General manager Josh Byrnes likes his core group of players and would give just about anything to see this particular roster go through an entire schedule (or most of it, at least) without any injury issues, which have torpedoed the team -- as well as underperformance -- the past two seasons.
"The first order of business is health, then adding on to what we have," Byrnes said recently. "That could be a starting pitcher or adding another bullpen arm or -- it's hard to get a big bat -- but a bat to better balance our lineup."
A year ago, the Padres went down the road fairly far with free-agent pitchers Edwin Jackson (who signed with the Cubs for four years, $52 million) and Dan Haren (one year, $13 million with the Nationals).
But in order to get upgrades -- their needs are a left-handed bat, a starting pitcher and a left-handed reliever -- the Padres will likely do so by trade.
Finding a bat, particularly a left-handed one, will be something the team explores. A year ago, the Padres ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching and 29th in OPS (.668) against righties.
Of the Padres' free agents, one is retiring (Mark Kotsay ) and another is coming off Tommy John surgery (Jason Marquis ). The team could look to keep veteran infielder Ronny Cedeno, who filled in at shortstop after Everth Cabrera was suspended for the final 50 games of the regular season. Left-hander Clayton Richard cleared outright waivers on Monday and opted for free agency.
Free agents: RHP Marquis (Tommy John surgery), SS Cedeno, OF Kotsay (announced retirement effective at end of 2013 season), LHP Richard.
Eligible for arbitration: RHPs Ian Kennedy, Luke Gregerson, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Tim Stauffer, Eric Stults, 3B Chase Headley, SS Cabrera, OF/1B Jesus Guzman, OF/1B Kyle Blanks.
Contract options: None.
Non-tender possibilities: None.
AREAS OF NEED
Left-handed bat: There's no doubt the Padres would like a little more production against right-handers. That could come from the current group of players or from an acquisition, like if the team were to swing a trade or sign a free agent. Outfielder David Murphy, who spent the past seven seasons in Texas, could be a potential target as a low-cost, bounce-back target. He struggled in 2013, but his .222 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) against righties suggests he was terribly unlucky.
Bullpen: The Padres are in good hands with Huston Street closing and Gregerson setting him up. Nick Vincent looks like he can handle the seventh inning. But the rest of the bullpen could use some work. Dale Thayer scuffled in the second half and Brad Brach spent most of the year in Triple-A. The Padres traded lefty specialist Joe Thatcher to the D-backs in order to acquire Kennedy and recently designated two in-house lefty options.
Rotation: Injuries have tested the Padres' depth the past two years, and this is a spot where they can't afford to be thin. Ross and Cashner took big steps forward in their development and Kennedy and Stults figure to have spots moving forward as well. Two new faces, Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, performed well late in the season, but don't be surprised if the team adds a starter with service time (likely through trade) before Spring Training.
The payroll figures to climb again in 2014, pushing into the $80 million range after the team started the 2013 season with a payroll of about $68 million. That's a good sign for a team that has ranked near or at the bottom of the league. Much of the payroll will be designated to players already under contract and for arbitration raises. That number could approach $75 million, leaving Byrnes some -- but not a lot of -- wiggle room to maybe sign a free agent, if it's the right fit.