r the third consecutive year, the Padres will start an over-30 shortstop on opening day. This time, the club has turned to Erick Aybar in hopes of finding some stability at a perennially vexing position.
Aybar, who entered camp as a non-roster invitee, was added to the 40-man roster Tuesday, filling the spot that had been vacated with the release of pitcher Paul Clemens.
The move had been expected. Aybar, 33, has outplayed Luis Sardinas, 23, throughout the spring, and the latter was recently informed he would begin competing for a utility role. While Sardinas’ future with the organization is now unclear, Aybar follows Clint Barmes and Alexei Ramirez as past-their-prime veterans asked to help steady the Padres’ infield.
“First and foremost, thanks to the organization for this opportunity,” Aybar said through an interpreter. “They believed in me, which is really great. As far as this opportunity, I feel like we’ve got a lot of really young players with a lot of talent. That doesn’t necessarily put us behind in any way, but I think people could be surprised. We can go to battle with these guys.”
With more than 10 years of major league service time, Aybar is by far the Padres’ most experienced position player. He spent nearly a decade as a reliable contributor for the Angels, making his first and only All-Star team in 2014.
In 2015, Aybar experienced a significant decline, particularly on defense. After the season, the Angels traded him to the Braves. He spent last year with Atlanta and Detroit, hitting .243 and finishing with minus-1.2 wins above replacement, a career low.
While Aybar is seeking a rebound in personal performance, he has been lauded for his mentorship of younger teammates, including Sardinas, who had been his primary competition for a job.
“It’s really great to have the chance to work with so many guys with so much talent, because I haven’t had that in a long time, I haven’t been around such a young group,” Aybar said. “First and foremost, I’m going to go out there and do my work, work hard.”
Said Padres manager Andy Green: “We like a lot of the intangibles he brings. We like the way he plays the game. I think he’s competed well in spring training with the bat in his hands, and he’s been the stabilizer at short we’ve been looking for. How many games he plays this year will be dictated by how well he plays, but he’s going to be our guy starting the year.”
In terms of actual stability, recent trends have been unkind to the Padres. For Barmes, 2015 turned out to be his final major league season before retirement. Ramirez was released by San Diego in September and, besides a season-ending stint with Tampa Bay, has not signed with another organization.