2. What would a healthy Chris Young do for the rotation and for the overall success of the team?
It's fair that there are questions about Young's shoulder going into the start of Spring Training, but the surgery he had (to shave his frayed labrum) wasn't serious, and he is cleared for full workouts in Arizona. That's good news for a pitcher who has been, I won't use injury-prone, but unlucky the past three seasons. Remember, this is a pitcher who was among the best in baseball in the first half of '07. The Padres added some depth and durability in signing Jon Garland, but to keep afloat in the National League West, they'll need Young to remain healthy, make 30-plus starts and pitch like the guy who has a career 3.87 ERA and who fits PETCO Park (16-11, 2.93 ERA) nicely.
3. Are all these "kids" -- or, better still, players short on experience, like Kyle Blanks, Mat Latos and Everth Cabrera -- the real deal?
That's certainly one of the biggest questions facing the Padres heading into the season. Was that 37-25 finish, fueled by many of those young players, a sign of things to come? Or was it merely a tease? The Padres are hoping Blanks, Latos and Cabrera will keep getting better. One scout thought it was unreasonable to think they all will. This group can certainly be extended to other players short on Major League experience -- Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable. Opposing scouts, and even some within the organization, are split on the ceiling of these players. Only time will tell.
75-87, fourth in the National League West
Projected batting order
1. CF Tony Gwynn
.270 BA, .331 OBP, .326 SLG, 2 HR, 21 RBI in 2009
2. 2B David Eckstein
.260 BA, .323 OBP, .334 SLG, 2 HR, 51 RBI in 2009
3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
.277 BA, .407 OBP, .551 SLG, 40 HR, 99 RBI in 2009
4. 3B Chase Headley
.262 BA, .342 OBP, .393 SLG, 12 HR, 64 RBI in 2009
5. LF Kyle Blanks
.250 BA, .355 OBP, .514 SLG, 10 HR, 22 RBI in 2009
6. RF Will Venable
.256 BA, .323 OBP, .440 SLG, 12 HR, 38 RBI in 2009
7. C Nick Hundley
.238 BA, .313 OBP, .406 SLG, 8 HR, 30 RBI in 2009
8. SS Everth Cabrera
.255 BA, .342 OBP, .361 SLG, 2 HR, 31 RBI in 2009
1. Chris Young
, 4-6, 5.21 ERA in 2009
2. Kevin Correia
, 12-11, 3.91 ERA in 2009
3. Jon Garland
, 11-13, 4.01 ERA in 2009
4. Clayton Richard
, 9-5, 4.41 ERA in 2009
5. Mat Latos
, 4-5, 4.62 ERA in 2009
Closer: Heath Bell
, 42/48 saves, 2.71 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Mike Adams
, 0.73 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Luke Gregerson
, 3.24 ERA in 2009
The new guys
OF Scott Hairston:
Well, he's sort of new. Hairston, a member of the Padres for parts of three seasons (2007-09), returns after being dealt to Oakland last July. He's the right-handed-hitting outfielder the Padres coveted this season and a batter who has had success at spacious PETCO Park. Hairston also provides plus defense in center field. He'll also be asked to play some right field. Look for him to get a lot of at-bats, even if Tony Gwynn will start in center field against some right-handed pitchers.
UT Jerry Hairston Jr.:
Shortly after the Padres traded for Scott Hairston, they landed his older brother, Jerry. True be told, Hairston Jr. was on their radar the entire winter as the super-utility man they coveted this winter. First and foremost they wanted someone who can offer, at the very least, average defense at shortstop to give second-year player Cabrera a breather. But he will play all over the diamond -- third base, second base and the outfield. In short, for a utility man, Hairston Jr. might just find himself in the lineup about every day.
SP Jon Garland:
This wasn't so much a case of Garland misreading the free-agent market and simply falling into the laps of the Padres (see Yorvit Torrealba), but they were able to add a starting pitcher late in the winter at a reasonable price who is exactly what they wanted: someone who offers durability and dependability (he has thrown at least 191 2/3 innings every season since '02). The Padres think he can do what Correia did last season and that his career ERA (4.42) is skewed to some degree by pitching in a lot of hitter-friendly ballparks.
OF Aaron Cunningham:
If you have the impression that Cunningham was a throw-in during the Scott Hairston/Kevin Kouzmanoff deal, you're entirely wrong as Padres general manager Jed Hoyer likes the upside of the 23-year-old, who will likely end up in left or right field. He might not make the team out of Spring Training -- he needs to play every day, and that might be Triple-A Portland to start -- but the Padres think he will reach the Major Leagues for good sooner than later. He rates as a good athlete with a strong arm.
OF Matt Stairs:
Stairs comes to Spring Training on a Minor League deal that carries no promises. If Stairs does make the team, he will be a left-handed bat off the bench late in the games, something manager Bud Black hasn't had much success with (Tony Clark in '08, Cliff Floyd last season). It's hard to know what Stairs has left, though he's in great shape and said recently he's eager for Spring Training.
C Yorvit Torrealba: Torrealba balked at returning to Colorado on a two-year deal reportedly worth $5.6 million. Instead, he'll make $1.25 million this season. He won't be a Sunday catcher for the Padres, but will get playing time along with catcher Nick Hundley. Torrealba had a great reputation in Colorado for being a very good guy within the clubhouse and a mentor to Latin American players, much like Henry Blanco did. He offers more with the bat than Blanco, but Torrealba isn't the defensive catcher he once was.
C Dusty Ryan:
Obtained in December from the Detroit Tigers, Ryan will start the season with Portland after the late winter acquisition of Torrealba. Given how the Padres have had their Triple-A catcher appear in the big leagues the last two seasons due to injuries (Luke Carlin in '08, Eliezer Alfonzo in '09) Ryan will surely find his way to PETCO Park at some point in 2010.
P Radhames Liz: A big arm, but one that lacks consistency. The Padres put in a waiver claim for Liz early in the offseason. He could be a sleeper to win a job in the bullpen if he can show consistent mechanics. He has been good in the Minor Leagues (3.51 ERA, 608 strikeouts, 544 innings) but bad in stints in the Major Leagues (7.50 ERA in 28 games).
Prospects to watch
RHP Sean Gallagher:
LHP Aaron Poreda: Poreda, the prized arm the Padres landed in the Jake Peavy deal last July, had immediate command issues once he reported to Triple-A Portland. He had a 7.16 ERA in seven games with 37 walks in 32 2/3 innings. He will benefit from a full spring with pitching coach Darren Balsley, who will continue to try to get Poreda to stick the landing -- the landing of his front foot in his delivery, which the Padres think was a big reason for his erratic command. He'll likely begin the season with Portland.
Gallagher was the player-to-be-named in the July trade that sent Scott Hairston to Oakland. Gallagher missed most of the '09 season after he had knee surgery but returned to pitch in eight games late in the season. He's out of Minor League options so he needs to make the team. He's got a good fastball and a big curveball and could make the team as a long reliever. He's on his third organization and now is the time to find out if San Diego will be his home.
LHP Cory Luebke:
Let's be honest here. The Padres, and every other Major League team, won't finish the season with the starting five they began the season with. That just doesn't happen anymore. There are a few arms the Padres can turn to in the event of a trade or injury. Luebke isn't the highest-regarded pitcher in the system (that distinction belongs to Simon Castro) though Luebke might reach PETCO Park sooner than the rest. Luebke, a left-hander, is very polished and has average stuff across the board. He eventually projects as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the big leagues.
On the rebound
SP Chris Young: Young is coming off shoulder surgery though he will be ready for the start of workouts in Arizona next week. An important piece to the puzzle, the Padres need Young to be healthy and return to being frontline starter, the kind he was in '06 and the first half of '07.
OF Brian Giles:
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff: The Padres will miss his defense and his power but won't miss his career .308 on-base percentage. To be clear, not everyone within the organization wanted to move Kouzmanoff, but to get the right-handed bat they needed (Scott Hairston), the Padres had to give up something. This also allowed the Padres to slide Headley back to his natural position.
Giles missed 97 games last season with a right-knee contusion and became a free agent in the offseason. He has since signed a Minor League contract with the Dodgers. While never coming close to duplicating his power numbers from his days in Pittsburgh, Giles was a dependable fixture in right field and an on-base machine (.380) in his seven seasons in San Diego. He appeared in 157 or more games for three consecutive seasons but had injury issues later on.
C Henry Blanco: The Padres loved how Blanco worked with the young Latin American players on the roster and how he served as an good mentor to Hundley. And they really liked how he threw out 34.1 percent of would-be basestealers. He's moved on to the Mets and has been replaced by Torrealba.