This will be the first in a series of four pieces looking at the off-season moves made by our divisional rivals, and what impact they will have on their chances of competing with the Diamondbacks in the NL West next season. I am trying to be as neutral as possible in these pieces. However, I fully expect mobs of outraged fans with torches to be storming SnakePit Towers because I haven't pre-anointed their team as winners of the NL West. I will be attempting to delay this fate by starting with the one team whose fans surely harbor no such lofty aspirations.
It's amazing how fast the Padres imploded. In 2007, they were within an inch of the playoffs, losing three straight (twice after leading with three outs to get), when a win in any game would have meant a post-season spot.. The Padres then blew chunks in 2008, posting 26 fewer wins, for the franchise''s worst record in fifteen years and barely avoiding 100 defeats. They spent most of the off-season trying to trade away ace Jake Peavy to the Cubs and Braves - these efforts failed, though they may keep trying until the deadline. However, the arrival of white knight Jeff Moorad may mean instructions from the divorce-pending Moores to reduce the payroll to $40 million could no longer apply. This would let the Padres hold onto Peavy and start the reconstruction process sooner rather than later, by building around their ace, rather than converting him into prospects.
The team did deal Hippy Anime Character Khalil Greene to the Cardinals for prospects, and re-signed Brian Giles (now embroiled in a nasty legal spat with a former girlfriend; plenty of heckling fodder to be found there. Between him and the Moores, San Diego appears to resemble an episode of Jerry Springer more than anything), Scott Hairston and Jody Gerut. All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman was allowed to leave, but as he was barely league-average last season, resigning him probably wouldn't have been a good use of SD's (then) severely limited resources. They also cut ties with Matt Bush, recently described by Geoff of Ducksnorts as, "Former first pick overall who couldn’t hit, became a pitcher, blew out his arm, got into off-field trouble, and generally represented organization’s failure to implement a sound draft process."
Meanwhile, their prime free agent signing was Diamondbacks' castoff, the classic Scrappy White Guy David Eckstein, and they also added more Arizona rejects, in the form of Brandon Medders and...Chris Burke. Yeah. that Chris Burke, who batted .194 for us, and hammered his way to a massive .273 slugging percentage, in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the National League. He will now be at home in Petco, where the Mendoza Line is regarded as a decent target for batters to aim at. It was only a minor-league contract, but even so: Burke had the worst year by any D-backs hitter with that many PAs since 2003. And San Diego still picked him up...
The main issue left unaddressed is the rotation, which has more holes . Peavy will be solid, and Chris Young should have recovered from the horrific injury that derailed his season. However, beyond that, are a whole bunch of questionmarks. They took a flier on Mark Prior, whose last major-league start was in August 2006 but will need at least one, probably two more starters. Heath Bell is the most likely man to step into Hoffman's shoes as closer, but there are a few spaces in the bullpen too, which will need to be filled before Opening Day.
The offense will once again be better than Petco makes it looks, with dangerous hitters like Giles, Adrian Gonzalez and Gerut [who really need a cool nickname like The Killer G's], as well as Kevin Kouzmanoff. That should help an offense which really struggled last season, scoring less than four runs per game, with the lowest total in the National League since the 2004 Diamondbacks - and we all know how bad they were. Probably the biggest hope for respectability and improvement in the standings lies there; there won't be many runs scored at Petco, and the Padres just need to make sure they are responsible for most of them.
Overall. Anything other than a last-place finish would be as much a surprise as the Giants avoiding the cellar in 2008. However, it's still likely the Padres won't be as bad as they were, simply because it would take a near-perfect storm of bad luck and poor judgment to repeat that. On the other hand, they still don't seem to have what it takes to rebound all the way back up to .500, especially with the lack of positive action this winter. They're probably stuck in a holding pattern, until the sale of the franchise is completed, and a road-map towards competition can begin to be followed. 2009 won't be that year. Prediction: 74-88, fifth place.