The San Diego Padres made plenty of moves in the offseason, but it's unknown if the overhaul will make a significant impact on a club that went through a 19-game dropoff in 2011.
A year after missing the playoffs with a strong 90-72 record -- the best since reaching the World Series back in 1998 -- San Diego went 71-91 in 2011 and missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. The club also occupied last place in the National League West for the second time in four years and manager Bud Black will be feeling the heat even more if he can't put together what general manager Josh Byrnes brought over to the team.
Byrnes took over for Jed Hoyer after last season and made a few deals that could result in about 80-plus wins this upcoming season. Byrnes dealt fan favorite and short-time staff ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati for starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and prospects pitcher Brad Boxberger, infielder Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
"Our young starting pitching depth allowed us to make a move like this," said Byrnes in a statement. "We've added four credentialed young players who can help us win in the short and long term."
Volquez is expected to pitch third in the rotation behind Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke, and hasn't pitched to his capability in each of the past three seasons, making no more than 20 starts over that span. His best campaign was in 2008 when he went 17-6 with a 3.21 earned run average in 33 games (32 starts). The Padres can only hope that the right-hander reverts back to those days because their rotation is average at best when compared to the other four teams in the division. San Diego also lost Aaron Harang to free agency when he was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Having a top farm system will help in the future, but the Padres want to win now and are counting on some bats as well to help reach that goal. The biggest offensive addition for the Padres was slugger Carlos Quentin from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a pair of minor league pitchers. A two-time All-Star and former Silver Slugger Award winner, Quentin won't see Opening Day after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Quentin has clubbed at least 21 home runs in each of the last four seasons. He batted .254 with 24 home runs, a career-high 31 doubles and 77 RBI in 118 games for the White Sox last season, and Byrnes seems ecstatic about the move.
"Improving our offense is a priority this offseason," said Byrnes, "and the acquisition of Carlos gives us a proven middle-of-the-order bat. We specifically targeted Carlos because of his production and his hard-nosed style of play."
The Padres lost their power source when Adrian Gonzalez left for Boston before the 2011 campaign and last year's leading hitter, Ryan Ludwick, is now with Cincinnati. Ludwick led San Diego with 11 homers and 64 RBI -- numbers that usually reflect a club's third or fourth-best hitter. Cameron Maybin, who inked a five-year extension in early March, led the team with a .264 batting average. Maybin was acquired in a November 2010 trade from the Florida Marlins for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, and recorded nine home runs, 40 runs batted in, 82 runs scored and 40 stolen bases last year.
Maybin, Quentin, Chase Headley and Nick Hundley will bring the pop to San Diego in 2012, but will it be enough to climb out of the NL West basement?
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Padres, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (71-91) - Fifth Place (NL West)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Carlos Quentin, RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Brad Boxberger, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Huston Street, C John Baker, OF/1B Mark Kotsay, RHP Micah Owings, RHP Jeff Suppan
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: OF Ryan Ludwick, RHP Mat Latos, 1B Anthony Rizzo, OF Aaron Cunningham, RHP Aaron Harang, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Heath Bell, 1B-OF Brad Hawpe, RHP Chad Qualls
PROJECTED LINEUP: CF Cameron Maybin, 2B Orlando Hudson, 3B Chase Headley, LF Carlos Quentin, 1B Yonder Alonso, C Nick Hundley, RF Chris Denorfia, SS Jason Bartlett
PROJECTED ROTATION: RHP Tim Stauffer, LHP Cory Luebke, RHP Edinson Volquez, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Dustin Moseley
PROJECTED CLOSER: RHP Huston Street
MANAGER: Bud Black
WHO WILL EMERGE AS THE TEAM'S ACE THIS SEASON?
Latos will be donning a Reds uniform this season, leaving it anyone's guess as to who will take over as staff ace for San Diego. Latos led the Padres with a 3.47 ERA and 185 strikeouts, and battled through a 9-14 campaign in 31 starts. His 2010 campaign was much better, as he compiled a career-best 14-10 record with a 2.92 ERA and a career-high 189 strikeouts.
Harang, who departed for the Dodgers after the Padres did not re-sign the veteran, had a team-high 14 wins in 2011. Stauffer, the alleged No. 1 in the rotation, has a healthy mix of pitches and the right-hander made a career-high 31 starts last year, going 9-12 with a 3.73 ERA and a career-best 128 strikeouts. Stauffer struggled at the start of last season and turned it on in late June. Luebke is one of just two left-handers in the rotation and set career highs in most categories, including games (46), starts (17), wins (6), strikeouts (154) and ERA (3.29). The young hurler could be pushed for the second spot by Volquez. Volquez is as shaky as they come, but a change of scenery could be what the righty needs.
Lefty Clayton Richard, a 14-game winner in 2010, missed the second half of last season after having shoulder surgery. He should be ready to go at the start of the regular season. Dustin Moseley's season ended because of surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, and he is expected to be the fifth man. Anthony Bass and Micah Owings could push some arms for a spot in the rotation. As of now, it's still unknown who will take the reins for San Diego's staff.
BESIDES QUENTIN, DO THE PADRES HAVE ANY OTHER HITTERS TO RELY ON?
Maybin has a bright future ahead and is a young guy who can hit to all fields. The Padres love the tremendous upside the outfielder brings to the table, but Maybin can't do it all alone since he's not known as a power hitter.
There's not many of those on the roster besides Quentin, and Black may have to depend on a lot of small ball for the upcoming season. Hundley, Will Venable, Orlando Hudson had no less than seven homers in 2011. Hundley missed a lot of time due to injury and John Baker was added as a precaution behind the plate.
First baseman Yonder Alonso was acquired in the Latos deal with Cincinnati, and the Padres have high hopes for the young prospect. Byrnes was at the controls behind the curtain when he landed Alonso, who will have to earn his way into the starting lineup. Jesus Guzman and Kyle Blanks can also play first base, while Alonso's upside could prevail by Opening Day. Alonso is a left- handed hitter and Petco Park is not hitter friendly, leaving the youngster with plenty of chances to collect extra-base hits.
With a lack of a power presence in the lineup, it will certainly take a toll on the pitching staff. The Padres ranked 28th in runs and on-base percentage a season ago, and 29th in OPS. The team also had the second-most strikeouts in the big leagues (1,320), only three fewer than Washington (1,323).
CAN STREET BOLSTER AN ALREADY-DECENT BULLPEN?
If the already-suspect rotation gets caught in a bind, then even more pressure will be put on a Padres bullpen that recorded a 3.05 ERA and gave up just 32 home runs. With Mike Adams and closer Heath Bell out of the picture, you would think San Diego would have to start from scratch. The ballclub hopes Huston Street is as good as advertised and the right-hander is set to make his debut with his new club after pitching the last three seasons with Colorado.
Street went 1-4 with a 3.86 ERA and 29 saves in 62 chances a year ago, and can gas it up with the best of the closers. The right-hander has posted 30-plus saves in only two of his seasons at the big league level, and playing in hitter-friendly Petco Park may boost those statistics. Street, though, blew four saves in 2011 and has a reputation for giving up leads when it's his turn to toe the rubbers. The Padres, of course, are hoping that's not the case. Luke Gregerson, Ernesto Frieri, Anthony Bass and Micah Owings represent the suitable candidates from the fifth to the ninth inning.
X-FACTOR: BENCH: Depth is highly important to a major league roster and a team's bench carry as much responsibility as the everyday players. John Baker, Yasmani Grandal, Alonso (if he doesn't start at first) and Mark Kotsay are new to the club and will be counted on to make an immediate impact. Youngster Anthony Rizzo and a few minor leaguers landed in the Latos deal could make a difference for Black's bench.
This will not be the year the Padres make it out of the NL West basement or even finish fourth in the division. Besides improving somewhat in the lineup with Quentin, the Padres will invest their trust in Maybin, Headley and Hundley to follow suit. Quentin first must return healthy from a knee injury to set the pace. San Diego has a new hitting coach in Phil Plantier and he has been more than busy with what lies before him. Plantier, though, should feel somewhat optimistic about the prospects down on the farm and may even get a chance to work them even more late in the regular season. The team announced before the season Padres' CEO Jeff Moorad has stepped down and president Tom Garfinkel will assume those duties. It's just another sign that this club is not ready for the next step quite yet.