Coming into the 2014 season, there were hopes that the San Diego Padres could contend for a Wild-Card berth as one of the surprise teams in the National League. Instead, the franchise endured one of the most tragic and difficult years in the history of the franchise.
Marred by the death of two icons, the firing of their general manager, a horrid offense, and countless injuries, the Padres struggled to a 77-85 record in 2014. The 77 wins were actually an improvement from 2013, when the team limped to a 76-86 record.
The 2014 season got off to a depressing start when beloved broadcaster Jerry Coleman died on January 5th. Coleman, who was 89 at the time of his death, was the Padres play-by-play voice for over 40 years, and also managed the team during the 1980 season.
In June, the Padres lost Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn, as he passed away from cancer at the age of 53. Nicknamed Mr. Padre, Gwynn's tragic passing sent shock waves throughout San Diego, as 30,000 fans packed Petco Park for a public memorial.
Despite the miserable season in San Diego, some really positive things happened on the field. Here are a few things that went right in 2014:
1. The emergence of Rene Rivera: Rivera was the best story of 2014 in San Diego. Just last year, Rivera was playing in Triple-A with the Tucson Padres, with little chance of cracking the big league roster. Then catcher Yasmani Grandal suffered a torn ACL, and the Padres needed a backup catcher. Thus, Rivera's contract was purchased from Triple-A and the rest is history.
Rivera initially served as a backup to Nick Hundley, but received regular at-bats in 2014. Rivera rewarded the Padres with a solid .252/.319/.432 slash-line, with 11 home runs and 44 RBI's. Rivera was also praised for his ability to handle the pitching staff. Rivera has developed himself into a solid, and perhaps more importantly, an affordable option at catcher in 2015.
2. Tyson Ross and the starting pitching: Ross was this writer's choice for breakout pitcher for 2014. The 27-year-old did not disappoint, as he established himself as the Padres ace. Ross started 31 games for San Diego, and won 12 games. He fell just shy of 200 innings and had an ERA of 2.81. Ross is under team-control for three more seasons, and it would not be surprise to see the team talk about an extension.
Ian Kennedy quietly had a tremendous year as well. Kennedy surpassed 200 innings, and was among National League leaders with 207 strikeouts. Kennedy, who was acquired at the trade deadline last season, has one more year of team control.
3. The Bullpen: The Padres 'pen led the National League with a 2.73 ERA, even after dealing away All-Star closer Huston Street. Joaquin Benoit filled in nicely after the deal, and Kevin Quackenbush picked up some saves in September when Benoit dealt with a sore shoulder. The Padres have only one free agent in the pen (Tim Stauffer), and the unit will have young arms like R.J. Alvarez, Leonel Campos, and perhaps Burch Smith in the mix for a job in 2015.
While there were a few bright spots in 2014, the reality is that the Padres finished with a 77-85 record and only finished ahead of two of the worst teams in baseball. San Diego suffered through injuries, and the worst offense in baseball. Here is a list of what went wrong for the Padres:
1. Yonder Alonso: The downfall of former general manager Josh Byrnes was the trust he instilled in a few of his acquisitions. Yonder Alonso was the centerpiece of the unpopular Mat Latos deal, as Alonso's gap stroke was considered a better fit for spacious Petco Park. After a promising rookie campaign, Alonso has been prone to injuries, in addition to inconsistency at the plate. Alonso played in just 84 games (down from 155 in 2012) and produced a career-low OPS of .682. Alonso will be 28 in April, but he might have played himself out of a starting gig.
2. Jedd Gyorko: Gyorko showed promise as a rookie, swatting 23 homers and provided the Padres with the best offensive season from a second baseman since Mark Loretta manned the keystone position. The franchise also invested heavily in the West Virginia-born slugger, as they signed him to a 5-year, $35 million extension. Gyorko hit just 10 homers and was beneath the Mendoza line for most of the year. The Padres need Gyorko to produce in 2015.
3. Everth Cabrera: Cabrera was an All-Star in 2013, and seemingly cemented himself as a core producer for the club. Then, Cabrera's season ended abruptly after a 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera was apologetic, made amends, and was welcomed back with open arms by the organization. Cabrera responded with a .272 OBP and a DUI arrest. Cabrera is under team-control through 2017, but the team could seek an upgrade outside the organization.
2014 will go down as one of the most challenging years in San Diego Padres history. Tragedy, injuries, and dismal performances all around were the main story lines. The team should have some financial flexibility in the off-season, and the Padres are interested in upgrading their offense. The team will need to improve offensively if they expect to contend in 2015.