Padres need to make a change in middle infield

      May 9, 2012 @ 17:38:29 PDT

It's no surprise that the San Diego Padres are in the cellar in the National League West at 11-21. Their offense, which wasn't expected to be a strength, has been downright pathetic and embarrassing, and I'm saying this - regrettably - as a Friar fan.

They are near the bottom of the barrel in nearly every offensive category across the majors; they rank dead last in homers (12), 29th in RBIs (90), 28th in hits (221), 29th in average (.220), dead last in slugging percentage (.331) and 28th in OPS (.638).

No wonder there is clamoring from upper management and players to bring the fences in at PETCO Park, possibly starting as soon as next year. The problem is, the Padres aren't really built to hit home runs anyway.

Expecting average major league starting pitchers to hold down opposing lineups to just several runs every night isn't realistic. San Diego needs a lineup with more pop, or at least a lineup that can generate runs without relying on station-to-station baseball. Losing Kyle Blanks (shoulder) for the season and Carlos Quentin (knee) to the DL early this year made it tougher.

A solid defense to back a pitcher is great and all, but the Friars' current middle infield of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson isn't getting it done on offense. Bartlett is hitting a putrid .135 (10-for-74) with no homers and just four RBIs in 88 plate appearances. He hasn't recorded a knock since April 30. He has 24 strikeouts and 11 walks. Need I continue?

San Diego Padres SS Everth Cabrera
Time to make a change

Hudson isn't much better; after going 0-for-4 with two K's Wednesday, he's batting just over the Mendoza line at .204 (21-for-99) with one homer and nine RBIs in 105 PAs. O-Dog has 19 punchouts and six walks.

Between the two of them, they have just TWO stolen bags. They both came from Hudson. So not only are they not getting on base or driving in runs, but when they do get on base, they aren't putting themselves in a position to score any runs. It can't get any worse than that.

The Fathers desperately tried dangling both Bartlett and Hudson in the offseason and found no takers. If they couldn't get rid of them then, it's unlikely they can now, unless a team becomes desperate for a middle infielder this summer. If SD does somehow find a taker, they'll likely have to eat all or most of Bartlett's $5.5 million salary. Hudson signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal last year.

Another possibility is that they could outright release both players, opening up time for others to make an impression on Bud Black.

In the meantime, something needs to change. Andrew Parrino saw the start at short over Bartlett Wednesday, but he's not the answer for everyday playing time. Everth Cabrera, in my opinion, is. The Pads haven't wanted to rush him to the bigs, but right now seems like the best time to do it.

In 2009 in 438 plate appearances, Cabrera hit .255 with two homers and 31 RBIs. But more importantly, he had 25 thefts. He chipped in another 10 stolen bags in 2010. A serious hand injury wrecked his contributions a year ago.

Sure, he may not have much power, but neither do Bartlett and Hudson. At least Everth can run and make things happen on the basepaths. So far at Triple-A Tucson this year, Cabrera is hitting .333 with 14 SBs in 114 at-bats. Speed never slumps, as they say, and it can frustrate opposing pitchers on the bump enough to miss their locations.

The Padres recently traded for middle infield/utility type Alexi Amarista, too. He has far less major league experience than Cabrera, but he brings a similar skill set - athletic infielder that makes good contact and has excellent speed and baserunning skills. Amarista can also play the corner outfield spots.

General manager Josh Byrnes hinted that changes could be coming in the middle infield after he traded for Amarista, so be prepared for some shuffling. The club will also have the option of adding Logan Forsythe (foot) to the second base mix on June 4.

The middle infield problem has become so ugly that San Diego has even discussed moving third base prospect Jedd Gyorko to the keystone in the minors. That option seems like more of a long shot, but it just indicates how desperate the Friars have become for offensive production up the middle.

Cabrera will see big league at-bats before long, and the more Bartlett struggles, the sooner that time will come. Plan for this in NL-only leagues. He'll be worth a look in deep mixed affairs - even if it's just as a SB specialist - if he is given regular time eventually. Amarista could provide the same to a lesser extent.

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About Keith Hernandez

Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.

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