Mailbag: Looking for lineup thunder

Mailbag: Looking for lineup thunder

I'm a little concerned with the Padres' lineup. Mike Cameron hasn't hit much the last couple of years, Ryan Klesko hasn't been able to keep it going for a whole season and neither has Khalil Greene. Mike Piazza will help, but we can't expect him or Brian Giles to hit 25-plus home runs. How good do you expect this lineup to be?
-- Ryan W., Valley Center, Calif.

It has the potential to be significantly more productive than last year's lineup -- and that doesn't mean Cameron, Piazza and Vinny Castilla have to return to their glory days of yesteryear.

There are as many as six players in this lineup capable of hitting 20 home runs in average seasons: Cameron, Piazza, Castilla, Giles, Klesko and Greene. You can add second baseman Mark Bellhorn to the list if he seizes the position from rookie Josh Barfield, who appears to have 15-homer pop right now.

Fans understandably would be more comfortable with one lethal bat in the heart of the order, but it doesn't have to work that way. It's been shown time and again that a consistent lineup, with production top to bottom, is more effective than an unbalanced attack featuring one or two big boppers.

What's more, it's more entertaining to see a club put together a four-run inning with singles and doubles. It also improves chemistry if everybody is involved.

It's similar to basketball, where balance always prevails over the one big scoring machine. All you have to do is compare the current Lakers with the champion Lakers -- or any of Wilt Chamberlain's teams that couldn't win titles. The same process applies to baseball. The best teams invariably get contributions from the whole lineup -- and the Padres could be solid top to bottom.

Can you tell me why the Padres did not bring back Rudy Seanez? Especially with trading (Akinori) Otsuka, it seemed imperative to keep the bullpen as a strength with so many question marks in the starting rotation.
-- Joe H., Lincoln, Neb.

Everybody acknowledges that Seanez, with his remarkable strikeouts-to-walks ratio and toughness, was a key member of the 2005 National League West champions. He'll be missed, no doubt.

The focus of the offseason was retaining Giles and Trevor Hoffman. Those were priorities 1 and 1A, and everything else was pretty much tabled until that happened.

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The decision apparently was made that Seanez, coming off his great season, had raised his value to such an extent that he became unaffordable -- similar to the Ramon Hernandez situation. General manager Kevin Towers set about the business of rebuilding the bullpen in the same way he did the previous winter, by finding quality at bargain prices.

Doug Brocail, a proven middle reliever, was acquired at half the cost of Seanez, who will enrich Boston's bullpen. Brian Sikorski, highly effective in Japan for five years, also climbed aboard.

Scott Cassidy returns with his rubber arm. Stephen Andrade, with remarkable Minor League numbers, was claimed during the Rule 5 Draft. And lefty Alan Embree, having undergone elbow surgery, arrived to replace Chris Hammond.

Add Clay Hensley, lights out in relief last season, to the mix, and the club is confident it will have another quality bullpen. Only time will tell, of course, but if enough newcomers deliver, this should be a strength again.

Am I the only one who is questioning Cameron? Everyone is acting like he is going to change things around for San Diego. I think Xavier Nady is a better player. Cameron has a career .249 average and this year struck out more times than the games he played. Is this false security?
-- Jordan M., Encinitas, Calif.

Nady is a fine talent and quality person; anyone who knows him hopes he flourishes in New York with the Mets. But at this stage of the game, for the Padres' needs, Cameron is a better fit.

There are few center fielders in the game as good as Cameron. He's a natural there. Those who know him best, fellow players, are convinced he'll recover without a hitch from his horrible collision with Carlos Beltran last August at PETCO Park.

There are no guarantees he'll stay healthy. But guarantees do not exist in this game. There is risk attached to every move and decision. But this is a player capable of hitting 25 home runs and stealing 25 bases.

In style, Cameron reminds me a great deal of Bobby Bonds, Barry's dad. Bobby struck out at a record clip, but he was highly productive, a force. Batting average and strikeout figures can be overrated if they're accompanied by power and speed, qualities Cameron brings in abundance.

Why isn't Hensley the favorite for the No. 5 spot in the rotation? It seems like he is more than ready for the job than any candidate on the team. I like him as the seventh-inning man, but I would feel much more confident about the Padres' rotation with Hensley at the back end, and I know he yearns to be a starter.
-- Mike R., Tucson, Ariz.

This is a difficult call. It is not written in stone that Hensley will be in the bullpen; that's the most likely destination, but there are always variables that come into play, notably injuries.

Hensley has the stuff and the makeup to be a quality starter. He showed remarkable poise and mental toughness in his rookie season. If the opportunity arises, this season or next, Hensley will be an excellent addition to the rotation.

Let's see how it plays out with the rotation. There remain some unresolved issues there.

Woody Williams, Shawn Estes and Chan Ho Park are veterans determined to show they can get the job done behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young. They're proven starters, and that's why they merit consideration right now over Hensley, Tim Stauffer and Dewon Brazelton, the young aspirants. And Hensley, a very smart guy, understands that.

But there's nothing wrong with competition. It will be an intriguing spring watching how this shakes out.

What type of role do you see Ben Johnson playing this year?
-- Michael L., Memphis, Tenn.

Johnson has the ability to play himself into a platoon with Roberts in left while spelling both Cameron and Giles.

The man from Memphis showed enough late last season to merit a postseason start against the Cardinals. He has made big strides the past two seasons, and as he continues to develop discipline to go with his power, he'll emerge as a quality player.

It might not happen this year, but Johnson, like Terrmel Sledge, can be an everyday Major League player. The tool box is pretty complete for both of them; it's just a matter of opportunity.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.