Padres narrowing search for new shortstop

San Diego has expressed interest in free agents Desmond, Ramirez

January 8th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres, who have used 18 players at shortstop since 2009, could be close to finding a resolution to their most pressing offseason need, a source said.

Reached late Wednesday, Padres general manager A.J. Preller wouldn't comment on if the team was close to landing a shortstop, but he sounded optimistic that a fit could be found.

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"I think we're still trying to make our way through our shorter list of guys we feel are good fits," he said. "Hopefully we'll have a match."

Since the start of the offseason, the Padres have been linked at various points to two free-agent shortstops -- Ian Desmond and Alexei Ramirez. The team has had discussions with the agents for both players.

Preller said the Padres have explored the free-agent and trade market as they have looked for a shortstop.

"We're looking at all options," he said.

Desmond, 30, will be the more expensive of the two players and would surely require a longer deal. Ramirez, 34, could be a more cost-effective option.

That the Padres have two young shortstops -- Jose Rondon and Javier Guerra -- possibly two years away from the big leagues might seem like a deterrent in going more than three years for another player. has both Rondon and Guerra ranked among the Padres' top five prospects.

But Preller indicated that wasn't something he or the front office was worried about at this point.

"I think you feel a player who is a good deal value-wise, you do it," he said. "… Right now, the nice part is we have some [internal] options [coming]."

Desmond is coming off his worst big league season, as he hit .233/.290/.384 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 2015 with the Nationals. But he comes with a stronger offensive pedigree than most at the position, having surpassed the 20-home run plateau each season from 2012-14.

Desmond's strikeout rate has increased in each of the past four seasons -- topping out at 29.2 percent a year ago -- while his OPS+ has dropped from 125 in 2012 to 80 last season. That said, he's averaged 3.5 WAR over the past three years.

There are clear upshots, though. Desmond's offensive game, before 2015, was strong, and the Padres need to find a way to replace free agent Justin Upton's production from a year ago. Desmond is fine defensively and has logged more than 1,000 innings at the position in each of the past six seasons.

Steamer projections put Desmond at .236/.294/.390 with 18 home runs and 68 RBIs in 146 games for 2016.

Signing Desmond would be costly. Along with giving Desmond a multiyear deal, the Padres would also lose their second-round pick -- their first-round pick at No. 8 overall is protected -- in the 2016 Draft, as the Nationals made Desmond a qualifying offer and will receive a compensation pick.

Either Desmond or Ramirez would put an end to the carousel of shortstops the team has used since Khalil Greene was dealt to the Cardinals.

Ramirez, who had his $10 million option declined by the White Sox following the season, has averaged 1.9 WAR over the past three years. He's posted a -10 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) over the past two seasons. But he could be a stopgap until Guerra or Rondon is ready.

Steamer projections have Ramirez at .260/.293/.366 with nine home runs and 59 RBIs in 2016.

Either way, the Padres appear prepared to find an answer at a position that has troubled them in recent years in terms of production and stability.

"We clearly have to plug that hole at shortstop. We're working actively to do that. I'm a defense-oriented guy. I'm a pressure-on-the-defense guy," said first-year Padres manager Andy Green last month at the Winter Meetings. "The defense is paramount for us to be successful."

What attributes does Preller covet in a shortstop?

"I think in an ideal world, you want someone who is an intelligent player, a leader and captain of your infield, the ability to make the plays on the move, on the run, up the middle, in the hole," Preller said. "Someone, when the ball is hit to him late in the game, it's an out.

"Big game, big spot, big moment, [someone] you're not worried the routine play is going to be made. He has the athleticism to make a spectacular play."

Worth noting

• The Padres have signed 32-year-old infielder Adam Rosales to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Rosales is a career .227/.294/.342 hitter over parts of eight big leagues seasons with the A's, Rangers and Reds. He can play all four infield positions, plus the outfield in a pinch.