Offensive upgrade wanted for 2011 Friars

Offensive upgrade wanted for 2011 Friars

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres enjoyed a 15-game improvement from 2009 to 2010 and were poised to forge their way into the playoff picture right up until the final day of the regular season.

Yet when Padres general manager Jed Hoyer looks ahead to next season, he realizes that embracing the status quo is the wrong approach to take into the offseason.

"You can make a big mistake by thinking you have a magic team or caught lightening in a bottle and think that group is going to do the same thing," Hoyer said Monday. "That's not reality. Every summer is different, the momentum and chemistry is different every year. There are going to be changes to the team.

"What we have to maintain is the spirit we had in this clubhouse and try to replicate that. But we're not going to have the same players again."

The Padres will enter the offseason with $1.1 million in salary obligations and figure to tinker with their roster before Opening Day in 2011. Hoyer said the payroll will be higher than what it was -- slightly less than $38 million on Opening Day.

Where will the Padres turn for help?

"The offense does need an upgrade," Hoyer said. "For most of the year, the offense was maligned. But for the last 40 games, the offense was below average and it hurt us. At the end of the year, we got away from our ability to manufacture runs."

The Padres were shut out 12 times, including three times in their last seven games.

As for the current roster, Hoyer doesn't have very many difficult decisions. He said the team will almost certainly not pick up pitcher Chris Young's $8.5 million option. There will be overtures for All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell, but that's another topic for another day.

Bell, who is again eligible for arbitration, said he was encouraged by not only the 90-win season but also that many of the players who contributed to it are still relatively low in Major League service time. Bell said that bodes well for the future.

"For this organization and for these young guys, I think this was a turning point that they know how to play in the big leagues and they know how to win in the big leagues," Bell said. "I don't think they like this feeling right now, and they're going to work even harder next year and in this offseason to be on the other side of this feeling."

That's something Hoyer himself picked up on Monday during meetings he sat in on with manager Bud Black.

"To a man, I think they're pretty hungry for next year," Hoyer said. "They're frustrated the way the season ended. The same goes for me and my office and Buddy. You get that close to making the playoffs and having a great season, you want to get right back after and do it again."

Contract issues
Free agents: RHP Kevin Correia, INF Jerry Hairston Jr., SS Miguel Tejada, OF Matt Stairs, 2B David Eckstein.

Eligible for arbitration: RHP Tim Stauffer, RHP Edward Mujica, OF Tony Gwynn, OF Chris Denorfia, RHP Mike Adams, RHP Heath Bell, OF Scott Hairston and OF Ryan Ludwick.

Player options: None.

Club options: RHP Chris Young ($8.5 million) and 1B Adrian Gonzalez ($5.5 million base, now $6.2 million with incentives).

Mutual options: RHP Jon Garland ($6.75 million, a buyout of $600,000 if club declines, $300,000 if player declines) and C Yorvit Torrealba ($3.5 million, $500,000 buyout if club declines).

Non-tender possibilities: OF Scott Hairston.

A position-by-position look at where the 2010 roster stands going into 2011.

Catcher
Nick Hundley: Developing into a steady catcher. But still has room to improve.
Yorvit Torrealba: Was better than advertised as mentor and a player.

Bench coach Ted Simmons said he needs to see 1,500 at-bats or 500 games in order to know what kind of catcher he has. Hundley (727 at-bats, 223 games) hasn't reached those standards just yet, though he made offensive and defensive strides. Part of that growth had to do with the addition of Torrealba, who was good as a mentor and one of the best hitters on the team with runners in scoring position (.316 average).

First base
Adrian Gonzalez: What's not to like? Hits for power, average and has proved durable.

Gonzalez continues to make his mark, all while playing in the toughest ballpark in the Major Leagues to score runs. He has hit over 30 home runs in each of the last four years and continues to be the best defensive player on the team. This season, he added a new wrinkle to his game: the ability to hit left-handed pitching well (.337).

Second base
David Eckstein: Good clubhouse guy, still a spark plug, even at this point in career.

Eckstein missed 29 games with a calf strain and was slowed in a handful of others due to the injury. He was good defensively and a solid option toward the top of the order for the Padres. He'll be a free agent after the season. It's unclear where the Padres will turn, because they don't have a true second baseman waiting in the wings.

Shortstop
Miguel Tejada: At 36, he proved he could still play. Came up with several big hits.
Everth Cabrera: Slipped after a promising 2009. Team unsure what he'll become.
Jerry Hairston: Exceeded expectations as utility guy in 2010.

Tejada was better than expected, driving in 31 runs in his first 50 games after joining the team in July in a trade with the Orioles. His range wasn't an issue. Hoyer said he would like to have him back, though it would have to be financially sensible. Cabrera never got going after a promising rookie season in 2009. The organization still isn't sure what he'll become. Hairston might have been the unsung hero for the way he filled in for Eckstein and Cabrera. He would like to return in 2011.

Third base
Chase Headley: Faded offensively in the second half, defense was better than expected.

Headley came out swinging in 2010 but tapered off, especially in the second half, when he hit .196 in September. Without a true backup, the Padres found it hard to rest Headley, which led to fatigue. He was a very good defender and posted the best UZR (17.4) of any third baseman in the Major Leagues. Offensively the team would like to see more power and fewer strikeouts.

Outfield
Will Venable: There's a speed-defense-power combination in him that excited the Padres.
Ryan Ludwick: Didn't hit the way the team figured he would post-trade.
Scott Hairston: Struggled all season, a non-tender candidate.
Tony Gwynn: One of best defensive outfielders in NL, but needs to hit.
Kyle Blanks: Struggled early and was sidelined with an elbow injury.
Aaron Cunningham: Showed some pop and good defense and was impressive at times.
Chris Denorfia: Minor League signing carried team at times in second half. Good fourth outfielder.
Oscar Salazar: Used as pinch-hitter, had some big hits at times, though without a real position.
Matt Stairs: At 42, showed good thump off the bench. He wants to play again in 2011.

The Padres certainly have plenty of outfield options heading into 2011, though there are also plenty of questions. Will Ludwick be more comfortable and produce more offensively in 2011 than he did after the Trade Deadline? When will Blanks (elbow surgery) return, and what kind of player will he become? Is Cunningham ready make an impact at the Major League level? Can Venable continue to build off a season in which he showed plenty of power-speed potential? If the Padres upgrade their offense in the offseason, it's possible that could come in the outfield.

Rotation
Mat Latos: In first full season, emerged as one of the top arms in the league. He will only get better.
Clayton Richard: Lefty shows signs of dominance at times. When good, he's a ground-ball machine.
Tim Stauffer: Former first-rounder found a home in rotation late in season. Their best pitcher in September.
Jon Garland: As advertised, logged a lot of innings, was durable.
Cory Luebke: Jumped from Double-A to big leagues. A left-hander with good command, he'll be in the rotation.
Wade LeBlanc: Lost his spot in the rotation late, will need to win a job in the spring.
Kevin Correia: Also lost his spot in the rotation. Unlikely to return.
Chris Young: Missed most of 2009 with a shoulder injury. Club will pass on his $8.5 million option.

For the most part, the Padres rotation was steady (and successful) in 2009 as Latos took a big step forward, followed by growth by Richard and Stauffer, who started the season as a long reliever. LeBlanc and Correia slipped late, and Correia likely won't return in 2011. Luebke figures to merit consideration for a spot in the rotation. Talk about bang for your buck: The Padres could open the season with a starting rotation of controllable players, including Stauffer, who Hoyer said was their best pitcher down the stretch. Look for the Padres to add a free-agent innings-eater similar to Garland.

Bullpen
Mike Adams: One of the best eighth-inning specialists in baseball, he probably could close elsewhere.
Heath Bell: Two seasons as a full-time closer, over 40 saves in each. He's in line for a pretty good raise.
Luke Gregerson: Set the MLB record for single-season holds and was a steady seventh-inning guy.
Ernesto Frieri: Rookie earned stripes in several tight games. He could benefit from a third pitch.
Edward Mujica: Prone to home runs, Mujica pitched very well otherwise.
Adam Russell: Has shown flashes of being very good. He needs to cut down on walks.
Ryan Webb: 97 mph with movement, sometimes too much movement. He could blossom in 2011.
Joe Thatcher: Had a big season as a left-handed specialist.

Gregerson, Adams and Bell (47 saves) were, arguably, the best back end of any bullpen in the Major Leagues. Bell is arbitration eligible again and is looking at a raise from the $4 million he earned last season. The Padres could look to move him in the winter. Webb appears ready to take a more prominent role in 2011. Frieri showed promising signs after closing for Triple-A Portland for most of the season. There are power arms here with this bunch and depth. This unit was a big reason the Padres won 90 games in 2010.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.