This article is reposted from the BBA Playing Pepper Series with a few small changes made for clarification such as adding the team name.
1) How was the Padres off-season? What kind of grade would you give it?
The Padres had a relatively quiet, but still successful offseason. Jed Hoyer, the Padres new GM, filled positions of need with less than a handful of moves.
- Hoyer traded Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Oakland Athletics for former Padres fan favorite Scott Hairston and top A's prospect Aaron Cunningham. Both are RH hitting outfielders. Hairston plays good defense in both CF and LF and hits LHP extremely well, plus has shown Petco power. A Rare commodity indeed.
This trade helped the Padre more on a defensive side than offensively. Moving headley out of LF and moving Blanks into LF full time improves the Padres defense by at least 9 runs. Venable playing RF full time improves the defense by another 8-9 runs or more. And a platoon of Gwynn and Hairston gives the PAdres plus defense across the outfield in 2010.
- Hoyer signed uber utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston Jr joined his little (but bigger) brother Scott on the Padres and brings all 4 of his gloves with him. Hairston Jr. can play all 8 positions in the field and provides plus defense at 2B and all three outfield positions. Along with his brother and Oscar Salazar, Hairston Jr. gives manager Bud Black one of the most versatile benches I have seen on a Padres team.
- Hoyer signed Jon Garland, a very durable pitcher who has averaged over 190 IP for the past 8 seasons, for a rotation that has been decimated by injuries in recent years. Last season the Padres used 15 starting pitchers including 7 rookies.
- Hoyer signed Yorvit Torrealba to a $750k contract to back up incumbent starter Nick Hundley. Torrealba had earlier turned down a 2 yr/5.6 million contract to return to the Rockies. He really does not have much power, but he calls a very good game and plays plus defense. He will likely start 50-70 games for the PAdres in 2010. A solid pickup for pennies on the dollar.
While he failed to sign a big name FA or make a blockbuster trade that would make a splash, he did fill all the major holes on the roster and improve the team overall. Sometimes less is more.
2) What is the key to success for 2010?
Yes I know most people would say it is having the young players step up, but I believe all those young players have to do or the team to be successful is to stay healthy and do exactly as well as they did in 2009. After all, the bunch that will take the field in April are mostly the same ones that won 37 of their last 62 games in 2009.
So I say health.
The Padres have been among the most injured teams in baseball the past 3 seasons. They set the major league record for player days on the DL in succeeding years and would have broken their own record again if it was not for the hapless Mets. At one point in 2009, the Padres had 5 starting pitchers and 4 starting position players and the key bat off the bench all on the DL. 40% of the 25 man roster was on the DL. It is not a coincedence that that was the worst stretch in the season for win-loss record.
In 2010 they must stay healthy.
That starts with the pitching staff.
Chris young, the Padres Ace by default, has been snake-bitten for the past 3 seasons. He needs to make 30 or more starts and return to his pre-2008 form.
Mat Latos, the Padres budding ace, has never pitched more than 123 innings in a professional season due to injuries. While he has overpowering stuff, he must stay healthy.
Overall the Padres set a ML record by having 15 pitchers start games in 2009 and 15 players made their major league debut for the team.
3) What will be the Padres team strength?
The Padres had a great pen in 2009 ending up 7th in ERA and OPS allowed and they all return. Bell, Adams and Gregerson made up perhaps the toughet 7-8-9 combination in baseball.
In the Peavy and Hairston trades in 2009 the Padres added several good power pitchers for the bullpen in Adams and Russell, and they have two former 1st round picks that may make the bullpen out of camp in Stauffer and Poreda plus a former top prospect in Sean Gallagher that is out of options.
And some of the Padres best pitching prospects are also relievers. Evan Scribner, Wynn Pelzer, Craig Italiano, among others.
4) What could be the Padres Achilles' heel?
Health and youth.
If the pitching staff cannot stay healthy and young players such as Cabrera, Blanks, Venable and Latos are not able to repeat the level of play they had in 2009, then the Padres are in for a long and disappointing season.
5) Who will be the Padres team MVP?
IF, and its a HUGE if, he is a Padres all season, Adrian Gonzalez will be the teams MVP.
If he is traded, my pick would be Kyle Blanks.
6) Will a rookie make a significant impact on the Padres in 2010, and if so, who?
Most of the top young players exhausted their eligibility as rookies in 2009. Everth Cabrera, Kyle Blanks, Clayton Richard, Mat Latos, Will Venable and Luke Gregerson all had enough IP or at bats to not qualify as a rookie in 2010.
In 2010 I do not see many rookies making the team. Possibly Matt Antonelli at mid-season if he finally gets it together at AAA or Lance Zawadzki if there are injuries on the Padres squad in the middle infield or possibly a reliever such as Evan Scribner if Heath Bell is traded away, but there just are not that many rookies who will make the major leagues youngest roster in 2010.
7) Who will be the breakout player for the Padres?
Kyle Blanks. I believe with a full year of at bats and getting to play just one position all season will give Blanks the confidence to excel. I predict "Gigantor" will explode in 2010, hitting 30+ hr and driving in 80+ runs.
8) Which player will drop off the most from 2009?
This is a very young team that should improve in 2010, but if I had to pick one player it would be Tony Gwynn Jr.
Jr. had never hit above .260 in parts of 3 ML seasons prior to joining the Padres and was on a high joining the team he grew up watching his father play for and getting to play in front of his hometown. He hit for a .270 or so average in the minors, so we know what kind of player he has been throughout his professional career. He may have a slight slump in 2010.
I am not predicting that will happen, mostly because he will be platooning with Scott Hairston in CF. He will have an opportunity to hit mainly against RHP and he has excelled at hitting RHP to this point in his career. Its LHP that have given him fits, so if he becomes the starter, he could struggle alot in that area.
9) Who is the most likely Padres player to be dangled as trade bait?
Adrian Gonzalez is the obvious choice here. Most people feel that a trade of Gonzalez is inevitable because the Padres just cannot afford the $20+ million salary he would command once his current contract is up after the 2011 season.
I also think that Heath Bell, Chris Young, Jon Garland, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Yorvit Torrealba could also be up for grabs if the Padres are struggling going into the All Star break.
10) What will be the Padres final record and divisional standing?
I am very optimistic going into this season. My prediction for 2010 is 81 wins and 3rd in the NL West.