On the Padres Prospectus podcast this week (which is on iTunes now, for your listening pleasure), we discussed, among other things, the competition that the Padres face to get the first pick in next year’s draft. General Manager A.J. Preller has constructed a roster with Rule 5 picks, reclamation projects, and a hodgepodge of unproven rookies and journeymen, and the purpose isn’t to build a winning team. Well, at least in the short term. As we’ve discussed in earlier pieces, one of the benefits of losing more games than any other team is higher draft picks and larger bonus pools. Padres fans are and should be excited about MacKenzie Gore, who was chosen with the third overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft, but it stung a little to know that Hunter Greene was so close at number two, but yet so far.
So, even though we’re not quite at the All-Star break yet (as of today, the Padres have played 47% of their games), here’s a an early look at who the Padres will be competing with for the first pick of next year’s draft.
They’re currently fourth in their division at five games behind the surprising Brewers, but ahead of them are also the Cubs and the Cardinals. Between that in-division competition, and the Diamondbacks and Rockies in the west, it’ll be a fight for the Wild Card that Pittsburgh is going to lose. FanGraphs has them projected to have a .475 winning percentage at the end of the year, putting them pretty square in the middle of the pack in the NL Central. If they’re far behind at the deadline, they may part ways with guys on the tail end of their contracts like Andrew McCutchen and John Jaso, but even with some additional losing in a tough division, they have too much young talent to think that they’d challenge the Padres for a high draft pick. The Pirates are pretenders.
Miami Marlins and New York Mets
FanGraphs has both teams finishing pretty close together, with 79 and 80 wins, respectively. Being so far behind the Washington Nationals means that it’s possible they put some players on the trading block (the Marlins already traded away Adeiny Hechavarria), and that could affect change the projection. They both have impact players on offense like Yoenis Céspedes and Giancarlo Stanton, and the Mets have a ton of injuries, so they could see some improvement if they get healthy. Both teams are dark horses to catch up to the Padres, but if things went just right (or just wrong, depending on how you look at it), they could give San Diego a run for their money.
Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers
The A’s play in such a weak division (outside of the Houston Astros), that you could see any of the other three teams finish last. With such parity, it’s less likely that one sinks to the bottom of the league, so the Padres should be safe here. The Tigers are on a 2-8 skid, including losing a series to our Friars, but it’d be difficult to keep up that horrid pace. It will be interesting to see if they part ways with any of their big names (Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, etc.), but it seems a little far fetched. FanGraphs has them both finishing with 76 and 77 wins, right in the murky middle. I wouldn’t be too worried about either.
Chicago White Sox
No, they’re not great, and chances are they could continue to lose pretty hard – FanGraphs projects them to lose 95 games, as close as they can get to the Padres’ projected 96 losses. They seemed to start their rebuild after the Padres, but were able to get some great talent at the top of their minor league system in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades. I’d bet on some of that top talent making a late-season appearance and winning a few too many games against some of the weaker teams in the division to be serious tank contenders.
Alright, now we’re getting serious. The Reds have the worst team ERA in the league at 5.27, which is 0.56 higher than San Diego. True, they play in a band box in Cincinnati, but they’re not doing themselves any favors. What was interesting (and depressing), was comparing Reds position player WAR on the Padres. Yangervis Solarte leads the Padres in fWAR with 0.9, followed by José Pírela with 0.6. The Reds have eight players with more WAR than Solarte. Eight. Hopefully those hitters keep things rolling and add to some wins, but the pitching is bad enough that the Reds are a threatening club.
You think the tank is your ally? You merely adopted the tank. The 2017 Phillies were born in it, molded by it. Alright, maybe quoting Bane is a little heavy, but seriously, the Phils are a formidable tank machine. After seasons in which starters Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and even Jeremy Hellickson took big leaps forward, they’ve come crashing down to earth in a bad, bad way. There’s some hope that they can return to form (Nola’s FIP is over a half a run lower than his ERA, so maybe that will translate to a win or two down the line), and perhaps Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr can have a bit of a breakout, but Philadelphia is the unquestionable leader of the tank. The Padres can surpass them, but they’ll have to bring their A-game. Or, you know, whatever the opposite of that is.
It’d be hard to say that the Padres are tanking as well as you’d like them to, but they’re off to a solid start. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, and aside from a five-game winning streak at the beginning of the month, San Diego doesn’t seem like a team that can string lots of wins together. A key would be to lose a few more games at home, since they actually have a .500 record (19-19) at Petco, compared to a 12-26 road record. The race to the bottom can’t be won in June, but it can be lost, and the Padres are putting themselves in the thick of the race for that number one overall pick in next year’s draft.