-- Ryan O., San Marcos, Calif.
I still think it's Ludwick in left field to open the season. It's tough for the Padres to try to convince free-agent position players to come to spacious PETCO Park. This was a big reason why the Padres traded for Ludwick in the first place last July, because he would be under team control for 2011. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself after being traded. I think he'll be better in 2011. As for Cunningham, he hit better with the Padres (.288) than he did in Triple-A (.251) and the Padres aren't sure why. They like what he has to offer: doubles power, athletic and a good defender. I think that he starts the season in Triple-A so that he can play every day. Beyond that, we'll see.
Now that pitcher Jon Garland is off the market, will the Padres try to find an innings-eater through a trade rather than free agency?
-- Jacob W., La Jolla, Calif.
Now that the Padres have addressed a need by trading for outfielder Cameron Maybin, the team will look to fill its other needs this winter, like finding a pitcher (or possibly two) to complete the rotation. Ideally, San Diego would like to find someone like Garland, someone capable of making 30-plus starts and throwing 200 innings. However, those guys aren't easy to find. The starting pitching market isn't real deep this winter, but I think there are some possibilities out there for the Padres. Acquiring a pitcher who can prove to be durable and dependable through trade won't be easy; the Padres don't have many top-level Minor League players to move in a deal right now. Keep an eye on the free-agent market, especially after the start of the year.
I would like to see the Padres sign Jason Varitek to be the backup catcher and also to tutor Nick Hundley. Varitek has a lot of experience and knows how to win. He would also be a good clubhouse leader and I think he can still help with the bat. What are your thoughts?
-- Charles A., Naugatuck, Conn.
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Interesting thought, Charles, especially since general manager Jed Hoyer has ties with Varitek from his days with the Red Sox. I still think there's a good chance the Red Sox re-sign Varitek, especially since they could use someone to help their own young catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who figures to be the starter now that Victor Martinez has signed with the Tigers. But you're right, I think he would be a nice fit here. Varitek appeared in 39 games last season and would need to catch more than that here. Also, I don't know if Hundley needs as much, for lack of a better term, hand-holding anymore. I think he's benefited well from Henry Blanco and Yorvit Torrealba the last two seasons and learning under one of the best, former bench coach Ted Simmons.
I hope the Padres find a way to keep David Eckstein. That would make my day and probably more fans' as well. I truly enjoy watch him play. He's just flat-out awesome. He has great hands and speed at second and is a wonderful leader on the team.
-- Jim N., Lakeside, Calif.
The Padres opted not to offer Eckstein arbitration last week, though that doesn't mean he can't or won't return in 2011. The Padres certainly have some holes to fill in the middle of the diamond (shortstop, second base) but could circle back to Eckstein later -- if he's still available -- this winter. The Padres don't have any top-level Minor League players ready to step in and fill these spots, so they'll continue to look for players who can play in the middle of the infield. I think there's a chance Jerry Hairston Jr. could return as a utilityman, but the priority will be finding players who can play shortstop and/or second base on an everyday basis.
What is going to happen to Tony Gwynn now that we have traded for Maybin? Does he become a backup outfielder?
-- Joann L., San Diego
I think Gwynn still holds tremendous value for the Padres as an extra outfielder and I think there will be a place for him on the 25-man roster come Opening Day. Gwynn struggled offensively in 2010, hitting .204 in 289 at-bats. Where his value is comes on defense, where his UZR (ultimate zone rating) was 13.6, which ranked among the top outfielders in the National League. And given the Padres play half of their games at PETCO Park, with its spacious outfield, it's important to have someone capable of covering a lot of ground and playing plus-defense. The Padres hopes Maybin can accomplish as much. They already know Gwynn can.
When will the Padres increase their payroll and what will it be in 2011? I heard that they were planning on increasing the payroll and I feel that realistically it's hard to be very competitive with teams that have payrolls two and three times as high.
-- Alex L., Oakland
The Padres won 90 games with a payroll just shy of $38 million. Hoyer has said since the end of the regular season that the payroll will increase slightly and that number will "begin with a four." Your point is well taken that it's certainly tough for teams to compete with, say, the Yankees and Red Sox, the high-payroll teams in the game. But, as mentioned before, the Padres came within one victory of the postseason with a team that ranked above only the Pirates in payroll. But doing this year after year won't be easy. The Padres hit on nearly every one of their free-agent signings of a year ago (Garland, Torrealba and Hairston). CEO Jeff Moorad has said that the payroll will increase over time.