This is the tenth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the San Diego Padres.
On June 21st, the Padres were 38-36, 2.5 games behind the Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West. Since then, the team is 29-44. Their Opening Day starter is a Dodger. Their game two starter had shoulder surgery and hasn't pitched since June. Their game four starter had Tommy John surgery and hasn't pitched since July. No less than four of their Opening Day position players are either injured, suspended, or no longer with the club. But aside from all that, everything is great in San Diego!
I kid, I kid. But honestly, 2013 has been a disaster for the Padres. Chase Headley's numbers have fallen like a rock across the board after an MVP caliber 2012. Everth Cabrera's breakout year was destroyed by a 50-game Biogenesis suspension, and the merits of his 2013 are now being questioned. Carlos Quentin played in under 85 games for his second straight year. Yasmani Grandal played in just 28 games after a PED suspension and knee surgery. Will the hits ever stop for the Padres?
Despite all of that garbage, there were several positive notes that came out of San Diego's 2013. Andrew Cashner has grown into his role as a starting pitcher, much like former teammate Jeff Samardzija did a year ago in Chicago. Tyson Ross has thrived in 13 starts after being unable to put it all together with the A's. The Padres bullpen remains ridiculously good, churning out top flight relievers like an assembly line.
On the offensive side of the game, Will Venable had his most productive season yet, and earned an affordable two-year contract extension as a result. Rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko held his own defensively and performed well on offense in the first half before a groin strain derailed his second half. Nick Hundley rebounded nicely after a disastrous 2012, and looks like a nice backup for Grandal due to his ongoing injury issues.
But with the Padres, it all comes back to Headley. Yes, he's had a disappointing 2013. There's no arguing that. However, he's still at the top of the second tier or bottom of the first tier among all third basemen in baseball, and calling the crop of free agent third basemen "weak" is an insult to feeble people. If San Diego wants, they could still collect one hell of a bounty for Headley from a team that desperately needs an upgrade at the hot corner. If they do trade him, they'll hopefully get more than they did two winters ago from the Reds in exchange for Mat Latos (which is really looking like just Grandal at this point due to Volquez's release and the struggles of Yonder Alonso at first).
There's also hope down on the farm for the Padres, but most of their talent isn't too close to the majors. Catcher Austin Hedges' bat might not be ready for the majors yet, but his defensive behind the plate is impeccable, making him one of the top backstop prospects in the minors. 19-year old Max Fried has tantalizing potential, having a pretty good year in low-A. The club also has prospects Casey Kelly and Rymer Liriano in the fold, neither of whom played an inning in 2013 following Tommy John surgery. Pitcher Cory Luebke should also be ready for the 2014 season following Tommy John surgery, and that should help the major league club a good bit.
San Diego is in a weird position. They have a solid farm system that isn't elite any longer. Their major league club isn't a complete horror show, but they're not contenders. 2014 will be a defining year for the club after they've struggled over the past two seasons. Some of their young talent has to start paying dividends soon, or else the team will just be running in place and getting lapped by the rest of the division.