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Know Your Enemy: San Diego Padres 2011 Preview

Adrian Gonzalez. Not a Padre any more.
Adrian Gonzalez. Not a Padre any more.

2010 Record: 90-72 (2nd) - 10-8 vs. Arizona
2010 OPS+ 93
2010 ERA+ 108 (6th)
Key departures: Adrian Gonzalez (6.3 WAR), Yorvit Torrealba (2.8), Jon Garland (1.8), Miguel Tejada (1.8), David Eckstein (1.4), Chris Young (0.9), Matt Stairs (0.5)
Key arrivals: Orlando Hudson (2.0 WAR), Jason Bartlett (1.8), Brad Hawpe (0.8), Dustin Moseley (0.5), Rob Johnson (0.3), Cameron Maybin (0.3), Jorge Cantu (0.1), Aaron Harang (-1.2), Chad Qualls (-3.0).
2011 Projection: 83-79 (CAIRO), 79-83 (BP)

Well, there's no denying the Padres were certainly busy during the off-season, but it seems a strange pattern of behavior for a team which had a shot at a playoff spot until the very last afternoon of the season in 2010. The trade of easily their best player in Adrian Gonzalez, may have made sense given his imminent free-agency, but it creates a massive hole in their line-up. Can they fill it?

After initially surprising many pundits, who had picked them to finish last in the NL West, San Diego then pulled off one of the biggest choke jobs in recent baseball history. On August 25, they were 6.5 games up in the West, and CoolStandings gave them a 97.2% chance of post-season baseball. But the Padres went 14-23 the rest of the way - the worst record in the National League after that date - losing the division to the Giants, and the wild-card to the Braves. Personally speaking, watching that meltdown, and the angst which resulted, was one of the highlights of the 2010 campaign. If you can't have triumph yourself, watching others fail will do.

Anyway, the accepted wisdom is that the Padres did so well last year with pitching and defense. But as I mentioned earlier in the week, by ERA+, they were only the third-ranked staff in the division, being made to look better than they are by the park [you could, admittedly, probably say the same about the D-backs hitters]. Latos is a legitimate ace, with Clayton Richard also a decent pitcher, but new signing Aaron Harang is 18-38 over the past three years, with a 4.71 ERA - there's only so much moving to Petco can do. The fifth spot is still wide-open, with Wade LeBlanc, Moseley and Cory Luebke the leading contenders.

The big problem is the offense. It's credible they could be without a 20-homer player: the loss of Gonzalez leaves Ryan Ludwick's 17 HR and 69 RBI as the best numbers last year by anyone on the roster. And the last teams to win more than 82 games without a 20-HR guy, were the 1992 Reds and Twins. The Padres have almost completely retooled up the middle, Nick Hundley stepping into the frontline catcher's role, after the departure of Torrealba. Hudson and Bartlett replace Eckstein and Tejada, while they will be looking for big things from Maybin in CF, who was the tenth overall pick in the 2005 draft. He has yet to live up to the hype, though is still only 23.

While closer Heath Bell will be back to anchor the pen, along with Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams, some retooling has been needed here. To get Maybin San Diego trading away relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica, who threw nearly 130 innings out of the bullpen, at a 3.29 ERA. To help replace those frames, the Padres signed Chad Qualls. Yep: that Chad Qualls. They'll be hoping his knee was the cause of his problems last year, as he now claims. Pity you didn't achieve this state of enlightenment last spring training, eh, Chad?

The San Diego fans didn't exactly turn out in droves to see their boys fight for the pennant - the average crowd at Petco was less than a thousand better than the turnout at Chase, who watched the Diamondbacks' grind their way to nearly a hundred losses. Now that the Padres have lost their star attractions - no Peavy, no A-gon, and with a total salary bill that may be ahead only of the Pirates - will anyone have any reason to show up? Particularly if San Diego start off the campaiign as badly as they finished the last, Petco could become the place to go in the city, if you want to get away from it all.

Just doing a simple balancing of WAR that arrived and left Southern California, and even assuming Harang and Qualls bounceback to replacement level, the Padres off-season cost them about ten WAR. Some of that may be replaced if Maybin reached his potential, but can Chase Headley have another 4 WAR season? Given the volatile nature of bullpen pitchers, can Bell and Adams finish among the top eight WARriors for NL relievers again? It's too many questions, and I think the Padres will be hard pushed to finish above .500 without Gonzalez to power the offense. 80 wins for me - though they will,. of course, finish second....