Byrnes believes the pieces are in place for the Padres to improve upon their 71-91 finish of a year ago -- and he's hopeful that several top prospects might be close to arriving at the big league level for good.
"I'm pretty excited to see how we stack up," Byrnes said recently. "We have questions, but I think we are better. I think the division is unpredictable. We are aware of areas that may concern us, but we're also very optimistic and ready to get going."
Gone are pitchers Mat Latos, Aaron Harang and Heath Bell. The Padres landed four players from the Reds for Latos in a December deal that they hope will benefit them in 2012 and beyond.
Byrnes also traded for new closer Huston Street, projected eighth-inning specialist Andrew Cashner and left fielder Carlos Quentin to give one of the worst offenses in baseball in 2011 a boost.
"I do think we're a better team," Byrnes said.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Mariners (Peoria Sports Complex), March 4, 12:05 p.m. PT
Home vs. Dodgers, April 5, 4:05 p.m. PT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. What will the bullpen look like by Opening Day?
2. Do any of the prospects have a shot to make the team?
Well, a lot different than a year ago at this time, when Mike Adams and Bell were the formidable 1-2 punch at the back end of the bullpen. Both are gone, with Cashner and Street now holding those critical spots. Incumbents Luke Gregerson, Joe Thatcher and Ernesto Frieri are back and lefty Josh Spence has a shot as well. One of the main competitions come spring will be for the long job, between Anthony Bass and Micah Owings. The Padres' starting rotation is mostly devoid of pitchers who can truly be called innings-eaters, so the bullpen figures to get a lot of work, especially early.
Probably not. You can pretty much project the Padres' Opening Day roster right now, and, ideally, that's the way the front office would like it. Sure, there's always time for surprises in Spring Training, though it likely wouldn't come on the position player front. Pitchers like Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin and Casey Kelly will start the season in the Minors, though they're not believed to be far off. Third-base prospect Jedd Gyorko needs at least another full season of Minor League plate appearances. The Padres have gone to great lengths to rebuild their farm system and should start seeing the benefits of such at some point in 2012.
3. Where will the offense come from?
A fair question for a team that is coming off a season in which it ranked 28th out of 30 Major League teams in runs and on-base percentage, and 29th in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). The team also had the second-most strikeouts in the big leagues (1,320), only three fewer than the Nationals (1,323). New hitting coach Phil Plantier has been busy this winter working with hitters and preaching the benefits of quality at-bats and hard contact. The addition of Quentin figures to give the Padres some thump. The team would like to see better performances from Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson. Cameron Maybin cut down on his strikeouts a year ago and is only 24 years old with a lot of upside. Chase Headley and Nick Hundley also made strides offensively in 2011. Stay tuned.
71-91, fifth in the NL West
Projected batting order
1. RF Will Venable
.246 BA, .310 OBP, .395 SLG, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 26 SB in 2010
2. SS Jason Bartlett
.245 BA, .308 OBP, .307 SLG, 2 HR, 40 RBI, 23 SB in 2010
3. 3B Chase Headley
.289 BA, .374 OBP, .399 SLG, 4 HR, 44 RBI in 2010
4. LF Carlos Quentin
.254 BA, .340 OBP, .499 SLG, 24 HR, 77 RBI in 2010
5. 1B Yonder Alonso
.330 BA, .398 OBP, .545 SLG, 5 HR, 15 RBI in 2010
6. C Nick Hundley
.288 BA, .347 OBP, .477 SLG, 9 HR, 29 RBI in 2010
7. CF Cameron Maybin
.264 BA, .323 OBP, .393 SLG, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 40 SB in 2010
8. 2B Orlando Hudson
.246 BA, .329 OBP, .352 SLG, 7 HR, 43 RBI in 2010
1. Tim Stauffer
, 9-12, 3.73 ERA in 2010
2. Cory Luebke
, 6-10, 3.29 ERA in 2010
3. Edinson Volquez
, 5-7, 5.71 ERA in 2010
4. Clayton Richard
, 5-9, 3.88 ERA in 2010
5. Dustin Moseley
, 3-10, 3.30 ERA in 2010
Closer: Huston Street
, 29/33 saves, 3.86 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Andrew Cashner
, 1.69 ERA in 2010
LH setup man: Joe Thatcher
, 4.50 ERA in 2010
The new guys
RP Andrew Cashner:
The Padres parted with first baseman Anthony Rizzo in order to acquire a pitcher whom they feel can help them at the back end of the bullpen in 2012, and possibly move into the starting rotation later on. For now, Cashner and his power arm will likely be asked to handle the eighth inning as a setup man for new closer Street. He missed most of last season with a strained rotator cuff, but his velocity returned in the Arizona Fall League.
RP Micah Owings:
Owings gives the Padres some versatility, in that he can start or pitch in relief. He'll come to Spring Training looking to win a spot in the bullpen, though he'll get plenty of push from Bass. Owings can also swing the bat a little, which makes him intriguing. He also has Minor League options in case he doesn't make the team out of Spring Training.
CL Huston Street:
Street certainly has some huge shoes to fill after the departure of three-time All-Star closer Bell (Marlins). Street had 29 saves in 33 opportunities with the Rockies last season and will find his new ballpark more forgiving. In 11 1/3 innings at Petco Park, Street hasn't allowed a run and has 17 strikeouts, for whatever that's worth.
SP Edinson Volquez:
The Padres are hoping for a bounce-back season from Volquez, who had Tommy John surgery in 2009. He should benefit from a move to a bigger ballpark in Petco Park, which should help him rebuild his credentials. Remember, Volquez was an All-Star in 2008. But he'll have to show he can throw strikes consistently again.
C John Baker:
The Padres didn't want to go through 2012 naked at such a critical position, not after starting catcher Nick Hundley missed 63 games last season with two disabled-list stints. Baker has some pop, will take a walk and comes to San Diego with a reputation as being good to work with from the standpoint of pitcher.
1B Yonder Alonso:
There's a lot to like about Alonso, who was the key piece in the Padres' deal with the Reds. He's a left-handed hitter, and while Petco Park typically treats left-handed hitters with power poorly, Alonso is a line-to-line hitter who figures to hit a lot of doubles in his new home ballpark. He'll get the chance to win the everyday first base job in Spring Training, though it won't merely be handed to him as Jesus Guzman and Kyle Blanks could push him for time.
OF Mark Kotsay:
Kotsay returns to San Diego, where he played three seasons from 2001-03 -- though he never got to play his home games at Petco Park. Kotsay, at age 36, returns as a different player with a different role than he had in his previous stint with the team. He'll be asked to give the team a quality at-bat off the bench late in games and he could also see time in the outfield and at first base. He's also a high character guy and will provide leadership in a clubhouse that didn't have much in 2011.
OF Carlos Quentin:
The Padres were looking for some right-handed pop and believe they found it in Quentin, who has lived most of his life in the San Diego area. How will his homecoming go? Many feel spacious Petco Park will devour his power, though as manager Bud Black likes to say, there's a home run at Petco for right-handers with pull power. Also, the Padres like Quentin's no-nonsense approach and feel he'll be a good fit in a clubhouse that lacked leadership a year ago.
Prospects to watch
RP Brad Boxberger:
Boxberger was hardly a throw-in in the Latos trade with the Reds, as the Padres like the way he misses bats (203 strikeouts, 124 hits allowed in 154 Minor League innings). He will likely begin the season in Triple-A Tuscon but pegs as someone who can pitch in the late innings of games eventually. Don't be surprised if you see him at Petco Park before too long in 2012.
SP Joe Wieland:
What's Wieland do well? Well, for starters, he's 33-18 with a 3.28 ERA over his first four seasons, with only 78 walks in 430 innings and an 8.30 K/9 ratio. Better still, after the Padres got him from the Rangers last July, his velocity jumped some. Wieland is very polished and will begin 2012 with Tucson, though he could be a candidate to join the Padres' rotation before too long. Like fellow pitching prospects Erlin and Casey Kelly, Wieland is smart and has good makeup.
C Yasmani Grandal:
Grandal, a switch-hitter, was one of the players the Padres obtained from the Reds in December. He put on a big-time power display at a workout at Petco Park in January that raised a few eyebrows (in a good way) from front-office staff. Grandal has only played in 113 games in the Minor Leagues but has a .303/.401/.488 slash line. He could be ready for a jump to Triple-A, where he would be the everyday catcher.
SP Robbie Erlin:
Erlin, who along with Wieland was obtained from the Rangers on July 31 in the Adams deal, has good command, his secondary pitches are plus pitches and he also hides the ball from hitters pretty well. He might not be far off. There's a chance Erlin could begin the season back with Double-A San Antonio, though that's no knock on him. The Padres have several starters they need to find spots for between Double-A and Triple-A. Good bet is Erlin moves fast if he continues to have success.
SP Casey Kelly:
Kelly, the key piece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal with the Red Sox, is heading into his third full season as a pitcher after beginning his pro career as a shortstop. He won 11 games and had a 3.98 ERA as the Padres limited his innings to 142 2/3 last year with San Antonio. He allowed 153 hits and the Padres would like to see him miss more bats in 2012 and believe he has the stuff to do it. Kelly still rates as potentially a Nos. 2-3 starter in the big leagues but will be in for a big test in 2012 if he begins at Tucson.
On the rebound
RF Will Venable:
This officially qualifies as a make-or-break season for Venable, who is no longer young (29) or entirely inexpensive ($1.475 million). Venable has that rare speed/power combination and is considered close to being a plus defender in right field. He's a great makeup/character guy as well but hasn't shown he can hit lefties enough (.212/.289/.261 in 203 at-bats) to lock down a permanent spot. This will be a telling season for Venable.
SS Jason Bartlett:
Don't pin the blame on Bartlett's .245/.308/.307 first season with the Padres on spacious Petco Park. Bartlett struggled at home and
on the road in 2011. He struggled early defensively but was better in the second half. Bartlett did appear in 139 games last season -- all while playing a premium position -- giving the team some much-needed stability up the middle. But the team would like to see more offense, as they would with second baseman Orlando Hudson.
RP Luke Gregerson:
After posting 1.8 and 1.3 WAR seasons in 2009-10, Gregerson did not fare as well last season. His strikeouts per nine innings rate, in double-digits his first two seasons, dipped to 5.50 last season as opposing batters appeared to have a better idea of how to handle his slider than before. The Padres would love to see him start missing bats again and get back to his dominant ways.
SP Wade LeBlanc:
LeBlanc won 17 games over parts of four seasons with the Padres and posted a 4.54 ERA. The soft-tossing left-hander had a 0.4 WAR over his tenure with the Padres. He was better at pitching inside last season than the previous season, when he allowed 24 home runs in 146 innings. A fun fact: LeBlanc was a .287 hitter in 101 at-bats. He was dealt to Miami for Baker.
C Rob Johnson:
Johnson ended up appearing in 63 games (including 54 starts) because of two long stints on the disabled list by Opening Day catcher Hundley. Johnson, though lauded by many pitchers for how he calls a game, had a slash line of .197/.259/.285 in 179 at-bats. The Padres wanted more offense out of their backup catcher, which is why they traded for Baker. Johnson signed a Minor League deal with the Mets.
SP Mat Latos:
The Padres didn't necessarily enter the offseason looking to deal Latos, but when the Reds essentially blew the team away with a four-player package, Byrnes couldn't say now. Latos had a 2.87 ERA in 14 second-half starts and started to look like the pitcher who allowed two or fewer runs in 15 consecutive starts in 2010.
CL Heath Bell:
What more can you say about Bell, who saved more games (132) over a three-year period (2009-2011) than any other pitcher in the Major Leagues? Bell proved much more than an apt replacement for Trevor Hoffman as closer for the Padres, earning a spot on three NL All-Star teams. Bell signed a three-year deal for $27 million with the Marlins in December.
RP Chad Qualls:
No pitcher appeared in more games for the Padres last season than Qualls (77). He provided important innings out of the bullpen as a bridge to Bell, although he was a much better pitcher at Petco Park (2.09 ERA) than on the road (5.50 ERA). Qualls signed a one-year deal for $1.15 million with the Phillies.
SP Aaron Harang:
Harang benefited from returning to his native San Diego last season -- not just in that it dramatically cut down on his commute but in that he posted a 3.05 ERA over 17 starts at Petco Park. Harang led the Padres with 14 victories, five more than any other pitcher on the staff, although he was blessed with more run support than any other Padres pitcher as well. He signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers.
1B Anthony Rizzo:
Rizzo tore up the Pacific Coast League last season (.331/.404/.652), hitting 26 home runs while driving in 101 runs. But he failed to find that success at the big league level, as he hit .141 in 128 at-bats. Rizzo became expendable after the Padres landed Alonso from the Reds in December and was subsequently dealt to the Cubs for Cashner.