SI Vault
Planning for the Future
August 13, 2012
Two sub-.500 teams have an eye toward a playoff run as soon as 2013. So, which noncontender would you rather be: the Padres or the Blue Jays?
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August 13, 2012

Planning For The Future

ROSTER San Diego has a core of hitters who haven't been productive in the majors, and you can't assign all the blame to Petco Park: Centerfielder Cameron Maybin, shortstop Everth Cabrera and first baseman Yonder Alonso haven't done much on the road, either. The Padres held on to their top bats at the trade deadline, an indication that they think third baseman Chase Headley and leftfielder Carlos Quentin—who, in fact, signed a three-year, $27 million extension—can be part of a winner there. The current pitching staff is shaky due to crushing injuries. Toronto has shown a real talent for turning reclamation projects into cleanup hitters, first with Jose Bautista and now Edwin Encarnacion. The team has had less success developing its own minor leaguers, something that has to change. A lot is riding on third baseman Brett Lawrie (.742 OPS this year, down from .953 in 43 games in 2011) and top prospect Anthony Gose, who was called up last month to play rightfield. Injuries have also wrecked their pitching staff, stalling righthander Brandon Morrow's breakthrough season and shelving prospects Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison for the year.
FARM SYSTEM They don't have the next Mike Trout, but there is depth: A handful of hitters could upgrade a major league offense that needs help. Infielder Jedd Gyorko (.960 OPS at Triple A) will be in the majors shortly and could be followed next year by speedy outfielder Rymer Liriano and second baseman Cory Spangenberg. They have pitchers galore, beginning with what might be the best staff in the minor leagues, at Class A Lansing: The trio of Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez (combined 2.58 ERA and 281 strikeouts in 258 innings this year) could become the Canadian version of Hudson, Mulder and Zito.
RESOURCES The Padres have always been in a tough spot: They're a a big-city team with no secondary markets to speak of. The novelty of Petco Park has worn off, and San Diego fans are fickle: They show up when the team wins and stay away when it doesn't. Losing in 2012 will limit revenue—and next year's payroll. Canada's team should be able to tap into a national market and the deep pockets of the Rogers Corporation. Two decades ago the franchise carried the highest payroll in the game on its way to back-to-back world championships. Money shouldn't be an obstacle to adding that last piece—a No. 1 starter or a high-OBP leadoff man.
FRONT OFFICE G.M. Josh Byrnes is getting a second chance in San Diego after being undercut by ownership in his first gig, with the Diamondbacks. It may be happening again: There's little reason for the team to have signed Quentin and closer Huston Street to big-dollar deals last month. Those contracts are good bets to go bad. G.M. Alex Anthopoulos has been called a ninja for his ability to make big trades out of nowhere and create productive players from thin air. But now that he has presided over an impressive building project, can he shift gears and turn all the talent he's amassed into a contender?
COMPETITION The NL West has been getting stronger and now features a Dodgers franchise determined, under new ownership, to act like a big-market monster. But other than the Dodgers, no team threatens to vastly outspend San Diego, and no other NL West team has a top-tier farm system. In recent years the Jays have been almost as good as the AL Central's top teams, a fact hidden by an unbalanced schedule loaded with the AL East's two payroll beasts and the overachieving Rays. That's not going to change.
VERDICT The Jays have small to moderate edges in most categories—but the last one is the most important. Not having to beat out three of the best teams in baseball is a huge advantage for the Padres, who have the better chance at playoff contention in 2013.

Two sub-.500 teams have an eye toward a playoff run as soon as 2013. So, which noncontender would you rather be: the Padres or the Blue Jays?

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]