NL West Preview: San Diego Padres

The Padres were rebuilding, but then they won 90 games out of the blue in 2010 on the strength of an incredible bulpen. So they traded their best player for three prospects and regressed heavily to last place in 2011, nineteen games off their 2010 pace. Deemed not ready to compete now, the maneuver was repeated this offseason, dealing Mat Latos for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, a top prospect and a reliever.

So the Padres are rebuilding again, and they are doing a good job of it. Baseball Prospectus ranked their farm system #1 overall two weeks ago, an impressive feat considering their poor track record in the draft. Kevin Goldstein tabbed nine four-star prospects, providing legitimate depth. So the future looks pretty bright, particularly if Cameron Maybin continues his growth (really, Florida, two relievers?!).

Josh Byrnes could have stopped there, legitimately selling fans on a strong rebuild. Instead, he opened the wallet some more and welcomed two salary dumps, acquiring Huston Street and Carlos Quentin for $14million. Street and Quentin are San Diego's highest paid players, and their additions push the payroll from $45 million to $56 million. San Diego is not likely to compete in 2012, but Padre fans have to be encouraged that they will see a more competitive team.


Additions

1B Yonder Alonso (trade), RHP Edinson Volquez (RHP), LF Carlos Quentin (trade), RHP Huston Street (trade), RHP Andrew Cashner (trade), RHP Micah Owings (FA), RHP Jeff Suppan (FA), RHP Brad Boxberger (trade), OF Mark Kotsay (FA), RHP Matt Palmer (FA), C John Baker (trade), C Brad Davis (FA).

Subtractions

RHP Mat Latos (trade), RHP Heath Bell (FA), RHP Aaron Harang (FA), C Rob Johnson (FA), RHP Chad Qualls (FA), 1B Anthony Rizzo (trade), 1B/OF Brad Hawpe (FA), LHP Wade LeBlanc (trade), RHP Jeff Fulchino (FA), OF Cedric Hunter (waivers), RHP Evan Schribner (waivers), 2B Alberto Gonzalez (released), RHP Simon Castro (trade).

Returns

OF Jeremy Hermida

Projected 25-Man

Lineup Bench Rotation Bullpen
1) Cameron Maybin - CF OF - Chris Denorfia 1) Tim Stauffer Closer - Huston Street
2) Orlando Hudson - 2B OF/IF - James Darnell 2) Cory Luebke Set-up - Andrew Cashner
3) Chase Headley - 3B OF/1B - Mark Kotsay 3) Edinson Volquez MR - Luke Gregerson
4) Jesus Guzman - LF OF/IF - Andy Parrino 4) Clayton Richard MR - Brad Brach
5) Yonder Alonso - 1B C - John Baker 5) Dustin Moseley MR - Joe Thatcher
6) Nick Hundley - C

MR - Ernesto Frieri
7) Will Venable - RF LR - Micah Owings
8) Jason Bartlett - SS

Lineup

The Padres line-up of 2012 will look a lot like the one of 2011, but Josh Byrnes did add two bats in the offseason that actually reinforce the middle of the lineup. One, Carlos Quentin, had knee surgery and will miss the first couple weeks of the season. Jesus Guzman, who had 139 OPS+ in 71 games last year, gets his spot in the lineup to start. Yonder Alonso, acquired in the Mat Latos trade, will hit fifth and play first. San Diego was a bottom five offense last season, but Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso are much better upgrades than the 2011 Padres' attempts to rebuild left field and first base (Ryan Ludwick and Brad Hawpe).


Bench

There isn't much to get excited about with this fivesome. John Baker holds his own as a backup catcher. Mark Kotsay has put up six straight below replacement seasons (-3.0 rWAR in that span). Parrino is 26 and has played only 48 minor league games above AA. Similarly, Darnell has just 35 games in AAA under his belt, with just a .770 OPS in the PCL. Chris Denorfia is likely the most boring outfielder in the majors. The bench will improve with Quentin's return, and Kyle Blanks could be a weapon if he is ever healthy. There isn't much exciting depth here though.

Rotation

Tim Stauffer was a reliever to start 2010. Now he is the Opening Day starter. Cory Luebke will transition from the bullpen to be the #2 starter. Those two home-grown starters will be joined by the erratic Edinson Volquez and two arms that suffered through injury last year in Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley. The staff overall lacks both sexy upside and reliability on the back end, making it the worst rotation in the division, even accounting the for the fluctuating rotation in Colorado.

Bullpen

Heath Bell and Mike Adams are gone, replaced at the back end with Huston Street and Andrew Cashner, both of whom were acquired for minor leaguers. Ernesto Frieri very quietly has a career 156 ERA+ and 11.1 K/9 over 94 appearances, making him one of the more underrated relievers in the game. Joe Thatcher and Luke Gregerson are mainstays, joined by rookie Brad Brach and Micah Owings, who went 8-0 with a 3.37 ERA in Arizona last year. As always, the bullpen will be strong for the Padres.

Why They Could Be Better

Cameron Maybin finally broke out with 4.7 fWAR season. There is reason to believe he is capable of more growth, considering he is 24 (for another week). The rest of the lineup will likely catch baseball fans by surprise as well, filled with young, growing players that are better than you think in Chase Headley and particularly Nick Hundley. Yonder Alonso might not actually suffer at PetCo Park as much as most as a line-drive hitter in all directions, so there is significant potential for the lineup to improve.

Why They Could Be Just as Bad

Swapping out 59 starts of Mat Latos (9-14, 3.47) and Aaron Harang (14-7, 3.64) for Edinson Volquez (5-7, 5.71) and Cory Luebke (6-10, 3.29) is not likely to help the rotation. While Andrew Cashner and Huston Street would look good in any bullpen, they form a poor duo at the back of the pen compared to Heath Bell and Mike Adams. The Padres' pitching staff ranked 26th in fWAR last season, and their personnel undoubtedly took a step backward for 2012. While Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly could all make the jump to help out, it is difficult to imagine a significant positive impact for a large segment of time.


Prospect to Watch - RHP Casey Kelly

The rotation might not be in great shape in right now, but there is help on the way. Robbie Erlin (21) and Joe Wieland (22), who were acquired for Mike Adams last season, will start the season in AAA and have a good chance to arrive in the big leagues in 2012. However, the first arm in line will likely be Casey Kelly, who was acquired for Adrian Gonzalez and went 11-6 with a 3.98 ERA in a repeat year in AA. The right-hander was a consensus top prospect in the system a year ago and will start in AAA along with Erlin and Wieland.

Kelly offers a plus fastball and curve and exhibits good control, but he does not project to be a big strikeout pitcher, making him profile to be a mid-rotation pitcher in the mold of Jason Hammel.


Conclusion

Unless you have been tripping with John Perotto, you probably expect the Padres to finish in the division cellar again. The NL West is tight, and disaster could strike any one of those teams, making them vulnerable to a Friarhood takeover. The smart money is on another year at the bottom of the division, another high draft pick, and a strong wave arriving in the next year or two from the minors.

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