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Inbox: What does Padres' OF look like in 2020?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from fans
January 17, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Preller was probably baseball's busiest general manager during the offseason's first few weeks. But after a flurry of early moves, Hot Stove season has gotten quiet in San Diego. That doesn't mean things won't heat up again in the month before Spring Training. The Padres remain

SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Preller was probably baseball's busiest general manager during the offseason's first few weeks. But after a flurry of early moves, Hot Stove season has gotten quiet in San Diego.

That doesn't mean things won't heat up again in the month before Spring Training. The Padres remain in search of an impact bat, and they have a handful of noteworthy trade chips on their big league roster and in their farm system.

With that in mind, let's get to a few of your questions about the upcoming season.

What's the plan for playing-time distribution among Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham, Wil Myers, Manuel Margot, Josh Naylor and Franchy Cordero in the outfield?
-- Alex B.

First, let's assume all six are still on the roster at the start of camp (an assumption which might not be true). Then, let's assume that all six make it through camp unscathed and aren't traded (another assumption which might not be true). The Padres would have quite an interesting group of outfielders.

Among that group, only Pham projects as a regular starter. The other five offer plenty of upside, but just as many question marks. They'd presumably be competing for two starting jobs and four roster spots.

Myers obviously makes the roster if he's still around (though he remains a prime trade candidate). Grisham would most likely join him, considering what the Padres gave up to land him. Margot has been a staple in the outfield for three seasons, even if he's more likely to serve as a platoon bench piece this year.

That could leave Naylor and Cordero competing for the final outfield spot. If you're keeping track, that's two right-handed hitters and two left-handed hitters alongside Pham. From there, a day-by-day outfield platoon might be the best guess at how the Padres split playing time.

Is it reasonable to question whether Preller is in fact best suited as a farm builder and not suited as an MLB team builder? How short is Preller's actual leash?
-- @jgaepi on Twitter

I think it's a reasonable question. I also don't think it's fair to say we have a definitive answer to that question yet. In 2015, Preller tried to turn the Padres into contenders overnight. It didn't work, and he quickly pivoted to a rebuild (which is only now paying dividends).

But that teardown was ages ago. Since then, as you mentioned, Preller's primary focus has been talent acquisition and farm building. He's been excellent in that regard. By my estimation, the 2020 season is the first one since 2015 that will actually serve as a referendum on his roster building.

Why? Because Preller is only now making the types of moves that a team pushing for contention makes. He traded a top prospect and a controllable outfielder for two years of Pham. He inked 31-year-old left-hander Drew Pomeranz to a surprising four-year deal.

At the end of the 2019 season, executive chairman Ron Fowler made it clear the team needs to improve on last season’s 70-92 finish or changes will be made in the Padres’ front office. Clearly, Preller's roster-building skills will be a central storyline this year.

What is the best case scenario for MacKenzie Gore in 2020?
-- Josh

See: Paddack, Chris.

Gore, the Padres' top prospect and MLB Pipeline's top left-handed pitching prospect, will be given the same opportunity as Paddack last year to win a rotation spot in Spring Training. If Gore comes away from the 2020 season with the same foundation Paddack built in '19, it will have been a massive success.

Like Paddack last year, the Padres will look to monitor Gore's innings. He threw 101 last season between Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A Amarillo, so a jump well beyond 150 is unlikely. In that regard, it might be likelier Gore begins the year in the Minors. (Paddack made the team out of camp last season, but the Padres have a much deeper set of rotation options to choose from this spring.)

Gore's best-case scenario might look something like this: He earns a late-May callup and has his innings monitored closely when he arrives. Perhaps Gore even gets shut down for a couple weeks during the summer. But he still makes a serious impact, like Paddack, and come September, the Padres are faced with the question of how to use him for a potential postseason push.

How do you see the bullpen shaking out?
-- John O.

Relievers are notoriously volatile, so it probably isn't wise to project too many specifics. But the Padres have clearly built a deep bullpen to protect against that volatility and to complement a young rotation with plenty of question marks. On paper, it's one of the best ‘pens in baseball.

Kirby Yates will continue to anchor the back end, and I'd envision Pomeranz as his primary setup man. Andres Muñoz and José Castillo make for a pretty elite hard-throwing left/right duo. And Matt Strahm and Craig Stammen can serve as multi-inning options for the middle innings.

That's six spots locked up (presuming all six are healthy), which could lead to a tense competition for the remaining two places. The Padres have no shortage of options: Pierce Johnson, Luis Perdomo, David Bednar, Javy Guerra, Gerardo Reyes, Trey Wingenter and -- if they don't make it as starters -- prospects Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon.

Here's something else worth watching: In Guerra and Jake Cronenworth, the Padres have a pair of infielders who could serve as two-way players. (Guerra moved to the mound last season, but he's still an elite defender, plus he's out of options.) If Major League Baseball mandates that teams split their rosters with 13 pitchers and 13 hitters, Guerra or Cronenworth could offer a creative way for the Padres to sneak an extra relief arm on their staff.

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