SAN DIEGO -- No matter which positions Ian Kinsler ends up playing in 2019, he insists his role hasn't changed."Really, it's always been about doing whatever I can to help the team win," Kinsler said.That may be true. But San Diego clearly presents a new situation for the longtime second
SAN DIEGO -- No matter which positions Ian Kinsler ends up playing in 2019, he insists his role hasn't changed.
"Really, it's always been about doing whatever I can to help the team win," Kinsler said.
That may be true. But San Diego clearly presents a new situation for the longtime second baseman. On Thursday, the Padres and Kinsler finalized their two-year, $8 million deal with a club option for a third season. Lefty Clayton Richard was designated for assignment to clear space.
Kinsler is the reigning American League Gold Glove Award winner at second base, and he's clearly one of the game's best defenders at the position.
And yet, he's expected to see a bit of a change in roles in San Diego. With Luis Urias -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the game's top second-base prospect -- on board, Kinsler's future as a second baseman is no longer certain.
For now, it seems likely that Kinsler will open the season at second, with Urias shifting to shortstop. But that middle-infield dynamic might be short-lived. When top shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives, the Padres will presumably look to use their two youngsters in the middle of the diamond. That might mean Kinsler seeing time at third base -- where he's played all of two big league innings.
"He's always been a good defender," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "He's a guy that catches the ball, has range, handles himself well. He obviously hasn't gotten a lot of opportunity on the left side. But he's a professional, and when we talked to him about being able to go over and play some on the left side, he said he was very open to it. He said, 'I'll be ready.'"
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The Padres feel Kinsler's presence will make things much easier on Tatis and Urias, who are 19 and 21 years old, respectively. There's a steep adjustment for any youngster learning to play middle infield in the Majors, and Kinsler, 36, should help with that burden -- whether it's with an occasional start or with more than a decade of big league wisdom.
"In 14 years of playing Major League infield, there's a lot that goes into it that he's going to be able to share with that young group of infielders coming up," Preller said.
"Whatever I can bring to the younger guys, any experience I can offer, I'm happy to be there and to help," said Kinsler, who was recently crowned a World Series champ with Boston after two shots at the Fall Classic with Texas in 2010 and '11.
In Spring Training, Kinsler will take reps at both second and third base. When Tatis and Urias arrive in the Majors, he could find himself in a battle for playing time at the hot corner. But the Padres are still actively searching for another infielder -- preferably a third baseman.
That might force Kinsler into more of a utility role. Of course, his playing time with the 2019 Padres will be largely dependent on his bat. He slumped to a .681 OPS last season, a number that's 101 points lower than his career mark.
"I want to prove I've got a lot of baseball left," Kinsler said. "And I'm confident I'll be able to do that this year."
Kinsler's game has always been predicated on multiple facets. He's swiped at least 10 bags in all 13 of his big league seasons, and he's hit 10-plus homers in every year but one. He's won two Gold Gloves and owns a .339 career on-base percentage (though that number's dipped significantly in the past two seasons, as has his slugging).
"I like to push the envelope, and I'm going to make things happen," Kinsler said. "I like to play all-out, whether it's on defense, on the bases, at the plate. I'll do whatever it takes. I'm going to try to make things happen to put the pressure on the other team."
As for Kinsler's decision to play in San Diego, he was quick to cite the culture change he sees brewing. He's taken note of the team's top-rated farm system and even spoke with first baseman Eric Hosmer about the club's direction.
Kinsler and Hosmer were teammates on Team USA for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. A pair of epic games at Petco Park -- including a winner-take-all showdown against the Dominican Republic -- are clearly fresh in his mind.
"They were great games," Kinsler said. "They were really good teams, and really the atmosphere was tremendous. It was loud, it was energetic, electric.
"San Diego is really second to none. I've seen the park like that, and I want to be a part of it."
Padres part with Richard
San Diego's decision to part with Richard qualified as a surprise, given that the 35-year-old left-hander is still owed $3 million in 2019. But Richard struggled in '18, having posted a 5.33 ERA and allowing a hit per inning.
Richard had surgeries on both knees during the offseason, though he was expected back and healthy for Spring Training. Ultimately, Preller said, he didn't want to limit the opportunities for his young pitchers in 2019. With Richard out of the rotation mix, the Padres still have three spots seemingly up for grabs behind Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer.
"Clayton has been very professional," Preller said. "We gave him an opportunity a few years ago, and he made the most of that opportunity. He's a guy that's taken the ball, given us innings and given us a lot off the field, in terms of helping a younger group of pitchers.
"He had real value for us over the last few years. It was definitely not an easy call. Ultimately, looking at our club, we're going to value seeing some of these younger arms take innings. We want to see what they can do."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.