Days of decision coming for Padres
Key roster questions still to be answered as team enters final week of camp in Arizona
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A week from Wednesday, the Padres will put as much distance between themselves and Arizona as humanly possible when they break camp after six weeks and start their annual exodus to San Diego, in advance of the season-opener on March 30.
For as settled as the rotation is, nearly all of the bullpen and the position-player grouping, the team still has several decisions to make before setting its roster before they face the Dodgers in a game that will be televised by ESPN from Petco Park.
This much, Padres manager Bud Black doesn't need to be reminded of.
"You'd like to think you're getting closer to it," Black said Tuesday before the Padres faced the Mariners in a night game in Peoria.
The Padres could always delay any decisions on the 25-man roster until the final week of the spring, as they will play games on March 28-29 against the Indians at the University of San Diego.
There are still some tough decisions ahead. As of Tuesday, there are several players who remain on the bubble, non-roster players with an outside chance of making the team, players who have survived camp cuts to this point.
One of those players is veteran left-handed pitcher Tony Sipp, who is trying to become the second lefty in the bullpen, along with Alex Torres. That is, if Black and the Padres want to keep two lefties. It's all so much to take in and consider, though Sipp has avoided any attempts to handicap his chances.
"A lot of times, you're not going to be right anyway. Life shows you that you can't figure everything out. And that's not my job," Sipp said. "My job is to know the batters and pitch. It's tough enough to try and throw the ball where you want to.
"I don't think about it. That's how I keep the pressure off. I can't control the unknown variables."
A look at some of the decisions facing the Padres as they head toward their final week here in Arizona:
How many catchers to keep? Two or three?: This is an interesting area, as the Padres have Nick Hundley, Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal as candidates to break camp.
There might be some traction internally to keeping three catchers at the outset of the season, but the chances of the team doing so is still considered slim.
Grandal is the wild card, as he's recovered quickly from knee surgery last August and has showed well defensively on the knee in his first three games. Look for him to play more in the next week, as the team decides if he'll be ready for Opening Day.
If not, Grandal could go to Triple-A El Paso to begin the season and get regular at-bats and playing time, with the team keeping Rivera on the roster. The Padres really liked the way Rivera handled the pitching staff last season after he came up when Grandal was hurt.
But Rivera is out of Minor League options, so the Padres risk losing him if they don't keep him on their 25-man roster.
Who makes it: Tommy Medica or Xavier Nady ... Or both? Medica has had a fabulous spring, as he took a .396 average with a team-leading 19 hits into Tuesday's game. He's played first base and has shown he could probably play the outfield on occasion, though it's still a position he's learning.
Nady, who started his career with the Padres in 2000, offers the same right-handed bat off the bench, though he has a greater wealth of knowledge of the league and how to handle sporadic at-bats. Nady also provides an intangible no others in camp can: veteran leadership.
Kyle Blanks is also in the competition for a bench spot. Like Medica and Nady, he's right-handed, has power and can play first base and the outfield.
"You want guys who are playing well, swinging the bat well," Black said. "The last couple of guys you're looking at, you're looking for balance and flexibility. With Cam's [Cameron Maybin] injury, it's opened another spot on our roster. We'll look at what makes sense for our team.
"All those guys [Blanks, Medica and Nady] are in the mix as we get down to the end."
Backup infielder or not? Infielder Ryan Jackson has impressed with his glove at shortstop and third base, and has shown he can handle second base as well. Defense is his calling card, and there's value in that, as the Padres can attest after losing shortstop Everth Cabrera to a 50-game suspension a year ago.
You can't just stick anyone at shortstop, a premium position. You're not asking your reserve infielder to win you a game with his bat, but he better not lose one with his glove.
The Padres have the versatile Alexi Amarista, who has shown well defensively in the infield this spring. He's not the wizard with the glove that Jackson is, but he can also play the outfield in a pinch and can run a little. He's on the team.
There's always a chance -- and possibly a very good one -- the Padres don't break camp with a reserve infielder. Jackson has Minor League options and if the Padres need him, he's only a phone call and a Southwest Airlines flight away at Triple-A El Paso.
Alex Castellanos, who the Padres recently claimed off waivers from the Rangers, offers versatility, speed and some power. He's also in the mix for a backup infield job.
Who gets the last bullpen spot? If you put pencil to paper and try to come up with the seven players who will comprise the bullpen, six names are pretty easy to list.
Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Alex Torres, Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent and Tim Stauffer are all essentially assured spots on the roster. Coming up with that final name might be tricky.
The Padres are considering carrying a second left-hander with Sipp and Rule 5 Draft pick Patrick Schuster the two candidates in camp for the left-handed specialist role. Sipp has more service time and has yet to allow an earned run this spring. He's allowed two hits to left-handed batters.
Schuster, who the D-backs would certainly want back, had a 2.57 ERA in seven innings. He's allowed two runs on five hits against left-handed hitters. There's always a chance the Padres could make a deal with the D-backs if they wanted to retain Schuster.
Of course, there's a chance the Padres won't keep a second left-hander, too. Maybe this is a spot where the team slides rookie Donn Roach, he of the plus-sinker, into a second long relief role.
"It comes down to you want to take your 12 best pitchers," Black said.