SAN DIEGO — Although they lost 94 games this season, the Padres are probably closer to being competitive today than they were at the start of the season.
But don’t expect the turnaround to be overnight. The 2017 season could again be austere as the score of young pitchers the Padres have accumulated advance from the lower levels of the rebuilt farm system.
Make no mistake, however. The Padres are building. It’s hard to call it a rebuild since the 90-win 2010 season marked the only time since 2007 that the Padres had a winning record. It can be called a transition, though.
At the center of the transition is general manager A.J. Preller, who has become something of a lightning-rod figure after drawing a 30-day suspension for not making full medical disclosures on several trades made that helped restock the Padres system this summer.
Two winters ago, Preller built a fire under a listless fan base by trading for the likes of outfielders Matt Kemp and Justin and Melvin Upton Jr.; first baseman Wil Myers; catcher Derek Norris, and reliever Craig Kimbrel and signing starting pitcher James Shields as the most expensive free agent in Padres history.
Since then, Preller has jettisoned them all except for Myers and Norris, who has been shopped, for prospects. Right-handed starter Andrew Cashner — whose acquisition from the Cubs in 2012 for first baseman Anthony Rizzo still rankles the Padres’ faithful — has also been traded away along with starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz and closer Fernando Rodney.
Shields, Cashner, Melvin Upton Jr., Kemp, Pomeranz and Rodney were all moved during the season.
Sixteen of the top 30 prospects in the Padres system were obtained by trade, the draft or international signings since last winter.
Four of those prospects — all position players — have already made it to the Padres this year along with catcher Austin Hedges. At least three of those players figure to be starters in 2017.
The arrival of outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot and second baseman Carlos Asuaje and the return of Hedges on Sept. 21 — after they led El Paso to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League title — put a charge into Padres fans.
Renfroe, 24, in particular wasted no time in making a mark. On Sept. 28, his 435-foot drive was the first home run ever hit onto the balcony of the Western Metal Supply Co. building at Petco Park. He also had a two-homer, seven-RBI game. Renfroe was named the National League Player of the Week for the final week of the season, going 9-for-22 with three home runs and a league-leading 13 RBIs.
Renfroe, Margot and Austin aren’t going to turn the Padres around by themselves. But the Padres are solid at the corners with first baseman Wil Myers and third baseman Yangervis Solarte and already have a swift leadoff hitter in center fielder Travis Jankowski.
But there is much work to do. Starting pitching is a huge question as is the middle infield. The Padres do have prospects in both areas — but most of that will start the 2017 season in the low minors.
“We liked a lot from what we saw in our young players this season, but no one has a job secured going into 2017,” said Andy Green, who adeptly handled the Padres personnel transition as well as other issues during his rookie season as the Padres manager.