Have you ever had one of those moments in life where something causes you to question an assumption you’ve carried with you? Where you caught yourself wondering if maybe — just maybe — “the way things are” might not be the way things actually are anymore?
Because James Shields to the San Diego Padres kinda, sorta, turned into one of those moments for me.
Shields. Kemp. Cashner. Myers. Upton. Ross. Norris. Benoit.
These aren’t your 2014 Padres, folks — these guys look different.
As active as the Los Angeles Dodgers have been this offseason, they’ve seemingly remained motionless compared to what the Padres have done — executing trades and signings at such a frenetic pace that a glance at their roster is a reminder of all the moves you’ve forgotten about.
From December 18-30, the Padres executed trades with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Braves, A’s and Rays. They acquired Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer (among others).
Standing alone, those moves aren’t enough to make you question the idea that the Dodgers’ standing as top dog in the West is in question, but that’s because the Padres simply added those names to an up-and-coming roster of young talent. Oh, and that Shields fellow too.
Joining Shields in the rotation are Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy and Brandon Morrow. Cashner and Ross both posted ERAs under 3.00 last season, while Shields and Kennedy weren’t far behind at 3.21 and 3.63 respectively.
Combine that rotation with a lineup that features Kemp, Upton, Myers, Middlebrooks, Norris, and Jed Gyorko, and, well, the Padres are looking scarier and scarier by the minute.
Oh, and don’t forget about the bullpen either — anchored by Joaquin Benoit, the Padres boasted the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors last season at 2.73.
So with a tantalizing rotation, a solid bullpen and a fantasy-esque lineup, have the Padres surpassed the Dodgers?
Well, let’s break it down.
Rotation — Kerhsaw/Greinke/Ryu/McCarthy/Anderson vs. Shields/Cashner/Ross/Kennedy/Morrow
Any rotation with Kershaw at the top is going to look more appealing, but this competition is honestly closer than you’d think. Cashner and Ross are two of the more under-appreciated arms in the league (Cashner would have finished 10th in the league in ERA had he made enough starts to qualify, while Ross finished 16th), while Shields is an excellent running mate.
I think I still give the edge to the Dodgers simply because the difference between Kershaw and honestly anyone is so large. I think Greinke is on par with Cashner and Ross, and I think McCarthy/Kennedy and Anderson/Morrow are probably toss-ups.
Lineup — Puig/Pederson/Crawford/Gonzalez/Kendrick/Rollins/Uribe/Grandal vs. Kemp/Myers/Upton/Alonso/Gyorko/Amarista/Solarte/Norris
What’s fascinating about this debate is the fact that it’s essentially a choice between how the Dodgers used to construct rosters (like they were playing fantasy baseball) and how they do now.
If you’re asking me for the four best hitters in this conversation, the Padres probably have three playing in their outfield. What’s fascinating, however, is that the Dodgers probably boast five (at least) of the next six — and that’s without considering how bad the Padres will be defensively.
The question we’re left with is whether we want a top-heavy lineup (that can’t play defense) or a lineup built top-to-bottom without many “stars”. After seeing how things panned out for LA the last two seasons, I think I’ll take the latter.
Bullpen — Jansen/Howell/Peralta/League/Hatcher vs. Benoit/Quackenbush/Thayer/Kelley
Well if there’s one category out there we know the Dodgers aren’t going to win, it’s a competition of bullpens.
The Padres had the second-best unit in the league last season and they probably got better with the additions of Kelley, Maurer and Morrow (if he isn’t the No. 5 starter). The Dodgers have improved their pen, but, then again, anything would have been an improvement over what was one of the worst units in the league.
While there’s a lot to be decided about which players make the 25-man rosters for both clubs, I think this category is as clear-cut as the bullpen. The Padres have some nice names (Middlebrooks, Maybin, Quentin, Venable), but I think the bench has become one of the strongest parts of the Dodger roster.
With Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier and AJ Ellis (plus whichever defensive-minded players make the team), I think the Dodgers are in the conversation for having the best bench in baseball.
So where does all this leave us? Is it as cut-and-dry as a 3-1 category win for the Dodgers?
Honestly, I think it comes down to a matter of philosophies. As I mentioned earlier, the Padres are built in a way that is eerily familiar to Dodger fans — big name guys in important positions, but lacking some overall depth.
Unfortunately for San Diego, I think they’ll find what Ned Colletti found out the past couple years: real baseball doesn’t work like fantasy baseball. The Dodgers have looked great on paper for a few years now, but that hasn’t translated to postseason success. Friedman and Co. were brought in to change that — and the result was less emphasis on marketable players and more emphasis on roster depth, sabremetrics and clubhouse chemistry. (Note: the Dodgers have won the NL West the past two seasons, so it’s not as if the Padres’ philosophy will leave the them in the cellar, it’s just that when we’re comparing them to the Dodgers, someone has to finish second in this division)
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the Dodgers to win the west despite everything the Padres have done to improve themselves — but then again, why listen to me when we get to watch 162 games this summer to find out.
Dodgers 2015 Fan Fest