3 things we know (and 3 we don't) about Padres' defense
SAN DIEGO -- In case it wasn't already clear, Saturday laid it bare: This Padres offense is loaded. That much was evident when Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. took the stage together at the team's FanFest.
But another theme emerged during Saturday’s media availabilities: Nobody is really sure who’s playing where, defensively.
"You're asking the wrong guy," said Jake Cronenworth.
"Gotta talk to my manager," Tatis said.
Later, their manager strolled into the room and acknowledged that even he's not certain how it might play out.
"In speaking with our guys, they just want to win," Bob Melvin said. "And they realize they might be moving around a little bit this year."
With camp set to get underway next week, here’s a look at what we know -- and don’t know -- about the Padres’ plans:
What we know ...
1. Bogaerts is at short
In the hours after Bogaerts signed his 11-year deal to play with San Diego, there was some question as to where he'd play on a roster that was loaded with shortstops. The Padres put that question to bed quickly, declaring him their 2023 shortstop.
Beyond 2023, there are questions -- namely, what if Machado were to opt out of his contract at the end of the season? Team officials have reiterated that Bogaerts should not be viewed as insurance in case Machado leaves; keeping Machado remains top priority. But if he were to depart, Bogaerts at third with Ha-Seong Kim or Tatis at short is not a terrible contingency. That's a question for another day, though -- one the Padres hope they never have to answer.
2. Kim is at second -- but working at short and third
By now, Kim has proven that his glove plays just about anywhere, and he’s continued working at all three spots this offseason.
“I’ve heard I’ll be playing mostly at second base,” Kim said. “But it doesn’t matter. During the season, I’ll be ready for any position Bob tells me to play.”
Expect Kim to be the primary backup for Machado and Bogaerts during their days off and DH days. Kim is also slated to start at short for Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
3. Soto is open to a move
Soto broke into the big leagues as a left fielder but has lately entrenched himself in right. Then again, right field seems like a nice landing spot if Tatis were to transition to the outfield. (Petco Park is particularly spacious in right-center, which might suit Tatis' skill set, not to mention his cannon for an arm.)
The team has yet to have that conversation with Soto. But talking with reporters on Saturday, Soto indicated he's open to a move -- with one caveat.
"I've never played back-and-forth,” Soto said. “If I've played one, I've stayed there, so I think that's the main thing. Whenever I start playing one side, I put all my concentration and everything on that one side. … But I'm definitely comfortable with whatever side."
What we don't know ...
1. Where will Tatis play?
The Padres' onetime shortstop-of-the-future was intentionally vague Saturday when asked where, specifically, he's been working this winter.
"Outfield, infield," he said with a wry smile.
Tatis still has 20 games to serve on his suspension. Perhaps something will happen before his return that shakes things up. But on Saturday, Melvin gave the biggest hint yet as to where Tatis might start the year:
"Being inactive for basically a year and a half, shoulder surgery, wrist surgery -- maybe the outfield takes a little off his plate to begin with, might be good for him," Melvin said.
2. But where in the outfield?
As noted above, Soto appears open to playing left, which clears a path for Tatis to slot seamlessly into right. So why aren't the Padres committing to that plan?
Here's one caveat: Say Matt Carpenter channels his inner Babe Ruth again this season. Perhaps he earns at-bats against left-handed pitching. If so, who would exit the lineup? Trent Grisham? And, in that case, who would play center?
How about an ultra-athletic, rangy onetime shortstop?
3. What about Cronenworth?
More than anything, it feels like Cronenworth’s position will be determined by the performance of the players around him. If Kim is good enough to continue to warrant everyday playing time, Cronenworth should end up playing an awful lot of first base. If Nelson Cruz has a renaissance season, potentially stealing at-bats against righty starters, Cronenworth might find himself at second.
Cronenworth probably won’t have a set position -- and he’s fine with that.
“I’ve done it plenty now, to where I’m comfortable doing it,” Cronenworth said. “As long I’m in there helping the team, any way possible, that’s all I can ask for."