The San Diego Padres once thought Wil Myers could be their franchise cornerstone.
Last year they thought he was the answer to their problems at the hot corner.
And there is speculation that now may be the time to jettison him, as the Padres seem ready to turn the corner.
The 2013 American League Rookie of the Year told reporters over the weekend at the team’s FanFest that he was moving back to the outfield after an experiment at third base last season.
Myers had almost no experience as a third baseman as a professional player; he played just one inning at third in 2016 in the major leagues.
The experiment worked well – for one game. Myers had seven assists, one short of the team record, in his first game at third base. Then, things turned ugly. He played 36 games at third in 2018 and made six errors and finished with a woeful .934 fielding percentage.
Myers and the club have thrown in the towel on that idea. He played mostly first base the previous two seasons, but Eric Hosmer is now holding down that spot.
Myers’ return adds another piece to the Padres crowded outfield situation. He joins Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, and Travis Jankowski. The Padres will not carry six outfielders. They will either trade one (or more), or send someone down to the minors (they can’t send Myers down).
The Padres now have a hole at third base, so maybe they could trade an outfielder to address the situation.
There has been speculation this offseason that the Padres would trade Myers, although the team has never indicated he’s on the block. But even if the Padres want to trade him, Myers’ contract makes a deal difficult.
Pluses and Minuses
Myers made $4.5 million in each of the last two seasons and will make $5.5 million this season.
But starting in 2020 he will make $22.5 million per season the next three years. His contract has a $20 million team option with a $1 million buyout in 2023.
And so far Myers has given no indication that he’s worth that kind of money
Copy of Wil Meyers stats
As he heads into his age 28 season, Myers is a good major league baseball player, when healthy.
The biggest problem is he hasn’t been healthy. Starting with his second season in the majors, Myers has missed significant playing time in all but two seasons.
Myers has not hit for a high average since his rookie season (.293), and his career on-base percentage is a mediocre .328. But he has good pop, hitting 28 and 30 home runs in only two full seasons, and good speed, stealing 28 bases in 2016 and 20 in 2017.
He played center field when he first came to the Padres. While Myers is not a good center fielder, he has developed into a competent corner outfielder; he was seven defensive runs saved above average in 41 games in left and right field.
He has played all three outfield positions as well as first, second, and third. I think versatility will be more valuable in the coming years, as the team continues to shift players defensively and carry more pitchers on their roster.
The problem for Myers is what he was expected to be.
“With Bryce Harper and Mike Trout firmly established in the majors, the best outfield prospect in the minor leagues is now Wil Myers of the Kansas City Royals,’’ John Sickels wrote for SB Nation’s Minor League Ball blog in 2012. “He’s tearing through the Pacific Coast League like a tornado on the prairie, devastating Triple-A competition for the Omaha Stormchasers.”
That is typical of the breathless praise surrounding Myers, as he worked his way through the minors. The Royals traded Myers, along with third baseman Patrick Leonard, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, and left-hander Mike Montgomery to the Tampa Bay Rays for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis before the 2013 season. The national media and the internet threw bucketloads of criticism towards general manager Dayton Moore and the supposed fools in the Royals front office. Moore felt the Royals needed a top-of-the-rotation pitcher to help them get over the hump and end a playoff drought that was approaching three decades.
Most of the analysis was centered around Myers vs. Shields. The other prospects and Davis were treated as sort of afterthoughts.
After the trade
Andrew Friedman and the Rays looked like geniuses when Myers was promoted midseason and went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The Rays made the playoffs in 2013. The Royals didn’t, though Shields pitched well. Davis, who was moved to the bullpen in his final season, started most of the season and was disappointing.
Everything changed with storylines surrounding Myers, Davis, Shields, and Moore. Myers broke his wrist when he collided in the outfield with teammate Desmond Jennings. Myers missed more than two months and hit .222 for the season.
Davis went back to relieving full-time and recorded a 1.00 ERA. He led the Royals lockdown relief corps that changed the perception of the importance of bullpens. He was a key performer in Kansas City’s World Series championship in 2015.
Shields pitched well during the 2014 regular season, going 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA, as the Royals made the playoffs for the first time. But he failed to live up to his reputation as “Big Game James” in the postseason, recording a 5.61 ERA and losing two games in the World Series.
Moore looked smart after two trips to the World Series.
The team later signed Shields as a free agent and traded for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton. They were ready to contend. It didn’t work out.
The Padres, who traded away seven of their top 11 prospects, went 74-88 and finished fourth in the National League West.
The other high-profile players the team landed in 2015 are gone. The Padres signed Myers to a six-year, $83 million extension after the 2016 season, when he made his only All-Star appearance.
“Hopefully you’re buying the prime years of Wil’s career, from 26 to 31,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said.
If Myers didn’t have such a generous contract, he might be an attractive trade option to fill a need. But it’s difficult to imagine any deal without San Diego taking on a similar big contract.
The Padres have rebuilt their farm system after decimating it for what proved to be an ill-fated attempt to contend in 2015, and it now ranks as one of the best in the game. There is hope in the Gaslamp District that the Padres may contend again soon after three straight 90-loss seasons.
Preller will have to decide if Myers’ prime years are something the Padres still want.