The Coors Effect

January 23, 2010 11:02 AM

2010 Preview Series: San Diego Padres

While the Coors Effect is, always has been, and always will be a Rockies-focused blog, the Rockies don't play in a vacuum.  Entering the season, it's important to know just what is going on with the rest of the teams in the majors; hence, we're going to take a day to preview each of the other 29 teams in the league.  Don't worry -- we'll keep up with any Rockies-related news during this time.

Entering 2010, the smart money is on the Padres to finish last in the NL West.  Then again, the smart money was on the Padres finishing last in 2009 as well, and that didn't happen.

After all, the Padres were coming off a 63-99 season, and with no major offseason acquisitions to improve a bad offense, there was little reason to think they would actually improve in 2009.  And then talk began that staff ace Jake Peavy would be traded; because of injuries and later a trade to the White Sox, Peavy only made 13 starts for the Padres last season.  The Padres hit .242 as a team last year.  Really?  That team won 75 games?

Okay, so the Padres were actually rather lucky last season: the team outperformed its Pythagorean record by eight games.  That, and the fact that the team (again) hasn't made any moves to upgrade the offense, suggests that the pundits are right when they suggest that the Padres are destined to finish last in the division.  The team has a mess to deal with, in part because of the former owner's divorce, and may not really be competitive for a couple more years.

Which is not to say that there aren't talented players.  Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in the league, though his numbers are deflated a bit by his home park.  (When you hit for a .958 OPS and say that your home park is deflating your numbers, you're a good hitter.)  The bad news for the Padres is that Gonzalez, like Peavy last year, seems almost certain to be traded at or before the deadline, as the team further attempts to shed payroll and move toward the future.  That future is Kyle Blanks, at 6'6" and 280 destined to be a first baseman.  Blanks knocked ten homers in just 148 at bats in the majors last season (and again, there's that home park), and he has solid plate discipline to boot, though he does strike out a lot.  Blanks will probably play in the outfield to start the season, but the Padres understand that he's going to be a first baseman and will move him there if and when Gonzalez is traded.

Aside from Gonzalez, though, the Padres don't have a ton of talent on offense.  David Eckstein and Everth Cabrera are a couple of undersized, slap-happy middle infielders, only valuable if they're getting on base a lot.  Cabrera, stolen from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft, jumped all the way from the Sally League and had an impressive debut, stealing 25 bases, but he's probably not going to develop that much power given his size.  Chase Headley will likely move to third base with Kevin Kouzmanoff gone.  Headley hit for just a .392 SLG in 2009, though he did knock 12 homers in a full season.  Will Venable and Scott Hairston, along with Blanks, will complete the outfield; both impressed, albeit in limited playing time, in 2009.

The pitching staff, likewise, is questionable.  Chris Young, coming off a season in which he made 14 starts and had a 5.21 ERA, is the putative ace of the staff with Peavy gone.  That's not really good.  Kevin Correia, who was a full-time starter in the majors for the first time in 2009, is the number two starter.  That's not good, either.  The Padres have a lot of young arms to sort out in the rest of the rotation: Clayton Richard, Sean Gallagher, Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer, and Josh Geer should all get looks for a rotation spot, and there are probably some guys I'm leaving out.  Richard and Latos are probably the best of the two, but when only two rotation spots are really set (and one of those is a pretty big question mark), you can tell the Padres are going to have issues.

The Padres do have a lights-out closer, though the value of a lights-out closer on a bad team is questionable.  Heath Bell saved 42 games and made Padres fans forget about Trevor Hoffman last season, which wasn't as difficult as it sounds considering how much Hoffman had struggled in his last couple of years in San Diego.  In fact, the Padres have the makings of a pretty solid bullpen, the one area of the team that shouldn't be below average in 2010.

So, the pundits are correct when they peg the Padres for last: on paper, this looks like a pretty bad team.  The only things you can really point to as bright spots are Gonzalez and Bell.  There's talent down on the farm, an area where the franchise has made strides in recent years, but a lot of the best players aren't ready yet.  So the Padres should be down again in 2010, but there's potential for the team to get better in a couple of years.

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