this group come into spring training to battle it out for the spots behind Kennedy, Ross and Cashner.
My Plan: How many pitchers this year have gone down with injury? How many pitchers have failed to throw the ball well enough to give the Friars a chance to compete consistently? The answer to both questions is, too many. But that’s baseball when you simply don’t have enough depth in the organization. Knowing that, I would still be looking to import another arm or two to add even more competition and greater rotation depth.
Naturally the starting pitching market is thin so those pitchers with a solid track record of success are going to have plenty of suitors and will draw some expensive offers. The Friars might be willing to pay for a quality arm but they won’t want to commit to a contract greater than one or perhaps two years. That eliminates a lot of options and more or less puts the Padres in the position to add a reclamation project in hopes they can turn that guy around as they have done with Kennedy (Sorry, Hiroki Kuroda is not coming to San Diego).
One guy I see as a possibility is Phil Hughes of the Yankees. Once one of the top prospects in baseball and winner of 16 games just a year ago, Hughes’ stock has fallen to the point the pitching-poor Yankees might cut him loose as opposed to giving him a qualifying offer as a free agent. While there is bound to be a lot of interest in a pitcher who won 60% of his decisions from 2010 – 2012 it’s still feasible the Friars could lure Hughes to San Diego with the promise of pitching in one of baseball’s best pitchers’ hitters and a competitive contract offer.
Hughes biggest issue is that he is a fly ball pitcher whose home park favors hitters. Yankee Stadium ranks 7th according to ESPN’s Park Factors while Petco ranks 29th. The two parks are much closer this season in terms of HR with Yankee Stadium ranking 11th and Petco 15th but in seasons past Yankee Stadium has placed among the top parks in baseball in HR allowed. Having to pitch roughly half his starts at Yankee Stadium has worked against Hughes.
Hughes stuff is pretty much unchanged according to PitchFX data on Fan Graphs but he ranks 2nd among pitchers with 140 IP in FB% and 4th in HR/9. Those numbers would surely drop in less hitter-friendly Petco. Hughes’ K/9 (7.5) and BB/9 (2.63) are in line with his career marks of 7.57 and 2.83. His xFIP of 4.40 is 2/3 of a run less than his actual ERA.
All of this suggests a change of scenery to a more pitcher-friendly Petco would improve Hughes’ numbers. He might not turn into a Cy Young candidate here in San Diego but he could represent a buy-low option capable of improving the team’s rotation depth with the upside of a good mid-rotation arm.
A rotation comprising of Hughes, Kennedy, Ross and Cashner would have some potential. It also reduces the pressure and expectations of the hurlers set to return from injury. Plus there would still be one opening for one of the young guys or other contenders to win a spot. And even if Hughes doesn’t work out, the hope is the kids should be back and ready to contribute so cutting Hughes or demoting him to the bullpen would be feasible.
Come back tomorrow for the Part II.
Thanks for reading.