Padres have many question marks as season gets under way against Dodgers


Analysis by Phil Dailey

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.

Huston Street also joins the team as the new closer, taking over for Bell, who left for Miami.

Street is a legitimate closer after earning 20 or more saves the past three season with the Colorado Rockies.

Who’s back this season

Among the players back with the Padres this season is 2011 team MVP Cameron Maybin, the team’s center fielder. Maybin, who is only 24, was the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft and is starting to produce at the level that was expected. This season will be huge for Maybin if he wants to make the leap from quality player to star player.

Also returning for the Padres is third baseman Chase Headley who could be the team’s top all-around player. He can get on base and is one of the best fielders at his position in the league. Other returning starters include second baseman Orlando Hudson, catcher Nick Hundley, shortstop Jason Bartlett, outfielder Will Veneble and pitchers Tim Stauffer Clayton Richards and Cory Luebke.

The season will be a success if …

This year’s team has a nice core of players who have played together, but it also has several new players who are expected to contribute. If that happens, the 2012 season could be much like 2010, a team that came out of nowhere and simply played well together. Now a 90-win season may not be likely, but if it all comes together for manager Bud Black, the team could hang around the .500 win mark for most of the season.

The season will be a failure if …

Nobody is predicting the Padres to win the NL West so not making the playoffs is not going to make this season a bust. However, with many of the new acquisitions as well as holdovers from last season, this team should be headed in the right direction. If there is not an improvement on last season’s 71-91 campaign, then the team has not improved, and ultimately, produced a second straight season of failure.