The headline “Padres Wrap-Up Impressive Off-Season With Shields Signing” accompanied an article at SI.com by Jeff Corcoran. But if San Diego is now serious about actually contending for a run at the NL West crown, and possibly even a World Series, that headline must not be correct.
The fact is, even with what has indeed been an impressive showing this off-season by GM A.J. Preller to quickly transform his roster from also-ran to potential winner, it’s still not enough to accomplish such lofty goals. If he wants that big winner, the Padres off-season is not yet wrapped up.
Even with the additions of James Shields, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Brandon Morrow, and Derek Norris, the Padres are no better than the 3rd best team in their own division. And the two teams behind them in my mind, Arizona and Colorado, each have possibilities that, if they pan out favorably, could leave the Pads in the basement.
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Still, the likelihood is that Preller has firmly cemented his club in the middle spot of the NL West, ahead of the DBacks and Rockies, but still behind last year’s 1-2 finishers, the defending Division Champion Los Angeles Dodgers and defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers will come out with a starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke,Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson. The Giants come with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, and Tim Lincecum.James Shields
(Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
Meanwhile, as currently situated, the Padres will begin with Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, and a bevy of 5th-starter question marks involving kids or vets with an injury history. The two leaders also have veteran depth options, as well as their own strong kids waiting in the wings.
The signing of Shields clearly narrows the gap. But the fact is, especially at age 33, he is a strong #2 starter at this point. The Padres can contend, if those top four starters all remain healthy and productive. But if they truly want to actually win, they need that one more big horse at the top of their rotation to match with Kershaw and Bumgarner.
The other problem with the current Padres rotation is that it is made up entirely of righthanders. The group could absolutely use an elite lefthander for competitiveness and balance.
Fortunately for them, there is just such an exact match ready, waiting, and willing. Cole Hamels remains the perfect fit for the San Diego Padres. Maybe now, even more of a perfect fit. The Pads clearly, based on these moves to date, want to win. But do they realize that they are still just a little short, and are they willing to do what it takes to get over that hump?
“I would expect him to be our Opening Day starter. I don’t know that for sure. That could change in a phone call or two.” ~ Amaro, on Hamels
As has been stated often in the past, Hamels is from San Diego, and he wants to win. Add in that he is a true ace, that he is a lefty, that he has been both the NLCS and World Series MVP, that he is still in his pitching prime, that he has a proven track record of health, and that he is cost-controlled for years just makes him all the more perfect a fit.
For the Phillies part, this is clearly not only their current pitching ace, but also their trade-chip ace in the hole. If you want Cole Hamels, you are going to pay. You are going to pay his full contract, and you are going to give up 2-3 extremely attractive prospects. Amaro does not have to deal Hamels. As long as the pitcher stays healthy, his value will hold, at least for another year or so.
According to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, as of yesterday, the GM expected the ace to be in Clearwater next week when spring training opens: “I would expect him to be in spring training with the Phillies. And I would expect him to be our Opening Day starter. I don’t know that for sure. That could change in a phone call or two, just like with anyone else.”
Teams have been saying all along that Phils GM Ruben Amaro has been open in saying that he needs to win any Hamels trade. Frankly, that should be an obvious situation to anyone with half-a-brain. These other GMs know what time of day it is.
But while Amaro is indeed left to hope for the best in trades for his aging core players, such as the previously traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, or players such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz, the fact is that he is in the driver’s seat in Hamels negotiations.
To acquire Hamels, the Padres will indeed have to give up catching prospect Austin Hedges, along with either pitcher Casey Kelly or Matt Wisler, and another positional prospect, preferably a high-ceiling outfielder such as Rymer Liriano or Michael Gettys. Fact is, that would not bankrupt the San Diego system, while it would yield them exactly the perfect piece they need right now.
In the meantime, a number of teams will find that he is the perfect missing piece to their dreams of contending. A San Diego Padres rotation of Hamels, Shields, Cashner, Kennedy and Ross? The best starting rotation in the NL West, and potentially one of the best in all of baseball. Pick up that phone soon, A.J. Preller, and make your team a true contender.