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Inbox: Who will start in Padres' crowded outfield?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from fans
January 17, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Outfield and third base -- for very different reasons -- have been the focus of the offseason in San Diego.The Padres are overflowing with outfielders, with six players who have spent significant time as starters over the past two seasons. Naturally, that's led to plenty of trade

SAN DIEGO -- Outfield and third base -- for very different reasons -- have been the focus of the offseason in San Diego.
The Padres are overflowing with outfielders, with six players who have spent significant time as starters over the past two seasons. Naturally, that's led to plenty of trade speculation.
They're also devoid of an obvious starter at third, and it's clear they want to find a long-term solution there. That's fueled the speculation even more.
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Pitchers and catchers report to Peoria, Ariz., in less than a month, and with the rest of the lineup mostly set, this week's Padres Inbox centers around those two spots.
Who do you see in the Opening Day outfield?
-- Tom H.

Among those six outfielders, none has a starting spot locked up right now. In the corners, William Myers, Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe are fighting for two places. Each has drawn trade interest, and it's hard to envision the Padres opening the season with all three on their roster. They already have plenty of depth, with the lefty-hitting Franchy Cordero returning from right elbow surgery.
But for the purposes of the question, let's rule Cordero out -- and Travis Jankowski, too -- because the Padres are likely to face Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner in the opener. They'll presumably load the lineup with righty hitters, putting Manuel Margot in center.
In the corners, it's anyone's guess. Renfroe has torched Bumgarner in the past, and Reyes is returning from offseason surgery on his right knee, so let's go with Renfroe-Margot-Myers.
The big wild card in the whole outfield logjam seems to be Franchy. What do you see happening with him?
-- Julian S.

No kidding. Cordero is an extremely underrated component of the Padres' current outfield situation. He injured his elbow last May and played through a bone spur for a couple weeks. Understandably, his numbers took a nosedive while he played with that pain.
But Cordero was hitting .281/.349/.500 on May 10. Imagine if he could sustain that pace -- or something close to it -- over a larger sample size. And he just might have the tools to do it. His 92.6 mph average exit velocity was 14th in the Majors last year, on par with Shohei Ohtani, and he made huge strides with his plate discipline and pitch recognition.
Cordero is the kind of guy who could quickly prove himself worthy of everyday playing time. The question is: Where? If the Padres don't trade a corner option, I'd expect Cordero to seriously press Margot for playing time in center. Margot is worlds better defensively. But the Padres are in dire need of offense, and Margot took a step back with the bat last season.
I think the likeliest scenario sees either Myers or Renfroe traded before Opening Day. Cordero could then receive regular playing time in a four-way platoon for three spots. He'd sit against lefties, but against right-handed pitching, he could slot in anywhere -- giving Margot, Myers, Reyes or Renfroe a breather.
Before letting go of Christian Villanueva, was there talk of using him as a platoon option in 2019? He was notably bad against right-handed pitchers, but he was the best hitting third baseman in baseball against left-handed pitchers in '18.
-- Ridley L.

Ridley's right on the money with that stat. Against lefties, Villanueva's wRC+ -- an all-encompassing hitting metric that adjusts for ballparks and league -- was 198 last season. That means he was 98 percent better than league average, just above Nolan Arenado and Kristopher Bryant for tops in the Majors. Given that Ty France is the likely starter at third right now, Villanueva seems like a substantial loss -- despite his poor numbers against righties.
But it's worth noting that Villanueva's departure for Japan's Yomiuri Giants was his own decision. He approached the Padres and made it clear he wanted the opportunity. They granted his request.
So, yes, the Padres discussed using Villanueva as a platoon option. As of last September, he was squarely in their 2019 plans. But the team's primary goal is to find a long-term solution at third base. It might be the biggest organizational question mark right now. The Padres didn't believe Villanueva to be the answer, so they let him walk.
What are the Padres more likely to address before Spring Training -- starting pitching or third base? Is it possible they go into spring without making any more additions?
-- Christopher W.

It's still possible the Padres stand pat. It's just very unlikely. There's a good chance they add to both areas before camp begins, but they probably aren't going to make a major splash with either of those moves. (Think: rotation depth and a replacement-level utility infielder.)
Around the horn: Padres face tricky 3B situation
If there's one area that's more pressing, though, it's third base. The front office seems content to start the season with the current pitching staff, if need be. The rotation has major holes. But there are, at least, potential answers in-house -- like Logan Allen (a prospect on the cusp of the big leagues), Dinelson Lamet (who should return from Tommy John surgery midseason), or Matt Strahm (who will attempt to make the transition from a reliever to a starter).
At third base, the hole is more glaring. Even if France or Jesus Quiroz wins the job with a big-time Spring Training, the Padres would like to have an experienced option as a back-up plan or platoon partner.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.