The San Diego Padres have to be better than they were in 2011, right? After all, last season’s team was among the worst in baseball — only the Houston Astros had a worse record in the National League last year. And this was coming off a 2010 season when the team had 90 wins, just barely missing the playoffs.
But when the season opener begins Thursday at Petco Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers (first pitch is at 4:05 p.m.), the expectations won’t be for the Padres to contend in the NL West, rather, it will be the start of a new era for the Friars.
Gone is long-time closer Heath Bell (now with the Miami Marlins) and also gone is standout starter Mat Latos (now with the Cincinnati Reds). The team also traded away prized prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs.
This year’s squad has a slew of young players who are ready to show they belong in the Big Leagues, but fans may not want to get too excited for a playoff run, especially in the competitive NL West.
Who’s gone from last season
The Padres were busy this past offseason with several moves, not only are Bell, Latos and Rizzo no longer with the team, but also gone are several key role players from last year’s club such as pitchers Aaron Harang, Chad Qualls, Wade LeBlanc, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and first baseman Brad Hawpe.
Losing Bell may hurt when it comes to closing out games, but the loss of Ludwick and Hawpe likely won’t. Each under performed last season and were a disappointment to fans who had followed their careers prior to joining the Padres.
The biggest loss, however, might be that of Latos. The 24-year-old was expected to be a long-time fit.
Who’s new this season
Among the new additions to the club is San Diego native Carlos Quentin, a two-time All Star with the Chicago White Sox and a former standout at University of San Diego High School (now Cathedral Catholic). Quentin, who is now 29, has the potential to be one of the top hitters on the team this season, but has been hampered with injuries in spring training. Expect Quentin to miss a few weeks early in the season (he had arthroscopic knee surgery on March 19), but also expect him to be a major contributor at the plate when he get’s back to full health.
Two other newcomers landed in San Diego via the trade to the Reds for Latos. Up-and-comer Yonder Alonso will be the team’s starting first baseman, and after playing sparingly with the Reds, could be a contender for the National League Rookie of the Year award if he lives up to expectations.
Edinson Volquez joined the team in that trade and he will take the mound today in the season opener. Volquez is somewhat of a wild card but has the ability to be the team’s No. 1 starter. Back in 2008, Volquez went 17-6 with the Reds, striking out 206 batters. He followed up that stellar all-star season in 2009 with an injury that led to Tommy John surgery. In 2010 Volquez was suspended for 50 games for using performance-enhancing drugs, and last season, he finished with a 5-7 record in 20 starts for the Reds. If Volquez can get back to his 2008 form, fans will be more than happy with the Latos trade. However, that’s a big “if” for the Padres considering how his last few seasons have gone.