Inbox: Should Padres keep the bullpen intact?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell fields fans' questions

Inbox: Should Padres keep the bullpen intact?

Why mess with the bullpen? The Padres should at least do whatever they can to keep Brad Hand and Craig Stammen. They are irreplaceable, steady and reliable.
-- Mike B., Bonsall, Calif.

Steady and reliable? Yes. Irreplaceable? Certainly not. Hand and Stammen are two very different cases, so let's take a look at them individually.

First, Hand is arguably the best available relief pitcher on the market. We're coming off a postseason in which reliable relief pitching felt more important than it ever has. General manager A.J. Preller has proven he's willing to keep Hand, if he's not blown away by a trade offer. I'd suspect that if the Padres move Hand, they'd get some serious young talent in return.

As for Stammen, he's a free agent -- and a valuable one at that. After posting an 8.49 ERA in April, that number dipped to 2.23 for the rest of the season. He can serve in both short and long roles, and he was a wizard at stranding runners in 2017. Stammen has expressed a desire to return to San Diego. But coming off those last five months, he'll be highly sought-after elsewhere. The Padres need to determine whether it's worth ponying up for a reliever who will be 34 on Opening Day.

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Will Yangervis Solarte stay a Padre? If so, in what position? Is he a valuable trade chip?
-- Allison R., [No hometown given]

If Solarte remains in San Diego -- and that's a sizeable "if" entering the offseason -- it's unlikely he'd have a set position. The Padres view Carlos Asuaje as a second baseman, exclusively. They view Cory Spangenberg the same way at third. Solarte is still on track for 500-600 at-bats. But he'd likely rotate between the two spots, while backing up at shortstop as well.

Then again, there's a clear logjam at second and third base. Solarte is an experienced hitter with a team-friendly contract, and he's extremely versatile. That makes him the likeliest of the bunch to be dealt. Right now, I'd argue that it's a coin flip as to whether he returns next season.

(There's also the possibility that another team comes calling on Spangenberg or Asuaje, which would theoretically give Solarte a more permanent role in the infield.)

Solarte, Asuaje turn two

Should the Padres turn Spangenberg into a Ben Zobrist-type player? It would help un-clog the infield, and he could still get over 400 at-bats.
-- Robert G., Santee, Calif.

Funny you bring up Zobrist's name. Spangenberg has done so himself on more than one occasion, noting that he'd love to emulate Zobrist as an asset in both the infield and the outfield. No doubt, Spangenberg brings value to the roster as an athlete.

That said, I don't see the Padres asking him to do nearly as much as Zobrist does for Chicago. Spangenberg had a shaky season defensively at third base. They'd prefer that he focus on the nuances of the hot corner, rather than splitting reps among second, third and left.

With Solarte and Asuaje on board, I don't expect Spangenberg to see time at second base in 2018. He won't play much left field either -- though his raw athleticism makes him capable, and he could provide some roster flexibility as a backup there.

With Hunter Renfroe so dominant against lefties, should the Padres consider platooning him with a strong left-handed bat?
-- Jim H., El Cajon, Calif.

Renfroe absolutely torched left-handed pitching in his rookie season, to the tune of a .316/.392/.684 slash line. He had no such success against righties (.202/.244/.393). In September, manager Andy Green brought up the word "platoon" as something of word of a warning. As in: If Renfroe doesn't adjust to right-handed pitching, he could become a platoon player down the road.

Right now, however, it's too early for Renfroe to be labeled as such. Plenty of rookies have struggled early with big league pitchers of their own handedness. Many of those youngsters have made the necessary adjustments. Renfroe, to his credit, acknowledges his need to improve. This offseason, he's focused on extreme flips from the right side, and he has plans to face right-handers almost exclusively in live batting practice.

It's also worth noting what a healthy Alex Dickerson could bring to the Padres roster. After missing the 2017 season with a back injury, the lefty slugger would be a nice complement for the righty-hitting Renfroe and Jose Pirela. That said, let's not use "platoon" and Renfroe in the same breath just yet.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.