|Maybin (left), Headley (center) and Luebke (right) are key cogs in San Diego's core. (US Presswire)|
Our "Core Values" series continues with the San Diego Padres, who won 31 of their final 53 games in 2012 and finished the year at 76-86. The walls are coming in at Petco Park this offseason, and the club will look to carry its strong finish over into 2013.
As for our somewhat arbitrary definition of "core," here's a reminder. Feel free to skip over the blockquotes if you've been with us since the start.
What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player whom you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" that you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.
And now to the core of the Padres.
Cornerstone player(s): Cameron Maybin
It has been more than five years since Maybin was traded from the Tigers to the Marlins as part of the package for Miguel Cabrera (and Dontrelle Willis!), but it wasn't until he arrived in San Diego two seasons ago that he started to blossom. The 25-year-old broke out with 40 steals and a .264/.323/.393 batting line in 2011, after which the Padres signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
Maybin's follow-up effort -- .243/.306/.349 with 26 steals in 2012 -- wasn't what the team was hoping to see, but his center-field defense rates as well-above-average and ensures his overall impact on the game is a net positive. The financial commitment guarantees Maybin will remain an important building block going forward, and his relative youth suggests his best is yet to come.
Face(s) of the franchise: Chase Headley
The Padres were hoping the 28-year-old Headley would assume the role of the face of the franchise following the Adrian Gonzalez trade two winters ago, and he finally rewarded their faith in the second half last season. He was a monster after the All-Star break, hitting .308/.386/.592 with the most RBI (73) and second-most homers (23) in baseball. That earned him a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting.
Headley, a switch-hitting third baseman, is San Diego's best homegrown position player since Tony Gwynn showed up in the early 1980s. His career .273/.351/.418 batting line understates just how productive he has been outside the not-so-friendly confines of Petco Park -- in 345 career road games, he's a .302/.372/.464 hitter. In 345 career home games, he has hit just .249/.302/.366. Headley is one of baseball's least-heralded great players, but he is the face of the Padres.
Few teams can match the near-MLB ready minor-league talent the Padres boast. Kelly, 23, came over in the Gonzalez trade and made his big-league debut late last season. The right-hander headlines a group of young starters that includes righties Joe Wieland (made his debut last season) and Adys Portillo, and lefty Robbie Erlin. Kelly, Erlin and Portillo will all start 2013 at or above Double-A while Wieland recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Gyorko, 24, is a .319/.385/.529 career hitter in the minors and played 92 games at Triple-A last season. He's a third baseman by trade, and San Diego shifted him to second last summer in deference to Headley. The 21-year-old Liriano hit .280/.350/.417 with 32 steals last year and will be flanking Maybin soon enough. He's scheduled to open 2013 at Double-A. Austin Hedges, 20, is several years away from the big leagues, but he's also one of the four or five best catching prospects in baseball. Brad Boxberger, Tommy Layne and Miles Mikolas highlight a wave of big league-ready relievers.
Grading the Padres' core: B+
The Padres are blessed with a strong young core at the big-league level and farm system deep in close-to-MLB-ready prospects. Left-hander Cory Luebke (recovering from Tommy John surgery), first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal (will serve a 50-game, PED-related suspension this year), infielders James Darnell and Everth Cabrera and utility man Alexi Amarista join Maybin and Headley as 20-somethings on San Diego's roster who will see regular playing time this season. Veteran Carlos Quentin provides some much needed power. Kelly, Wieland, Erlin, Portillo, Liriano, Gyorko and others will gradually work their way onto the team in the next year or so. Hedges and other low-level prospects like right-hander Joe Ross and left-hander Max Fried are the next wave of prospects behind them.
San Diego surprisingly won 90 games in 2010, but haven't been a consistent winning team since the days of Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman back in the early-2000s. Former GM Jed Hoyer, who replaced long-time GM Kevin Towers in October 2009 before joining the Cubs last winter, helped build a deep and diverse core before handing the reigns over to former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes. Those young players have started to crack the MLB roster and are pushing the Padres back toward contention.
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