The San Diego Padres improved more than any other National League team this offseason, while the defending champion San Francisco Giants took a step back. Have Thursday’s MLB odds adjusted enough?
Are these really the San Diego Padres? They spent the past six years scuffling along quietly in the National League West, combining analytics with low payrolls to produce some incredibly mediocre baseball. Then the Padres hired A. J. Preller as their new general manager, and presto, here were are with San Diego riding high on a wave of Prellerpalooza. Among his offseason acquisitions: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields, and Craig Kimbrel. Suck it, Moneyball.
There was a time when the San Francisco Giants and GM Brian Sabean were known as profligate spenders, and in their case it worked, bringing home three World Series titles so far this decade. But the Giants have trimmed their payroll a bit this year, allowing their beloved panda bear Pablo Sandoval to go find a new home with the Boston Red Sox. Will it come back to bite them this Thursday (6:40 p.m. ET) when they visit the Padres in the first of a four-game series? The MLB odds have San Diego priced at –130 as we go to press.
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It wouldn’t be fair to label Preller as a baseball Luddite. Yes, he was part of the Texas Rangers scouting department before rising to the rank of assistant GM, and Preller hasn’t shied away from opening the checkbook in San Diego: The Padres are at $108 million in payroll this year, up from $78 million in 2014. But even with that extra $30 mil tacked on, San Diego still ranks just No. 18 in the majors.
Preller’s no dummy, either. In 1999, he graduated summa cum laude from Cornell with a Bachelor of Science degree, then worked his way up the baseball food chain, starting as an intern with the Philadelphia Phillies. Preller is said to be open-minded when it comes to analytics, and the Padres themselves have been on board for more than 10 years now.
The trick is to spend money wisely, and from a baseball perspective, no NL team performed better this offseason than the Padres. According to Neil Paine’s reading of the projection data at Fangraphs, San Diego added 4.2 WAR just from position players alone – mostly in the form of Kemp, who posted a .852 OPS for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. The pitching is in great shape, too; Kimbrel (1.83 FIP last year) led the NL in saves each of the last four seasons for the Atlanta Braves, and Thursday’s starter, Ian Kennedy (3.21 FIP), looked better than ever in 2014, so keep that in mind while making your MLB picks.
While we’re handing out bouquets to Preller, let’s cut Sabean some slack. Giants fans may be distressed that Sandoval (.739 OPS) wasn’t re-signed, but his offensive numbers have been in decline for four years. Still, the Giants project to lose 2.3 WAR at third base, with Casey McGehee (.712 OPS) coming over from the Miami Marlins to man the hot corner. McGehee led all NL players last year with 31 groundouts in double plays.
Injuries are an even bigger concern by the Bay. Hunter Pence (.777 OPS) is out with a broken forearm, Brandon Belt (.755 OPS) was due to have an MRI on his strained groin Wednesday, and the pitching rotation has grown thin without Matt Cain (4.58 FIP) and Jake Peavy (3.03 FIP). We’ll see Tim Hudson (3.54 FIP) make his season debut Thursday – which brings us to our debut edition of…
Hudson was named an All-Star last year for the first time since 2010. Expect some regression in 2015 as Hudson enters his age 39 season. Petco Park isn’t a great place for hitters, but consider picking up 1B Yonder Alonso as a speculative add for your fantasy team. The lefty hitter was 3-for-5 with an RBI on Tuesday against the Dodgers, and was just 1% owned at Yahoo as we went to press.
MLB Free Picks: Take the Padres -123 at BetOnline