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I’ve been writing for publication for over a decade. When I was in high school, I wrote an editorial that linked the country’s most highly paid public employee to a pattern of graft and fraud that ultimately led to his indictment. In college, I created and sold a profitable print magazine in Santa Barbara. Since then, I’ve interviewed Grammy nominated musicians, internationally exhibited visual artists, and prominent actors.

All of this is to say: I’ve never had an assignment harder than this one.

As a fan of the Padres, I’ve rarely seen a player do a worse job of ingratiating himself to a fanbase than Ian Kinsler has done this season. Arriving in town on a two-year contract signed this offseason, the second baseman brought with him a very accomplished resumé: he won a World Series last year with the Red Sox; he’s played in 4 All-Star games; he’s won 2 Gold Glove awards. But all of that meant very little once his first season as a Padre was underway.

Across March and April, Kinsler stumbled out of the gate with a putrid 11-for-91 stretch at the plate. He made a few critical errors on the base paths, and made a few defensive miscues that showed plenty of patina on his formerly golden glove. Worse, Kinsler’s presence—and possible cache with fellow former Texas Ranger employee AJ Preller—made it eminently clear that the organization had little plans to give prized prospect Luis Urias much in the way of playing time.

If the early-going was enough to make Kinsler persona non grata amongst the Friar Faithful, the events of May 16th more or less blacklisted him in the eyes of many.

That was…um, yeah. Regardless of whether you believe Kinsler’s explanation that his “F— you all” outburst was intended for his teammates, his “celebration” brought down an avalanche of criticism on him that, in this article, I will attempt to offset.

Does Kinsler’s early poor play and vulgar May outburst really entitle him to this kind of consensus hate?

That’s what I’ll attempt to examine here, by taking a look at what Kindler does supposedly offer to this team in a positive way.

Deep breath. Are you ready? Here are five reasons the Padres need Ian Kinsler.
This is how we do it?

In the Petco era, welcoming in formerly great players who have seemingly no respect for our organization or our fanbase is a time-honored tradition.

Orlando Hudson once called us “pathetic” via Twitter, and offended far worse with his play on the field.

Matt Kemp, arriving to the Padres as perhaps the most famous Dodger of his era, long elicited suspicion around San Diego that he was actually a covert Dodger agent assigned to sabotage us with his flatulent play in the outfield; these suspicions were deemed justified when, on May 17th, 2016, Kemp actually lowered his trousers and relieved himself on the left field grass of Petco park during a game against the Giants. My memory of the incident is hazy, but I can almost completely remember that it happened.

Doug Mirabelli, after being acquired by the Padres in the 2005 offseason, came to then-Padres GM Kevin Towers early in the 2006 season to request a trade back to his original team, the Boston Red Sox. Reportedly, he told Dave Roberts something to the effect that he, “wanted to get back to the big leagues”. To be fair, Towers was able to trade him back for Josh Bard and Cla Meredith, so it is reasonable to argue he actually did Padres fandom a major solid—besides, his removal from the team really helped to lower the team’s collected SPQ rating, which is a statistical measurement I just invented called Soul Patch Quotient. Thanks, Doug?

Any way you slice it, Kinsler’s double-bird outburst on May 16th is a familiar kind of fan outreach for our fanbase, which isn’t, you know, a “big league fanbase” anyway, right?

Ian Kinsler may be hitting .206 this season, but he has 7 home runs! Dingers!

Everyone knows that what a team really needs at the keystone is a player who provides the one true intangible—Grit. In the rest of this piece I will capitalize the word Grit, because i Imagine that when Andy Green thinks of the word “grit”, it feels capitalized in his mind.

Kinsler’s got Grit. And sometimes, Grit means flipping off your teammates in plain view of young children who idolize you. This link goes to nu metal classic “Down With The Sickness”, which is the kind of music i imagine a Gritty dude like Ian enjoys. Hell yeah.

Ian Kinsler, it was said when he was signed, was brought in to provide leadership. Considering that half of the team is Latino, I’m sure they strongly identify with a white guy from Zona who once said the USA baseball team played the team the “right way”, as opposed to the Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic teams, though he offered he that comment wasn’t “taking anything away from them”. That’s nice to clarify.

He also called Rangers GM Jon Daniels a “sleaze ball” after being traded by Daniels to Detroit. Kinsler then wished that his former team went “0-162” in the season following his trade. That, folks, is leadership and investment personified.
Maybe Urias stinks?

A great deal of the consternation over Kinsler involves his blocking of second base prospect Luis Urias. The problem is: Urias can’t play. We know this because he received 29 at-bats at the big league level this season, and he has only hit .368/.461/.724 in Triple-A El Paso. Any prospect taking the job from a Gritty leader like Kinsler needs to hit at least .400.

Well ok, that was indeed a tough assignment, but I think I can be proud that anyone having read this should be roundly convinced that much of the Ian Kinsler bashing is totally unfounded.

In all seriousness though, I will admit that, though he is eminently unlikable from a personality standpoint, the dude has rebounded well with a .375 batting average in June on the heels of a .254 average in May. Maybe let’s put away the pitchforks and torches for a while?

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Eric Hosmer will forever be remembered as one of the fundamental elements that came together to produce the Royals World Series teams of 2014 and 2015. He hit in the meat of the order every day and he played above average first base defense. He was a leader on those championship squads. Fans adored him. And, the Royals handled letting Hosmer leave in free agency as well as they possibly could have.

Hosmer’s final season for the Royals was very impressive. He played in every game. He hit 25 homers. His on base-plus-slugging percentage stayed up near .900 almost the entire season. He hit .318. And we still allowed him to walk in free agency. And, even after his excellent 2017 season, that was the proper move.

When Eric Hosmer came up, in 2011, to a big-league club that was losing 91 games and he hit for an OPS of .800, Royals fans were thrilled. He hit almost 50 extra-base hits in less than 130 games as a 21-year-old and finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. He also hit ground balls in half of his at-bats.

Eric Hosmer was comfortable as a big leaguer from the minute he stepped on the infield dirt at Kauffman Stadium. He would become the first baseman for a team that won back to back American League pennants. But, for those of us who thought his 21-year-old season was just a taste of what Hosmer would do, we would ultimately be disappointed. His rookie season will wind up being one of the better seasons of his career.

Some year to year fluctuations need be assumed when trying to forecast offensive numbers for Eric Hosmer. His batting average has been as low as .232 and as high as .318. But a reasonable expectation for a Hosmer season is probably hitting .280 with 20 homers and an OPS around .750. And those are not terrible numbers. They are, however, imminently replaceable for a first baseman.

Ryan O’Hearn came out of the gate in his first season mashing everything and then he came crashing back to Earth this year. But he and Hosmer have remarkably similar numbers over their last 150 games. Compare the slashes of .265/.310/.425/.735 and .216/.304/.440/.744. One guy gets a lot more base hits while the other one walks more and hits more extra-base hits. Their contribution is ultimately comparable. And neither one of those are the numbers of a guy you want playing first base every game.

I do not write this to bash Eric Hosmer, he will always be special to those of us fans to whom he finally helped bring another title. And it is not to celebrate the fact that the Padres got the raw end of that deal. It is to point out that, in the Hosmer decision, the Royals did the right thing. By letting Hosmer go, the Royals did not let sentiment or nostalgia drive their decision-making. We need to keep that in mind when making decisions now.

When we want to bring back Alex Gordon for one more year. Or have Salvador Perez move to first base. Or believing our young pitchers will all develop and be ready to contribute next season. We need to ask ourselves the tough questions. Can Alex still hit well enough play left fielder every day?

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With the merry-go-round that is the second base position, Greg Garcia has been a serviceable stopgap for the San Diego Padres. An asset as a starter, a utility player, and off the bench, it feels like the Friars scored when they brought him on board.

Signing Garcia back in November 2018, the San Diego native had spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Redbirds and enjoyed a nice career there, batting .248/.351/.348 after his 14-game rookie season.

His first year with the Padres, however, is on pace to be his best one yet. After 70 games, the 2B/3B/SS is batting .263/.347/.403 with a .325 wOBA and 102 wRC+. He’s tied his season-high totals for RBIs (20) and home runs (3), and his .752 OPS is just shy of a career-high.

Sure, those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but he’s provided a breath of fresh air to a relatively unstable and inconsistent position for the Padres. With Luis Urias still in Triple-A El Paso, the Padres have gone with a 2B platoon of Garcia and Ian Kinsler.

So far, Garcia has been the better offensive and defensive option over Kinsler, who’s slashing .217/.275/.370 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs through 74 games. While he’s settling in after a rough start to the year (.133/.209/.241 with 17 strikeouts through April), the two-time Golden Glove winner has been less than stellar during his bout with the Friars.

Defensively, Garcia is considered the league-average 2B with 0 Defensive Runs Saved, and an above-average 2B with a 1.8 UZR. He’s facing a career-low .746 RZR, though, meaning he’s struggled to convert balls hit to his zone into outs.

Take these 2019 defensive stats with a grain of salt, however, as we’re only halfway through the year. Garcia is coming off a 2.0 UZR season with the Cardinals and has a +3 DRS, .848 RZR, and 1.5 UZR in his career.

That said, I’m not writing about Greg Garcia because of his average defense.

No, I’m dedicating this article to him because of his performance in the clutch and in high-leverage situations.

He hits a .263/.370/.447 with runners in scoring position, providing 15 RBIs in 46 plate appearances in the situation. His OBP is at its best (.412) in late and close games, which is when his plate appearance occurs in the seventh inning or later “with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.”

Perhaps the most impressive is his performance during high-leverage situations, hitting .345/.440/.690 when he has the chance to drastically alter the win probability of the game.

This isn’t just a trend, either. Garcia’s career is peppered with great stats in high-leverage and clutch situations. He has a .333 BA against the shift, a 16.2 BB% with men in scoring position, and his career-OBP is at its best with two outs and RISP. He also has a career .374 OBP as a pinch-hitter.

The Padres probably knew all that, though.

To be fair, Greg also has some offensive weaknesses that lie primarily in his power and averages against left-handed pitchers. Garcia has three homers on the year and has never hit more than that in a season.

Two home runs in 2019 have come against finesse pitchers (those in the “bottom third of the league in strikeouts plus walks”, per Baseball-reference), against whom he has his best slash line.

Conversely, he’s struggled against power pitchers (“top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks”). This is also evident in his K% and BB%, which have trended the wrong way.

Against LHPs, Garcia has averaged .176/.270/.256 vs. .264/.368/.368 against righty’s, which might be why Andy Green chooses to play Kinsler in certain situations. He has around the same (albeit low) average against pitchers of both hands.

Yes, Garcia has his weaknesses like every other player (except you Fernando, you’re perfect). Despite these, he currently gives the Padres the best chance for success at 2B and should absolutely be starting over Kinsler.

He’s got the better bat, slightly better defense, and seems to make something happen when we need it the most. Furthermore, while Kinsler had improved since the beginning of the year, he’s slumping again, going 1-for-17 in his last seven games. Garcia, meanwhile, has kept up the heat this summer, going 5-for-17 for a .294 BA in his last seven games.

Garcia in last 28 days: 17 games, .333/.404/.571, .448 BAbip, 14 hits, seven RBIs.

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SAN DIEGO — Even by typical Pacific Coast League standards, the offensive environment on the circuit was positively bonkers this season. However, the friendly hitting environment shouldn’t diminish what El Paso infielder and now big-league graduate Ty France accomplished in 2019.

The 2015 34th-round pick hit an absurd .399/.447/.770 this season, with 27 homers and a wRC+ of 198, which would have led the PCL if he had enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders. His 1.247 OPS tied for the league lead with Brewers outfielder Trent Grisham and was slightly ahead of Dodgers’ super-prospect Gavin Lux.

“Predictions are hard, and most of the time I get them wrong, so let me brag about this one — I predicted in a March preseason show that Ty would win PCL MVP and he did,” said Chihuahuas broadcaster Tim Hagerty.

Ty France hit .399 in El Paso. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

In addition to winning the MVP in the Pacific Coast League, Ty France is our MadFriars Player of the Year, thanks to an offensive campaign in which France took his game to new heights.

“For me, it was going out every day at the plate and trying to get a good pitch to hit,” said France prior to the Padres’ final home game of 2019. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season, [really] working on the strength and conditioning part. The power numbers came [as a result]. It was a lot of fun to go out there and play.”

France’s power materialized with the Chihuahuas and he reached his career-high in homers, despite amassing less than 400 plate appearances in Triple-A. The prodigious power came with France lowering his strikeout rate to 14% while maintaining a solid 8.6% walk rate. France attributes the breakout to a more aggressive approach at the plate.

“[Decreasing my strikeouts] was partially because of the off-season work I put in and I think I was just a little more aggressive. I wasn’t afraid to strikeout and I was swinging more. And in Triple-A, the pitchers make a couple of more mistakes than they do [in the big leagues]. I was able to put the ball in play.”

Coming into the year, France was not necessarily looking to lead the league in many offensive categories, but he set goals for himself and reevaluated those goals every week and going into each new month.

“You have to hold yourself to some pretty high standards to play this game. You never go out and say ‘okay, I want to hit .200 this year.’ For me, going to [El Paso last year], I think I hit .290 (he hit .287). This year, the goal was to hit .300 and put in the work each day. When I [achieved the goal], I set new goals.”

France’s play earned the former 34th-round pick a trip to San Diego. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

France’s breakout resulted in a promotion to San Diego, where he played third base nearly every day after phenom shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. hit the shelf with a hamstring issue. France struggled in first stint in the big leagues, hitting just .235/.290/.357 in 108 plate appearances before being optioned back to El Paso. France didn’t view the demotion as something negative.

“I learned how good guys are up here. You are facing the best-of-the-best up here and I didn’t look at going back down as a demotion. I looked at it as [an opportunity] to get more reps. I talked to Andy [Green] before I left and he said ‘you didn’t do anything wrong, you held your own and did a good job here; just go down and get reps.’ That’s what I treated it as.”

In France’s return to El Paso, the infielder hit .392/.471/.733 with 18 homers in 57 games. His offensive production led to his selection to the Triple-A All-Star Game, the third straight season that France made a mid-season All-Star game. France homered in the game and won the top star award for the PCL squad.

As France’s offensive game shined, he also learned a new position on the fly. With the corner infield positions locked up in San Diego for the foreseeable future, France started to get reps at second base as a means to get his powerful bat in the lineup in San Diego. Prior to this season, France had never played second base at any level.

“[France] could be more of an emergency guy at second base, or a double switch,” said El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez in an interview with us in July. “Ty is really good because he can play a lot of different positions and [is willing] do anything to try to help the team.”

Ty France saw action at first, second and third base this season. Photo: Jorge Salgado.

“Everyday at [second base] is definitely getting easier,” said France. “It’s like riding a bike; you need to start with the training wheels and then go from there. Each day, I feel like I have gotten a little better. [Padres assistant hitting and infield coach] Damian Easley and these guys are incredible to work with. They do a great job — it’s definitely helped my game and it has taken it to another level.

When Tatis Jr. returned to the injured list in August, France rejoined the big league club for the remainder of the season. France’s numbers (.233/.298/.453) weren’t outstanding down the stretch but he did have a few big moments. He homered twice in a game against San Francisco and finished the season with a multi-hit game in the finale. The slugging infielder was much more comfortable at the plate in his second stint with the Padres.

“For me, the first go-around was the rookie jitters, the first-time jitters and the second time up, I have been a lot more comfortable. [I’ve] been a lot more relaxed at the plate and I’ve been able to be more of myself.”

France should go into next spring with a chance to win an everyday job at second base, or perhaps fill in all over the infield as a utility slugger. For him, the recognition he has received from many publications has helped give him validation heading into next season.

“It’s been pretty fun and incredible journey. The Padres have been incredible to me my entire career. They made it clear that from the time I signed that if you went out and put up the numbers, you’d get rewarded and that’s exactly what they did.”

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As it stands now, Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejía both figure to be catching for the Padres in 2019.

That fact also sets up a steady progression for the next three catchers in the Padres’ system — Austin Allen, Luis Torrens and Luis Campusano.

The 24-year-old Allen figures to start the 2019 season at Triple-A El Paso after being a 2018 post-season All-Star in the Double-A Texas League. Torrens, 25, figures to advance to Double-A Amarillo after spending 2018 with Advanced Single-A Lake Elsinore. And Campusano, 20, will likely be at Lake Elsinore next season.

Campusano (№24) and Allen (№25) are both ranked among the Padres’ Top-30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. Torrens would likely be on that list had he not spent the 2017 season on the Padres Major League roster as a Rule 5 draft pick.

Allen, Torrens and Campusano all hit .280 or better last season with an OPS over .700.

Here’s a # PadresOnDeck look at the three catchers in the upper echelons of the Padres’ minor league system.

— Austin Allen was recently added to the Padres’ 40-man roster. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound left-handed hitter was the Padres’ fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft pick out of the Florida Institute of Technology.

Allen has spent a full season with Single-A Fort Wayne, Advanced Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio in his steady climb up the Padres’ system. He is a two-time Padres’ organization All-Star and has never hit below .283 with an on-base percentage below .351 in any or his three full minor league seasons.

He played 119 games with San Antonio last season and hit .290 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage for a .857 OPS. Allen had 31 doubles and 22 homers (for a second straight season) with 59 runs scored and 56 RBIs In 451 at-bats. Allen drew 37 walks.

Allen completed 2018 by hitting .263 with a .358 on-base percentage and a .779 OPS. He had three doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs and 10 runs scored in 15 games with the AFL Peoria Javelinas.

— Luis Torrens came to the Padres through the 2016 Rule 5 draft from the Yankees’ organization. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound right-handed hitter hit .163 with a .243 on-base percentage in 135 plate appearances for the Padres in the 2017 season.

The native of Venezuela returned to the minor leagues in 2018 and spent the entire season with Lake Elsinore. He hit .280 with a .320 on-base percentage and a .406 slugging percentage for a .727 OPS. He played 122 games with 36 doubles, three triples and six homers for 62 runs scored and 73 RBIs in 479 at-bats. Torrens drew 26 walks and struck out only 77 times.

Torrens is currently playing with Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League. He is hitting .366 with four doubles and six RBIs in 41 at-bats over his first 13 games. He has a .463 slugging percentage for a .829 OPS.

— Luis Campusano was the Padres’ second-round pick (39th overall selection) in the 2017 Draft out of Cross Creek High in Augusta, Ga. The 6-foot, 195-pound left-handed hitter was named the best defensive catcher in the Padres’ minor league system by Baseball America magazine following his 2017 debut in the Arizona Rookie League.

After hitting .269 in his first professional summer, Campusano was batting .288 after 70 games with Fort Wayne last summer when his 2018 season was ended by professional baseball’s concussion protocol.

In 260 at-bats with the TinCaps, Campusano had 11 doubles, three homers, 40 RBIs and 26 RBIs. He had a .345 on-base percentage and a .365 slugging percentage for a .710 OPS. Campusano drew 19 walks in 2018 while striking out only 43 times.

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We’re heading into the stretch run of the baseball season and the San Diego Padres are 8 ½ games off the pace for a wildcard berth. Thus, it feels like time is running out for the Padres to make the playoffs.

However, the month of September does offer them ample time to decide if Francisco Mejia is their long-term answer at the catcher position.

The jury is still out on Mejia behind the plate as he has some rough edges to his defensive game that need to be smoothed out before being considered an everyday catcher. But decisions have to be made in what direction the Padres go to improve the roster this winter and Mejia’s late-season audition will clarify the need to acquire another catcher.

Padres general manager A.J. Preller must determine if his prized prospect has shown any progress defensively because his bat is more than major league ready.

Ideally, the San Diego Padres would love for Mejia’s defensive prowess to equal his offensive production, but a more realistic goal is having him become a better all-around catcher. This allows the Friars to start him in 140 games next season with no questions asked.

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With a forthcoming 40-man roster crunch, a stacked farm system, and an active depth chart still littered with question marks, AJ Preller is going to have a full offseason agenda. With 2020 set as something of a make-or-break year for this organization’s leadership, this winter could bring drastic, keep-my-job kinds of moves from the 6th-year GM out of Cornell.

Could we see another massive free agent signing a la Manny Machado? Gerritt Cole would certainly look nice in San Diego brown.

Or, perhaps more feasibly, could we see one of the team’s prized prospect jewels traded for a Noah Syndergaard-type? While a youngster like Luis Patino would certainly fetch a nice return on the trade market, Preller has shown little inclination toward trading his signed-and-developed prospects.

Or, maybe, just maybe, Preller might prune a bit of fat from his 40-man roster and trade from one of the team’s few positions of depth. If Preller were to go such a route, there may be no place better to pick from than the team’s catching reserves.

When Preller traded All-Star closer Brad Hand and sidearmer Adam Cimber to the Indians in exchance for Francisco Mejia in 2018, he essentially sacrificed 1⁄3 of an effective bullpen. Since the trade, Hand and Cimber have provided Cleveland with the following:

80 innings of 3.04 ERA pitching (Hand)
71 innings of 4.44 ERA pitching (Cimber)

Cimber hasn’t been amazing, but, taken together, those are a lot of good bullpen innings—innings that a GM doesn’t sacrifice unless he feels like he’s getting a building block in return.

For his part, Mejia has, when healthy, indeed looked the part of a building block this year. After returning to the squad on June 18th this year, the 23-year-old switch hitter produced a .298/.354/.503 batting line with 8 home runs in 49 games. His defense is a work-in-progress, but most metrics peg him as only slightly below-average behind the dish.

Today also marks the callup of one Luis Torrens, the former 2016 Rule V draftee who has spent the better part of two years honing his craft in the minors. After a respectable showing with Lake Elsinore in 2018, Torrens boldly asserted himself with a .300/.373/.500 line in the Texas League this season—becoming one of the key cogs in the lineup of the champion San Antonio Sod Poddles in the process.

Elsewhere in the organization, Luis Campusano was recently named MVP of the California League, and Baseball America named 25-year-old Austin Allen one of it’s Triple-A All-Stars for 2019. Any way you slice it, the Padres organization is flush with catching depth.

That brings us to Austin Hedges. A draftee of the Padres in the second round of the 2011 amateur draft, Hedges has gotten the lion’s share of starts at catcher since the beginning of 2017. Though he is in the midst of the worst season of his career offensively, his top-flight defense is the catalyst behind a strong 1.6 WAR figure through 97 games. Over the last three years, Hedges has accrued an even 6.0 WAR, indicating that he has been—despite the limitations with the stick—a respectable big league regular.

That production is nice, but, for the reasons illustrated below, Hedges is quite possibly going to be providing that production for another team next season.
Teams In Need

This offseason, something like 15%-25% of all teams are going to be looking for replacements or upgrades at the catcher position. Here’s a look at some teams that could have interest in plugging Hedges in at “C”.
Rangers : -3.1 WAR in 2019 from Jeff Mathis, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jose Trevino, and Tim Federowicz

The Rangers surprised many this year by hanging in contention until the season’s midway point, and their 74-77 record entering play today is still much better than most experts anticipated. One thing holding them back from getting over the hump? Well, here’s video of what they’ve been receiving from their battery this year:

The production offered from a combination of Mathis, Kiner-Falefa, Trevino, and Fed-Ex has been absolutely useless in 2019 and has, cumulatively, probably cost the Rangers several wins. Hedges is today a much better defender than the formerly formidable Mathis. Might the club be interested in parting with pitching prospect Joe Palumbo—currently ranked 6th in the Texas system by MLB Pipeline—in a deal for Hedges?
Rockies: -1.1 WAR from Tony Wolters, Chris Iannetta, Drew Butera, and Dom Nunez

Intra-division trades are rare, but could Preller feel comfortable trading with the cellar-dwelling Rox? Wolters has logged a nice-on-the-surface .272 batting average in 2019, but park-adjusted measures like wRC+ peg him as a significantly below-average (66 wRC+) performer. Iannetta is so far over-the-hill, he can’t even see it anymore. They don’t have a single catcher in their Top 30 prospect list. Could Preller pry away relief prospect and former second round pick Ben Bowden, who offers a high-90s fastball and has already reached Triple-A?

Tigers: -2.7 WAR from Grayson Greiner, Bobby Wilson, Jake Rogers, and John Hicks.

Rogers is only 24 and the team’s 12th-ranked prospect, but his awful showing at Triple-A and MLB (.115.227.260 in 112 at-bats) this year could have them looking for a more established option. Hedges only comes with two years of control, but could they value his ability to handle a young pitching staff? It’s hard to quantify a catcher’s effect on a pitching staff, but it’s worth noting that the Padres have three under-26 starters who have, at the least, proven serviceable with Hedges behind the signs. With prospects like Casey Mize and Matt Manning likely to hit the bigs next year, Hedges could be a perfect mentor. Young righty projects like Beau Burrows or Kyle Funkhouser could make sense in a return package.
Brewers: 5.9 WAR from Yasmani Grandal and Manny Pina

The Grandal signing has been an absolute coup for the Milwaukee front office, providing a .249/.380/.476 line with 27 homers this year after signing a one-year, $18.25MM deal with a mutual 2020 option this past offseason. Grandal is likely to walk, reducing Milwaukee to Pina and 24-year-old Jacob Nottingham at catcher. Prospect Mario Feliciano probably needs another two years of development before being ready for prime time, so Hedges could be a perfect bridge for the win-now Brew Crew. Could Preller try to buy low on infielder Travis Shaw? Shaw is just a year removed from a 30-homer season, but has scuffled through a .155 season this year. If Preller doesn’t feel confident in the Urias/France competition at second, Shaw could be a nice bench piece to have on hand. Otherwise, would Milwaukee be willing to move on from former pseudo-ace Jimmy Nelson?
Braves: 3.0 WAR in 2019 from Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann

Flowers (34) and McCann (35) have been resoundingly effective for the dominant Braves in ‘19, but Flowers is a possibility to depart in free agency. Prospect catcher Shea Langeliers is coming down the pike, but probably won’t be ready until 2022. Maybe pitcher Huascar Ynoa or speedster CF Justin Dean could suit up in Amarillo colors next year?

Better That The Rest

All of these teams will be looking for catching help this offseason. However, chances are that only one of them will be able to make a free agent signing who would represent a superior option to Hedges.

Yasmani Grandal, 31, is likely to opt out of his contract with Milwaukee in search of a big payday. He’s likely to get it after a strange trip through free agency in ‘18.

Outside of Grandal, here are the other top free agent catching options this offseason, in terms of 2019 WAR:

Jason Castro (33)
Tyler Flowers (34)
Robinson Chirinos (36)

Castro, Flowers, and Chirinos are all good pros, but each is past 33 years old. For a club looking for upside or reliability, Hedges would certainly represent a safer option. Beyond that, each of these players will likely cost $4MM or more on the open market, so Hedges’ contract becomes something of an attractive asset in comparison.

The Padres are likely to have a sizable list of suitors for Hedges in the event that Preller chooses to make him available. As a young, useful player with two years of control—playing a position that San Diego has well in hand—Hedges could be the Padre most likely to move this offseason.

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What to do with Austin Allen? The hot-hitting San Diego Padres catching prospect out of Florida Tech is coming off back-to-back big seasons at the plate, a successful Arizona Fall League campaign, and is the 25th-ranked prospect in what many consider to be the top farm system in baseball. Oh yeah, he isn’t even the top-ranked catching prospect in the Padres sytem.

With the Arizona Fall League completed, MLB Pipeline has released a few different pieces looking at some of the top performances and most interesting numbers from the 2018 season, culminating in their All-AFL Team. Receiving the nod at catcher is San Diego’s own, Austin Allen.

Allen and the Peoria Javelinas captured the AFL title a few days ago (with the help from fellow Padres prospects Miguel Diaz, Buddy Reed, and Hudson Potts), with Allen finishing the season with a .263 average, two home runs, and two doubles in 15 games. His biggest contribution at the plate came in the form of his ability to get on base, ending the season with a .358 on-base percentage.

The catching prospect was also included in Mike Rosenbaum’s piece looking at some of the top Statcast data from the AFL (with the caveat that only one of the six AFL fields is equipped with Statcast). Still, Allen recorded the ninth-hardest exit-velocity on a 112.5 mph lineout. Daniel Johnson of the Nationals and Peter Alonso of the Mets topped this list with 116.4 and 116.3 mph exit-velocities, respectively.
What’s next for San Diego Padres catching prospect Austin Allen?

Allen is coming off a 2018 regular season in which he tied his career-high for home runs (22) and doubles (31), recording those numbers in back-to-back seasons with the Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions.

In 12 fewer at-bats in Double-A, Allen stuck out 12 fewer times and recorded the same number of hits as he did the previous season in High-A, 131. He upped his batting average to .290 (up seven points) and his OPS to .857 (up eight points).

As expected, the Padres made room to protect Allen and place him on the 40-man roster, ahead of next month’s Rule-5 draft. Now the question becomes, what does Allen’s future hold as a member of the Padres?

As of right now, the organization appears to be content in going into 2019 with Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia behind the plate, leaving no playing time for Allen there. He did play some first base last season in Double-A, but that position is blocked for the foreseeable future, thanks to Eric Hosmer. But Allen doesn’t want to move from behind the plate and he may not have to.
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There isn’t a question as to whether or not Allen can hit a baseball. He can and he does it very well and very hard. The questions have surrounded his defensive abilities. As San Diego Union-Tribune Padres beat writer Kevin Acee pointed out last month in his feature on Allen, the catching prospect has continued to make positive strides in his defensive development and the organization is bullish on his ability to play the position at the major league level.

How many teams can say they have three catchers of the quality the Padres currently possess? As Acee discusses in his latest, AJ Preller doesn’t have much desire to trade away minor league talent that could potentially develop into major league production. In other words, Hedges gets one more chance to show he can hit the ball consistently, Mejia gets a full season to develop in the bigs, and Austin Allen mashes baseballs in El Paso until August/September. Based on current trade discussions and rumors swirling around Padres’ camp, I don’t see Allen going anywhere. However, a big season in AAA could lead to a much different story as the 2019 trade deadline approaches.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Kirby Yates is the surfer baseball nearly forgot.

Not a single team bothered to draft him 10 years ago. And the next decade was spent sold, released, purchased, waived and traded. He spent parts of nine years in the minor leagues.

Now, at 32, he is on the verge of climbing to the mountaintop of baseball accolades.

Yates is three weeks away from representing the San Diego Padres at the All-Star Game.

“If it happens, it means I’ve come full circle,’’ Yates told USA TODAY Sports. “I’ve failed a lot. I mean, I’ve been failing for years. And to make the All-Star Game, it would be unbelievable. This game is funny. It’s crazy. It’s weird.’’

Who would ever have imagined that Yates, who was shuffled and discarded like a used deck of cards from five different organizations in three years, would have the loftiest statistics by any closer in baseball?
Kirby Yates has converted every save opportunity this season.

Yates has been virtually perfect this season, leading the major leagues with 23 saves in 23 opportunities, with a league-leading 0.96 ERA, yielding a .137 batting average against right-handed hitters, to go along with two scoreless streaks of 10 or more innings.

In an organization that had three Hall of Fame closers (Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Trevor Hoffman) a Cy Young closer (Mark Davis), Yates is saving games at a rate never before seen in San Diego.

PLAYOFFS: Some division races are already over

PADDACK: NL ROY candidate sent to Class A

He is the first Padres’ pitcher to have at least 20 saves before June and is just three saves shy of the franchise record for saves before the All-Star break, trailing Heath Bell in 2011.

“It’s been neat to be compared to some of the great closers this organization has had,’’ Yates said, “but I don’t think people should slot me into their category. I have a lot to prove before being compared to them. Come on, let me pitch a full season first, then you can say what you want.’’

Yates is still trying to grasp his accomplishments while knowing that of all the players who make this year’s All-Star team, no one might appreciate it more than him.

“I don’t take any of this for granted,’’ Yates says, “knowing just how hard it was for me to even get to the big leagues, and then bouncing around like I did. And now this.’’

Yates, born and raised in Lihue, Hawaii, visited the mainland only once in his life before his senior year. He had only two collegiate offers to play beyond high school, choosing Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Arizona, over Central Arizona College.

He missed two years in college recovering from Tommy John surgery, and when the 2009 amateur draft came and went, with 1,521 players selected in 50 rounds, Yates’ name was never called.

Tyler Yates, 41, who pitched five years in the major leagues and is now a police officer back home in Kauai, vividly remembers that telephone call from his little brother, who suddenly was about to quit.

“As soon as the draft was over,’’ Tyler Yates said, “he called me and said, ‘Dude, I didn’t even get drafted. No one wanted me. A scout just called, but I don’t even know if I want to play baseball anymore.’

“I told him, ‘You waited your whole life for this. You better take it. Come on, you can’t quit now.’ ’’

Yates listened to his brother, signed a week after the draft with the Tampa Bay Rays and reached the big leagues five years later. He was sent to Cleveland for cash considerations after the 2015 season. Six weeks later, he was traded to the New York Yankees. He pitched 41 games in 2016 for the Yankees, going 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA, and suddenly started to believe he could have an actual future in the major leagues.

He decided to fully dedicate himself to the game, moved from Hawaii to Chandler, Arizona, where he could not only take advantage of the training facilities but also would no longer be tempted to blow off his workouts for a day of surfing with a beer cooler nearby.

“I’d go surfing all of the time; I loved my life,’’ Yates said, “maybe a little too much. I had to be more disciplined and take advantage of this gift. It was one of those things that you work your whole life for this, so why wouldn’t I put forth more effort and get myself dialed in.’’

Yates, who was relying solely on his fastball and slider, started experimenting with a split-finger pitch that winter. He never got a chance to use it with the Yankees, or even thank Masahiro Tanaka for helping teach him the pitch. He was claimed off waivers again by the Los Angeles Angels. He thought the pitch was coming along fine in spring training and his six minor league appearances with Class AAA Salt Lake, but after being called up by the Angels, his tenure lasted a mere inning.

Next stop, San Diego, with the Padres claiming him on April 26, 2017.

In two years, he has morphed from a journeyman to a middle reliever to a premier setup man to one of the most dependable closers in the game.

“I always knew he could do this,’’ Tyler Yates says. “It was always there. But he just had to believe it.’’

Yates had no choice when the Padres traded relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber two days after the 2018 All-Star Game for catching prospect Francisco Mejia. This was the opportunity that was going to make or break him.

“I hated the way I got the job because Brad Hand was my closest friend on the team,’’ Yates said, “but I also felt I was more physically and mentally prepared than anything I could possibly be for in my life. I never panicked. I was never scared. It’s not like I wanted to fail, but I wasn’t afraid to fail, you know what I mean?

“It’s like, it can’t be anything worse than I’ve already been through. I figured if that’s as bad as it’s going to get, no matter what I do as a closer, it can’t ever be that bad again.’’

Well, Yates hasn’t had to find out, converting on 35 of his 36 save opportunities since becoming the Padres’ closer, yielding just 16 hits while striking out 48 batters in 28 innings this season.

It’s not as if he lights up the radar gun with his 93-94 mph fastball, but hitters are kept completely off-balance with his 86-mph split-finger, which he throws nearly half of the time.

Oh, and you want to talk about preparation?

He’s one of the first players to arrive to the Padres’ clubhouse, spending hours poring over scouting information, studying videotape and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of every player he might potentially face in that day’s game.

“He doesn’t just take the ball, chuck it and hope things happen,’’ Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley says, “he’s 100% prepared for each and every game we play. He’s learned how to pitch his way. He knows where his outs come. And he has so much confidence now.

“You hear people say that with a story like Kirby’s and overcoming so many obstacles, he’s proving a lot of people wrong now.

“No, he’s just proving himself right.’’

Really, the only obstacle in Yates’ path now is that he might be, well, too good. He is tantalizing to every contender needing bullpen help before the July 31 trade deadline, and with the Padres falling out of contention, they suddenly have an awfully attractive trade piece.

“I don’t want to go; I really don’t,’’ Yates said. “I love it here. I feel we’ve got something brewing here and will be in contention of years. And I’m so comfortable here. It just fits. I love the lifestyle. I love everything about it.’’

San Diego might not be Kauai, but it’s the closest thing in the major leagues, playing in the perfect climate, and just off the Pacific beach. His dad, Gary, got to see him pitch a week ago in San Diego, and he knows if he’s traded back east, it might be too far for his parents. They never once got to see him pitch for the Yankees because of the 12 hours it would take on even a direct flight to New York.

“It’s just too far for my parents,’’ Yates said, “that’s why San Diego is perfect. I know it’s part of the business, but I’d just hate to leave here.’’

Considering Yates’ success and popularity in the clubhouse, veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler and his teammates say, the feeling is completely mutual.

“We’re thrilled that teams like him,’’ Padres manager Andy Green said. “But we love him. We want him here. We want him closing out games for years to come for us.’’

Yates, who’s a free agent after the 2020 season, refuses to stress out about it, knowing it’s taboo in his Hawaiian culture, but certainly sees the irony.

Ten years ago, almost to the exact day, no team in baseball wanted him.

Today, who doesn’t?

“Crazy game, huh?’’ said Yates. “Who would have believed it?’’

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Now, it’s Trey Wingenter.

The right-handed reliever has been placed on the 10-day injured list with a shoulder strain, the latest blow to a bullpen short on arms and long on innings.

“A little tightness in the shoulder, nothing too serious, probably something that needed a few days,” Wingenter said. “Don’t always have a few days to give. So take 10 days, make the most of the rest and be ready to come back strong.”

The 25-year-old said the tightness he has felt for a while peaked in Friday’s appearance, when he allowed a home run to the first batter he faced in the seventh inning of a tie game.

Wingenter has thrown the third-most innings (15 1/3) out of the bullpen behind Craig Stammen (18 1/3) and Kirby Yates (18).

His importance was growing, as his standard appearance was most often a late-and-close situation.

He is next in a line of pieces to go missing, further taxing a bullpen that has thrown 124 innings, 10th most in the majors.

Robert Stock was a hard-throwing, multi-inning bridge with a 2.45 ERA the second half of last season. He’s currently in Triple-A trying to prove he can throw strikes consistently.

Jose Castillo’s 97 mph fastball and wickedly breaking slider were increasingly put into high-leverage situations in 2018. These days, the left-hander spends part of every few afternoons playing catch from about 60 feet, trying to work back from what is being termed a flexor strain without surgery.

Aaron Loup, a left-handed specialist acquired in February, was giving the Padres quality outings (0.00 ERA, five strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings) before he went down early last month with an elbow strain.

Until they get back — along with Miguel Diaz, whose surgically repaired meniscus has progressed to the point he is starting his rehab assignment in Double-A on Sunday — the Padres bullpen is going to have to find a way to patch together effective games in the same way they did most of last season and virtually all of April.

“Everybody is talented,” closer Kirby Yates said Saturday night. “And everyone accepts the workload and knows our job, knows what we have to do on a daily basis.”

Yates has taken the loss the past two games against the Dodgers after entering a tied game in the ninth inning and allowing a run. This his come on the heels of his allowing one run in his first 16 innings of the season, which included his converting all 14 of his save opportunities.

The Padres recalled Phil Maton from Triple-A for the second time in six days. Maton began the season with the Padres, was optioned on April 3, recalled April 14, optioned April 21 and recalled Tuesday before being optioned Wednesday.