As A.J. Preller attempts to patch up the Padres after their disappointing 79-83 season, he’ll have plenty of decisions ahead. He made a big one in hiring Bob Melvin as manager, and there remain trades and free-agent signings to ponder.
The Padres’ president of baseball operations and general manager spent Wednesday gathering intel at the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., to help with the decisions. Whatever Preller chooses to do in the coming months ultimately could have less impact on the 2022 Padres than one decision that was out of his hands.
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.’s decision to forgo surgery on his left shoulder might instead be the biggest Padres choice of this offseason. Tatis, a National League MVP finalist, twice landed on the injured list in 2021 because of partial dislocations of the shoulder, something he previously experienced in the Minor Leagues. He opted for therapy and a training program designed to strengthen the joint.
“Everybody wants to see Fernando play,” Preller said. “At the end of the day, he’s a super exciting player, a super impactful player. The goal for everybody is to look up and see Tatis on the field for a full season, into the playoffs. …
“Ultimately, this is the path he feels he wants to go on, and we’re supportive of it.”
Preller said the Padres provided Tatis as much information as possible, including medical opinions from outside the organization. It will take the full 162 games to discern whether Tatis took the correct path, but early returns are positive.
“He’s into his offseason program,” Preller said. “His shoulder is as strong as it’s been. It’s testing out strong. Now it’s just get ready for the season.”
The Padres’ offseason priority will be to bolster the rotation after they were forced to use the likes of Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta to try to salvage their 2021 season. (It didn’t work.) Preller landed frontline starters Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove in trades last offseason. The GM will be looking at all possibilities this time around, including organic improvement from within.
“We’re constantly looking for depth -- numbers and quality,” Preller said. “Some of it’s going to come through the system. We have some talented young pitchers. We’ve got to get them to take another step in their development process so that they’re real options for us at the Major League level.”
“Hopefully, we’ll have a little better luck and see some talented pitchers take the ball,” Preller said.
On the injury front, Preller said Mike Clevinger is progressing well after his second Tommy John surgery and should be a “full go” in Spring Training. Dinelson Lamet, moved to the bullpen in 2021 following a right elbow strain, could return to the rotation, but that will play out in the spring, Preller said.
The rotation could get a boost if left-hander MacKenzie Gore, rated by MLB Pipeline as the sport’s top pitching prospect a year ago, returns to that level. Gore, 22, has mystified with eye-popping performances mixed with struggles with his delivery and command of his fastball.
Gore, now the Padres’ No. 4 prospect, spent much of 2021 working at the club’s training complex in Arizona. He made enough progress to return to game action late in the Minor League season and continued to compete in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 6.35 ERA in three starts.
“He’s back throwing the ball well, from a stuff standpoint.” Preller said. “Velocity, quality of his pitches -- I think that was a big positive for him. … He’ll be the first to tell you, he’s got to tighten up on a few things, get a little sharper with some things -- his secondary pitches and fastball command.
“It was fun seeing him back out there. He has some dominant moments. Now we’ve got to make that more consistent.”
The Padres are open to re-signing free-agent left fielder Tommy Pham.
“Tommy, we’d like to see back in the fold,” Preller said. “It’s that time of year where you see where we line up from the dollars standpoint, what options are out there.”
Rosario a Fall Star
Only one Padres prospect was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. Infielder Eguy Rosario, the Padres’ No. 15 prospect, has a .291/.371/.400 slash line in 15 games with the Peoria Javelinas. The showcase game is at 4 p.m. PT on Saturday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on MLB Network.
MLB.com reporter Juan Toribio contributed from Carlsbad, Calif.