A disastrous season for the Padres has already led to front-office shakeups. Could a new manager be next? Also, the surging Cardinals, Javier Baez and more.
The San Diego Padres, closing in on arguably their most disappointing season, recently parted ways with senior director of player development Sam Geaney. And more significant changes were expected in the immediate future.
Those changes continued Wednesday by reassigning scouting director Mark Conner and naming Chris Kemp as amateur scouting director. President of baseball operations A.J. Preller, who signed a contract extension through 2026 in February, is likely to return next season. Manager Jayce Tingler is the most obvious candidate to be replaced, with frustration increasing inside his own clubhouse in recent weeks. But Preller and Tingler are close from their time with the Texas Rangers and would Preller, who has already hired three managers since joining the organization in 2014, want to begin a search for a fourth manager just two years after hiring Tingler?
The answer remains unclear, but with the Padres’ current trajectory and frustration seemingly growing by the day, Preller may have no choice but to fire Tingler. A logical replacement would be Bruce Bochy, the three-time World-Series-winning manager who is open to managing again, and he would offer something that Tingler and the other first-time managers general manager A.J. Preller has hired have not: credibility.
“I think I’ll just say what I’ve been saying: I don’t think you rule anything out,” Bochy said, via Sportico, when asked about the possibility of managing the Padres. “I went to spring training for a couple of weeks, but you never say never. That’s my mindset.”
But the Padres’ issues stem beyond Tingler and extend to the clubhouse, where a leadership void revealed itself during a confrontation between Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Manny Machado. It is part of the reason why they targeted Nelson Cruz at the trade deadline. They can pursue him again in the offseason when he’s a free agent and when his fit on the roster becomes more clear with MLB likely to implement the universal DH in 2022. But would Cruz, who will be in his age-42 season, be enough to solve that leadership void?
These are just some of the questions that Preller will have to answer in the offseason. But it starts with Tingler — and the increased scrutiny among his players may make it too difficult for Preller to ignore.
Checking preseason predictions: Shohei Ohtani and Corbin Burnes
Entering the regular season, I made two predictions: that Shohei Ohtani would win the American League MVP award if he stayed healthy and that Corbin Burnes would be a prominent name in the National League Cy Young discussion.
Alas, with less than two weeks left in the regular season, both predictions have held true. Ohtani has emerged as a superstar, starting the debate of whether he is a better hitter/pitcher than Babe Ruth, and is the strong favorite to win AL MVP. Burnes has proven that his 2.11 ERA last season was not a fluke, leading a formidable Milwaukee Brewers rotation with a 2.34 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 158 innings, and is among the frontrunners for the NL Cy Young Award alongside Los Angeles Dodgers ace Max Scherzer.
Even the most optimistic of observers could not have forecasted a breakout like this for Ohtani. He is on pace to win MVP despite Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming close to winning the traditional Triple Crown (he’s first in AL batting average, tied for first in home runs and 10 short of the league lead in RBIs). Yes, Ohtani is hitting only .224/.350/.439 with 12 home runs in the second half, but he is only one home run behind Guerrero and has posted a 3.28 ERA in 123.1 innings while Guerrero has never thrown a pitch.
Burnes, 26, is arguably the best young pitcher in baseball. He has five pitches (curveball, slider, changeup and sinker) that scouts consider above average, with all of them playing off his cutter that hitters have averaged only .232 against while striking out 113 times against this season. I have written extensively on how strongly the Brewers feel about Burnes, who I recently made the case to win the NL Cy Young award, but I’m not sure anyone in the organization could have anticipated anything like this, especially in his first full season as a starting pitcher.
Cardinals defense is fueling their playoff surge
On Aug. 10, the St. Louis Cardinals were 8.5 games back of the second NL wild-card spot and had a 1.4 percent chance to make the postseason. Entering Thursday, they led the second NL wild-card spot by four games and have a 94.6 percent chance of advancing to the playoffs.
The breakouts of Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill on offense have helped. The resurgence of Adam Wainwright in his age-40 season and solid outings from Jon Lester and J.A. Happ has played a factor. So too has Giovanny Gallegos, who has effectively replaced the struggling Alex Reyes in the ninth inning.
But the Cardinals’ defense, manager Mike Shildt said, has been what’s kept them “relevant.”
The Cardinals could have as many as five Gold Glove winners this season. Goldschmidt leads all first basemen with nine defensive runs saved. They are the only team in baseball with three players in the top 20 in DRS, with O’Neill (8th) and Arenado (17th) joining Goldschmidt. Tommy Edman, meanwhile, ranks 31st while Yadier Molina ranks 36th. As a team, they lead baseball with 84 DRS, per Fielding Bible, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers (67) a distant second.
It’s helped Lester, whose 4.02 ERA is drastically better than his 5.53 FIP in 10 starts with the Cardinals. But it’s helped the entire pitching staff that has been decimated by injuries, whose 20.1 strikeout rate ranks 28th in baseball, and put them on the doorstep of the most improbable playoff berth of the season with their ace Jack Flaherty on the verge of coming off the injured list.
What will the Mets do with Javier Baez?
The good news for the Mets is that Javier Baez has been much better following a slow start in New York. The bad news for the Mets is that the price to re-sign Baez is seemingly going up by the day.
Baez, 28, has reached base safely in 15 straight games and is hitting .415/.520/.683 in that stretch. He has dazzled defensively alongside Francisco Lindor. He’s displaying the hustle that made him such an exciting player with the Chicago Cubs. More importantly, he has walked nine times in his last 12 games, the most in any 12-game stretch of his career, and some scouts are wondering if this is an anomaly or the start of Baez maturing as a hitter.
So, what will that price be in the offseason? It could be as much as $200 million. But it’s complicated.
Teams can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for offseason inactivity, though the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Dec. 1 and negotiations could stall the market. The market will be saturated with other shortstops (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien). But like Semien, Baez can also play second base and he even has some experience at third base (104 career games).
Of course, there are obvious drawbacks that come with Baez. The base-running mistakes. The 42 strikeouts in 137 at-bats. The thumbs down gestures in response to fans booing the team, which seemed to open the door for his exit in the offseason.
But this hot stretch has changed the narrative. Lindor, his closest friend and $341 million teammate, is pushing the Mets to re-sign Baez. He has the ear of owner Steve Cohen and might have enough sway to get Cohen to keep Báez in New York long-term, no matter the cost.