2012 Outlook: San Diego Padres

After their surprising 90-win season in 2010, the San Diego Padres fell back to earth, finishing at 71-91.  The trade of Adrian Gonzalez had a major effect on the team, but the pitching lost just as much ground as the offense.  Now, their two best pitchers are gone, leaving more holes in the roster.  The budget is tight, but there are a couple pieces to build around.
Cameron Maybin finally broke out and was the best player on the team last year, combining good CF defense with an above-average bat to post a 4 WAR season.  The .264/.323/.393 slashline looks very pedestrian, but the PETCO park effect turns that into a 112 wRC+.  There will be a new bat next to him, likely in LF, with Carlos Quentin.  PETCO affects RH power hitters less than lefties, so Quentin still has a good chance to provide much-needed pop in the lineup.  He may not last through the season, physically or tradewise, but he’s a plus piece for the team.  RF will likely see a platoon of Will Venable and Chris Denorfia.  Venable has good power and speed, but plate discipline is a problem, especially against lefties.  Other players who could see time in the outfield include Mark Kotsay, Kyle Blanks, and non-roster invitee Jeremy Hermida.

The only position battle in the infield resides at first base.  Jesus Guzman put up a 144 wRC+, which seems way out of line with his minor league numbers.  However, the inflated .360 BABIP is nothing new for him, and a 22% line drive shows there wasn’t much luck with that.  At age 27, he suddenly broke out, alas Garrett Jones.  However, Jones has faltered since, and Guzman may have shown his best last year.  His opponent is Yonder Alonso, acquired in the Mat Latos deal.  Bringing a more patient approach than Guzman, Alonso is expected to be the first baseman of the future, with Anthony Rizzo traded to the Cubs.  Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett will again provide average production in the middle infield.  Chase Headley mans third base, though he has been a common topic for trade discussions.

Nick Hundley used a .362 BABIP to fuel a very nice season behind the plate, a 132 wRC+ and just over 3 WAR in 300 PA.  He is very likely to regress down towards average, but average-hitting catchers are useful starters.  John Baker is the probable backup, with Yasmani Grandal, also acquired in the Latos deal, as the future plan.

The starting rotation is now without Latos and Aaron Harang, but there are still some good arms available.  The best arm from last year is lefty Cory Luebke.  Spending most of the first half in the bullpen, Luebke made 17 starts, amassing an impressive 3.03 xFIP in those appearances.  Behind him is Tim Stauffer, your generic pitch-to-contact groundball pitcher.  Clayton Richard lost his ability to miss bats last season, but should rebound if his shoulder bounces back.   Edinson Volquez, another piece in the Latos trade, struggled mightily last season in Cincinnati, with home runs and walks as the main culprits.  Pitching at PETCO will help the home runs and possibly increase his confidence to decrease the walks.  Dustin Moseley rounds out the likely rotation.  He’s much like Stauffer, so don’t expect another 3.30 ERA out of him.

Three of the top arms in the bullpen from last year are gone, with Mike Adams leaving mid-season and Heath Bell and Chad Qualls during the winter.  Huston Street was acquired from Colorado to close games, and Luke Gregerson is the likely setup man.  Gregerson’s strikeouts were cut in half last year, which is very concerning for a reliever who lives off his slider.  An intriguing arm also starting the season in the bullpen is Andrew Cashner.  The return for Rizzo, Cashner missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury.  He is a big arm who could find his way to the rotation during the season.  Micah Owings also brings his hitting fame to San Diego for likely one last attempt to pitch.

While the NL West is not the strongest division, it is not likely that the Padres can compete for the division title.  Offensively, they are building a plan with gap hitters and right-handed power hitters.  The pitching may be holding them back more, with the lack of experienced and explosive arms.  With the lack of payroll, the prospects in the Gonzalez and Latos trades will be the key to future success.

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