By Mike Steffanos
2005: 82-80 (1st)
Note: This preview, along with ones on the Braves and Astros, was originally written for the Mets Daily web site which is no longer in operation. I worked pretty hard on them, so I'm posting them here for Mets fans who might want a heads-up on the teams when we play them this season.
The story of the San Diego Padres over the last couple of seasons is that of a good ball club that just can't quite put it all together. They looked great for the first couple of months in 2005, then spent the rest of the year trying not to win the NL West. Despite their best efforts, they somehow stumbled into the division crown, which earned them a 3 game spanking at the hands of the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Watching the Padres, one couldn't help getting the impression that they were a team that just wasn't put together very well. Their lineup needed speedy athletes to take advantage of Petco Park's spacious outfield, what they had were some homerun hitters that were demoralized by watching well hit balls die on the warning track. They featured one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, yet struggled to get into the seventh inning with a lead.
It certainly figured that the Padres might be looking to make some changes this off-season, but the drastic turnover of almost 2/3 of their roster over the past three months was surprising. C Ramon Hernandez, 3B Joe Randa, SP Pedro Astacio, RP Rudy Seanez, RP Chris Hammond and INF Mark Sweeney were allowed to walk as free agents, while SP Adam Eaton, 2B Mark Loretta, RP Akinori Otsuka, OF Xavier Nady, SP Brian Lawrence and 3B Sean Burroughs were sent away in trades.
Meanwhile, SP Chris Young, CF Mike Cameron, C Mike Piazza, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 3b Vinny Castilla, SP Shawn Estes and C Doug Mirabelli are all key players that were brought into the fold via trade or free agent signings. The result of all of this movement is a team that will need to wear name tags the first day of spring training, should be better in the long run, but may have to take a step back in 2006.
The strength of the club last season was in their bullpen, but this will not be the case in 2006. 38-year-old Trevor Hoffman returns as the closer and figures to be fine, coming off of two consecutive 40+ save seasons. RHP Scott Linebrink is Hoffman's primary setup man and heir apparent. He's been a dominating set-up man for 2 years and is blessed with a rubber arm. He's going to need it. With the departures of Akinori Otsuka, Rudy Seanez and Chris Hammond, everyone else in the bullpen is a question mark. The Padres will go from having one of the top bullpens in baseball to one that is just barely above average.
San Diego's starting rotation should be okay. Jake Peavy is only 24, and already an ace. An all-star selection last season, he led the NL in strikeouts with 216. After leading the majors in ERA in 2004 (2.27) he was sixth in 2005 (2.88). 39-year-old Woody Williams needs to bounce back from awful 9-12, 4.85 season in 2005. Chris Young, obtained from Texas in the Adam Eaton trade, looks very promising. His 4.26 ERA should go down substantially now that he has been rescued from Arlington, as should the 19 HR he gave up there in 164.2 innings. He'll likely surpass Williams and be the number 2 starter this season. Chan Ho Park can't throw strikes. Despite showing some flashes after coming to the Padres he has the look of a pitcher that doesn't trust his stuff anymore. LHP Shawn Estes is nothing more than a journeyman southpaw who'll eat some innings.
On the offensive side of things the club seems a little worse for the off-season. Trading Mark Loretta for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli was an odd move. Vinny Castilla is likely to be a step down from Joe Randa at 3B. Returning to first base is supposed to help Ryan Klesko to discover his missing stroke, but don't be surprised if Adrian Gonzalez, a gap hitter better suited to Pecto, steals playing time as the season goes on. If Mike Cameron is recovered completely from last season's collision he should help the Padres on both offense and defensively.
The bottom line for San Diego seems to be a team that has lost their strength -- the bullpen, is probably a little worse on offense, and marginally better on defense. They will probably struggle to reach the .500 mark in 2006. With the improvements made by LA, San Francisco and Arizona, it is unlikely the Padres will successfully defend their NL west title. Adding Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez should make them a better team in the long run, the fans will just have to be patient.
IN: RHP Trevor Hoffman (re-signed, 2 years), OF Brian Giles (re-signed, 3 years), OF Mike Cameron (Acquired from NY Mets, C Mike Piazza (1 year, $2 million), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (Acquired from Texas), RHP Chris Young (Acquired from Texas), OF Terrmel Sledge (Acquired from Texas), C Doug Mirabelli (Acquired from Boston), LHP Shawn Estes (1 year, $1 million), 3B Vinny Castilla (Acquired from Washington), OF Dave Roberts (re-signed, 1 year), INF Mark Bellhorn (1 year, $800K), RHP Dewon Brazelton (Acquired from Tampa Bay), LHP Alan Embry (minor league contract), C Todd Greene (minor league contract), INF/OF Eric Young (1 year), INF Geoff Blum (1 year, $650K), OF Eric Valent (minor league contract)
OUT: C Ramon Hernandez (Orioles - 4 years, $27.5 million), RHP Adam Eaton (traded to Texas), RHP Akinori Otsuka (traded to Texas), 2B Mark Loretta (traded to Boston), INF/OF Xavier Nady (traded to NY Mets), 3B Joe Randa (Pittsburgh - 1 year, $4 million), (RHP Brian Lawrence (traded to Washington), RHP Pedro Astacio (free agent), RHP Rudy Seanez (Boston - 1 year, $2.1 million), IF Mark Sweeney (San Francisco - 2 years, $1.8 million), LHP Chris Hammond (Cincinnati - 1 year, $800K), UT Robert Fick (Washington - 1 year), 3B Sean Burroughs (traded to Tampa Bay), INF Damian Jackson (released)
1B: The Padres hope that moving Ryan Klesko back to first base will keep him healthier and more productive. He's been MIA the last couple of seasons at the plate -- the 58 RBIs and .418 SLG from last season just won't cut it for a team in need of offensive spark. Waiting in the wings is the newly acquired 23-year-old phenon Adrian Gonzalez. A much better defensive player, he will at the least provide a solid late inning defensive replacement, and most likely will steal playing time from Klesko as the season progresses. He was a gap-hitting doubles machine in the minors, which should translate well in spacious Petco Park. (Grade C+)
2B: Top prospect Josh Barfield should have the inside track at winning the 2B job this spring. He batted .310 with 15 HR, 72 RBI and 20 SB in AAA-Portland last season. Mark Belhorn (.210 AVG, 112 Ks in 300 ABs) and career backup Bobby Hill (.269 AVG, .333 SLG) provide a very unappealing plan B. (Grade C)
SS: At just 27, Khalil Greene is already one of the top shortstops in the National League. In the field, despite having only average range, his great hands and athletic ability make him a web gem waiting to happen. He provides good power for a middle infielder (15 HR, 70 RBI). He needs to learn to be a little more patient at the plate and pick up an OBP that dipped below .300 in 2005. (Grade B+)
3B: 38-year-old Vinny Castillo's best days are long behind him, especially since Petco Park is no Coors Field. Expect no more offensively than what he gave the Nationals last season -- .253, 12HR, 66 RBI. Defensively he's still a solid glove. (Grade C-)
LF: The fragile Dave Roberts will likely see the lion's share of playing time in LF and bat leadoff for the Padres. He provided solid top of the order numbers last season (.275 AVG, .356 OBP, 23 SB) and is a very good defensive outfielder. If Adrian Gonzalez steals some time from Ryan Klesko at 1B, Klesko, a barely adequate OF, might steal some from Roberts in LF. (Grade C)
CF: If Mike Cameron has recovered completely from last year's awful collision at Petco, he will provide San Diego with the Gold Glove caliber defense that spacious Petco demands from a CF. Offensively, if he has an average year, he should be good for 25 HR and 80 RBI and 25 SB. Dave Roberts provides a solid backup. (Grade B+)
RF: Brian Giles has been the Padres best hitter since coming over from the Pirates, and despite his age (35) he should continue to provide a solid bat. His numbers have dropped since coming to San Diego. Once an annual 30 HR, 100 RBI producer, last year he fell to 15 HR and 83 RBI. His .301 AVG, .423 OBP and 92 Runs scored were still excellent, and he's a good defensive RF. (Grade B+)
C: Mike Piazza is 37 years old and on the steep downside of a Hall of Fame career. If he can match the numbers he put up in 2005 (398 AB, .251 19HR, 62 RBI) the Padres will be ecstatic. They'll be somewhat less happy if he throws out only 13.7% of attempted base stealers as he did last season. Backup Doug Mirabelli will throw out more baserunners and provide less offense. (Grade C+)
Starters: RHP Jake Peavy leads the staff, coming off another fine season. He led the team in wins (13) and the league in strikeouts (216) while pitching to 2.88 ERA. The league managed only a .217 AVG against him. RHP Chris Young looks like a solid pickup on the upside of his career. He held the AL to a .252 AVG, pitching in one of the top hitter's parks in baseball. He has excellent control, striking out 137 to only 45 BB in 165 IP. 39-year-old Woody Williams had an awful year in 2005 after a bad 2004. He could be close to done. Shawn Estes and Chan Ho Park do little more than fill out a top-heavy rotation. (Grade C)
Relief: Closer Trevor Hoffman saved 43 of 46 last year, while set-up man RHP Scott Linebrink will shut them down in the eighth. The big problem will be getting there. RHP Clay Hensley came up from AAA Portland during the season ands looked promising. Pitching primarily out of the bullpen, he pitched to a 1.70 ERA while the league batted .167 against him. RHP Doug Brocail, aquired from Texas in Peavy deal, is a 39 years old journeyman with a 4.06 career ERA. Dewon Brazelton, formerly a top prospect with the D-Rays, is trying to make the roster as a middle reliever. LHP Alan Embry. cast off by Boston and the Yankees last year, is in camp on a minor league contract. With all the personnel losses, this bullpen is a work in progress. (Grade C+)