Three of the four baseball general managers for teams in California could be preparing for unusually busy off-seasons as they come to grips with aging and/or ineffective rosters.
To celebrate the Amazon Kindle Select free days for THE TRADING DEADLINE, which start Thursday, here is a thumbnail sketch of what the brain trust for the Giants, Dodgers and Padres are facing.
But first, you’re thinking wait! Two of those teams will be in the playoffs! And they can’t be compared to the lowly San Diego club. But there’s method to the madness.
In San Francisco, the Giants got off to a great start but slipped as injuries took their toll. In April, this team looked like as good a bet as any to do some damage in October because of its experience in winning the World Series twice recently. But that’s just it — you have a group that’s been together a long time, and age is taking a toll.
2b Marco Scutaro and P Tim Hudson are 38 years old, P Ryan Vogelsong is 36, P Jeremy Affeldt 35 and P Jake Peavy 33. CF Angel Pagan, the offensive catalyst who fueled the strong start to the season and gave the Giants a boost upon his return from injury, is 32. With less than a week to go before the end of the regular season, he’s about to have surgery.
Even younger players are showing wear and tear after being around for many years. A prime example is 3B Pablo Sandoval, who is only 27 but is completing his seventh year at the hot corner. His batting and on-base percentages are down for the third year in a row, and his slugging percentage is close to it. His OPS is also down for the third straight year.
Another — P Matt Cain, who is in his 10th major league campaign despite being only 30 years old. With an average of 34 starts per season, one can argue that Cain might be an “old 30.” He’s currently on the disabled list.
The poster child is P Tim Lincecum, who can no-hit the Padres no problem but can no longer retire batters of any other team. The 30-year-old in his eighth season squeezes more out of his body per ounce than any pitcher since Billy Wagner, and that has to take a toll at some point. After the 2010 season, his combined win-loss record is 43-52 as of this writing.
Mind you, GM Brian Sabean doesn’t need to be in panic mode. RF Hunter Pence is reliable in RF and Buster Posey is one of the league’s best, whether his future remains at catcher or elsewhere in the future. Joe Panik might have a future at 2B and Brandon Crawford is a brilliant shortstop with many good years ahead of him.
But Sabean has some decisions to make regarding key players from recent championship teams. He might not spend much time on the phone swinging deals, but he will spend much of his fall and winter pondering.
In Los Angeles, you only need to check the win-loss record and compare it to P Clayton Kershaw’s personal win-loss record. The Dodgers are 21 games above .500 as of this writing and, at least recently, 16 games of that margin were directly attributable to the ace lefty. Even with P Zack Greinke and P Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation, LA is on pace to only equal last year’s 92-70 record. That’s a second-place finish in several divisions this year, and most seasons.
The bottom line is that this is a mediocre team if you take Kershaw out of the equation. He is carrying them, the main reason why many experts project him to win the Most Valuable Player Award along with the Cy Young. Of the eight nominal starters in the field, six are 30 or over.
Like Sabean, Dodgers GM Ned Coletti doesn’t need to hit the panic button, by any means. They might even win the World Series. But his lineup is beginning to age and they don’t seem to produce as much as their pretty statistics say they should. The numbers show a team that should win over 100 regular season games. They’re veterans in their prime now, but next year, they could be just old. We’ll see how far ahead Coletti looks.
In San Diego, new general manager A.J. Preller has the opposite problem. The Padres management gave their core one last chance to produce and they failed. RF Will Venable has been given seven years to show what he can do, CF Cameron Maybin eight. Other players given a long leash, 3B Chase Headley, LF Kyle Blanks and C Nick Hundley chief among them, have already been sent packing.
SS Everth Cabrera had a big start to last season, was caught up in the PED scandal and recently had a run-in with the law over marijuana. Neither he nor C Yasmani Grandal impressed after coming back from PED suspensions, though Grandal deserves a little slack since he’s battling the after effects of a major injury.
The bottom line is the Padres core of the last few frustrating seasons is no more. Preller has a little over four months to drastically reshape San Diego’s roster. Fortunately, he has pitching. His rotation will have a one-two punch of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, which is second in the division now behind Kershaw-Greinke. While his record won’t show it, this has been a big comeback year for Ian Kennedy, so pencil him in as a dependable third starter if management comes up with some bucks. There is plenty of young talent for spots four and five.
The problem for Preller, of course, is in the field. Your average judge of talent would look around and give 2B Jedd Gyorko — barely batting over .200 — another shot, and certainly would keep LF Seth Smith.
After that? Uh…
Unknown to general baseball fans is that Rene Rivera has quietly become one of baseball’s better backstops and has shown surprising pop in his bat. Little used in his younger days, he is a young 30. Otherwise, there isn’t much. Preller will be a busy man because San Diego needs wholesale changes.
Preller is also a lesson for Sabean and Coletti. He helped put together the Rangers teams that played in the World Series twice. Where are they now? How about last place, with the second-worst winning percentage in the majors. It can get away from you quickly if you don’t plan ahead.