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Monday, February 28, 2011

MLB Preview: San Diego Padres

Until last season, I would be hard pressed to identify a single time in my life where I held any pointed opinion on the Padres. They are to me, in a word, beige.

They usually field a good team. They have a pleasant fan base, a nice ball-park and pretty good history. They don't have any big rivalries or arrogant prima donnas on their team that you can love to hate. They're perfectly fine.

But that's just it. The fact that there is nothing wrong with the Padres is, strangely, what is wrong with the Padres. Their only problem is that they have no problems.

For one, they play in Pleasantville -- and not the colorful Pleasantville at the end of the movie with lots of painted murals and free love. That's more like San Francisco. San Diego is painfully perfect. It's always 78 degrees and sunny, but it has about as much character as a cardboard box.

 And if a sports team is supposed to reflect the character of  its city (much the way the Giants' free flowing facial hair and medicinal herb accurately reflect the 400,000 bearded drug addicts living in San Francisco), then the Padres hit the nail on the head. Just look at their current team logo. I'm not sure if it works better as a logo for an upscale water park or the San Diego Public Water Utility.

In sum, the Padres need an edge. And 2010 went a long way in that regard, especially for Giants fans. While 2011 looks to be a down year for the Pads, they have a crop of young stars and prospects that will have a chance to forge a new image for the San Diego Beige.

We all know the San Diego Padres are capable of winning without much talent on paper. Look at 2010. Picked by almost every major writer and publication to finish dead last in the NL West, they instead won 90 games and led the division for 5 months before falling to the Giants on the last day of the season.

But if 2010 was turning water into wine, the Padres winning in 2011 would be like turning water into Liquid Schwartz.

I'm not going to say it can't happen, but you can only expect so much when your GM trades away your best player and your marketing department picks "We're Rebuilding!" as the team's 2011 slogan.

And boy are they ever rebuilding. Padres fans will no doubt do a few double-takes when they see all the news faces at Petco this season. The most painful departure is that of Adrian Gonzales, the best hitter in the NL West for the past several seasons. Gonzo is replaced at first base by a platoon of Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu, who combined to hit 5 HRs, a .222 average and .331 slugging after the All-Star Break last year. That's something like replacing the Titanic with Judge Smails yacht.

Up the middle of the infield the Padres likely improved slightly, replacing the aging David Eckstein and Miguel Tejada with the younger Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. The outfield features at least a few familiar faces with mid-season acquisition Ryan Ludwick in CF and the North Bay's own Will Venable in Left. In Center the Padres will play Cameron Maybin, a Marlin in 2010. He hit a bleak .232 with 8 HR and 28 RBI in 82 games last year.

What it comes down to is this: .249, .245, .264, .268, .254, .251, .234 and .245. Those are the 2010 batting averages of the 2011 Padres 8 position players. Close your mouth.

Their highest batting average was .268. Pablo Sandoval hit .268 in 2010.

But no one ever said the Padres were going to beat you with their bats. Mat(t) Latos and Clayton Richard look to anchor a pitching staff that will hopefully improve over the next few years, especially when Casey Kelly, the top prospect from the Adrian Gonzalez trade, enters the Big Leagues. Latos may be the Jay Cutler of baseball, but he is a good pitcher. Richard may be one of the more underrated young arms in the National League. Tim Stauffer, a converted reliever, Aaron Harang and Dustin Mosely (???) are all wild cards.

In sum, the Padres shouldn't be very good. We all know they have ability to surprise, but if it was unlikely last year, success this year would be 20 times more so. If you averages their players batting averages from last year, you get .251. What  makes that number even worse is that it isn't a single offensive force in that lineup. It isn't a situation in which a few .300 hitters are balanced out by a few .230 guys. They all hit around .250. In other words, they are all beige.

Aaaand we're back.

The 2011 San Diego Padres
C: Nick Hundley
1B: Brade Hawpe
2B: Orlando Hudson
SS: Jason Bartlett
3B: Chase Headley
LF: Ryan Ludwick
CF: Cameron Maybin
RF: Will Venable
P: Mat(t) Latos
P: Clayton Richard
P: Tim Stauffer
P: Aaron Harang
P: Dustin Mosely
CL: Heath Bell

Best Case Scenario
The Padres success in 2011 rest largely with the maturation of their young pitchers and the prospects they received for Adrian Gonzalez. In their best case scenario, Mat(t) Latos develops into a legitimate Ace in the National League winning on 14 games, but posting a 2.88 ERA. Richard becomes the Padres' Matt Cain, horsing through 222 innings and winning 13 games. Tim Stauffer transitions from reliever to starter with minimal resistance. While Harang and Mosley struggle, the Padres are delighted with what appears to be a legitimate Big Three in Latos, Richard and Stauffer. In AAA Casey Kelly, the Red Sox #1 prospect in the Gonzo deal, puts up an insane 1.55 ERA and comes up in September for a brief introduction to the Majors. While the Padres lose 90 games and finish 4th in the division, they are chomping at the bit for 2012 and the chance to have all four of their pitching studs in the same rotation.

Worst Case Scenario:
As Latos' pitching prowess grows, so does his ego and general bad attitude. Alienating himself from his teammates and coaches, he quickly becomes one of the more hated pitchers in baseball. While this does help give the Padres their much needed "edge," it also manifests itself in bad clubhouse atmosphere and bad press. Unfamiliar with the tortured superstar and hoping Casey Kelly can one day become their ace, the Padres trade Mat(t) Latos to the Yankees for two solid hitting prospects. Kelly, however, remains mostly stagnant in AAA and looks several years away from being Major League ready. Clayton Richard posts a good season, but not great. Stauffer lacks the stamina to become a starter, failing to win a start until mid-May. Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes, the two hitting prospects from the Gonzo deal, fail to mature in the Padres minor-league system as scouts label them nothing more than fringe major league players at best. As Latos becomes a star in New York, the Padres management is forced to rebuild yet again. They take the phrase literally this time, deciding to in fact build that luxury water park inside Petco Park. After a 100 loss season and no direction whatsoever, the Padres and their fans still smile pleasantly.


  1. Dustin Mosely has been in the Angels organization the past few seasons. Nothing to write home about.

  2. ** 90 Wins