While General Manager A.J. Preller went about overhauling the Padres’ roster last month, Yonder Alonso watched from afar.
Alonso, the Padres’ incumbent and oft-encumbered first baseman, was in France in early December for the wedding of his sister, Yainee, to Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. By mid-December, Alonso was back at his offseason home in Miami, ramping up his training regimen. Meanwhile, in one 48-hour stretch, Preller traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks, putting San Diego squarely in the national spotlight.
“I was all up for it,” Alonso said by phone Thursday. “I was enjoying what everyone was watching and enjoying. I was just excited, not only for the pieces we got but for the future and present of this club.”
Whether Alonso himself figures into the present – to say nothing of the future – has been muddled of late.
Though the likelihood of Alonso’s opening a fourth season with the Padres grows with each passing day, just weeks ago the 27-year-old was considered a non-tender candidate. Three years after the Padres acquired a highly regarded prospect from the Reds, he has yet to fulfill that promise.
“I really thought he would unleash some power,” one rival scout said recently. “It’s been disappointing.”
Alonso turns 28 on April 8, mere hours into a new season for which the Padres have high hopes. In recent years, their offense has been torpedoed by a combination of misfortune and underperformance. Both describe the left-handed-hitting Alonso, who batted .240 with seven home runs in 2014, again missing chunks of time with right wrist and hand injuries.
The latest doubled as the most disheartening. In August, Alonso, coming off a bout with wrist tendinitis, was preparing to go in the on-deck circle when he felt a pop. Later that month, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in the top of his right forearm.
Alonso, however, has retained his relentless optimism. He has been working out and throwing at full strength since a little more than a month ago. He has been hitting in the cage since Jan. 1.
“I feel 100 percent, making strides toward obviously being ready for spring training,” Alonso said. “I feel amazing. ... I’m pain-free, which, for me, my goodness, was like taking a monkey off my back. It was a stressful period I went through.”
Alonso’s injury troubles began May 31, 2013, when he took a pitch off his right hand, suffering a fractured metacarpal bone. He ended up playing 97 games that year, hitting .281 with six home runs.
Even including his rookie season in 2012, when he finished with 39 doubles, Alonso has hit .268 with just 22 home runs in 1,150 at-bats with the Padres. He has slugged only .387.
Simultaneously, he has made himself into an above-average first baseman and is one of the few lefty bats on a roster now loaded with right-handed power. Alonso, who could make about $1.5 million in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, is confident that surgery has cleared what was a lingering obstacle.
“People talk about injuries. They say, ‘You’re injury-prone,’” Alonso said. “At the end of the day, it was one injury. I was hit by a pitch. With that being said, it took a little long (to recover). But I’m over the hump. I’m healthy.
“It’s going out there and knowing I’m a good player, just worrying about the things I can control. What I can control in the offseason is making sure my body’s completely healthy.”
What he can’t control are the decisions above him. While Preller has said the Padres are “looking at a situation most likely with Yonder and (the right-handed-hitting) Tommy Medica,” the new GM certainly has not hesitated to upgrade at multiple other positions. First base still rates as a question mark; Middlebrooks, who will compete for the third-base job, also could see time across the diamond when the opponent starts a left-hander.
In theory, a healthy Alonso should provide solid production. At the same time, the new acquisitions should provide him with a lower-pressure environment. He may never hit 20 home runs, but with all the power coming aboard, the Padres would gladly take, say, 35 doubles.
“I’m very happy and very excited for not only how I feel but for all the things that have been going on with the team,” said Alonso, who is scheduled to arrive in San Diego this week for a few days of working with hitting coach Mark Kotsay. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch. … I want to be able to be myself and be able to help the team win.”