The infield was the unit that had the least remodeling done to it. One of the holdovers is first baseman Yonder Alonso. Alonso has a spotty health record and his lack of pop from the first base position may force him into a platoon with either of two new additions: Clint Barmes or Will Middlebrooks. As of now, Middlebrooks will be the team's third baseman. You can tell the Red Sox had really soured on one of their former top prospects because all it took to pry him from Boston was backup catcher Ryan Hanigan. Spacious Petco Park probably isn't the ideal venue to attempt to reboot your career. Yangervis Solarte may get some run at third if Middlebrooks falters or sees more time at first base. Another player looking for reboot himself is returning second baseman Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko showed impressive power at the plate (23 HR, .745 OPS) and steady hands in the field (4 errors in 502 chances) during his 2013 rookie season. 2014 was not as kind to the West Virginia native as his average dropped to .210 and his power was all but sapped. Was it just a sophomore slump or did the league figure him out? 2015 will be very indicative of which option rings true. The last 2014 Padre in the starting lineup is shortstop Alexi Amarista. Amarista seems a weird fit in San Diego's attempt at an All-Star Galacticos-type lineup. He is a utility player at heart who can't really hit (.234 career average), isn't particularly fast (24 SB in 4 seasons), and is a below average fielder. It'll be interesting to see if that position will be upgraded during the season. Former A's All-Star Derek Norris will be handling the catching duties in 2015. He started off hot en route to the aforementioned All-Star berth, but like the majority of the Athletics in 2014 he fell apart in the latter months. While he won't have the DH spot to fall back on in San Diego, I think Norris will perform well in his new setting.
The Fathers will trot out three new outfielders this season. Right fielder Matt Kemp joins from division foes Los Angeles with hopes of proving to my beloved Dodgers that they disposed of the wrong guy. Kemp proved last year that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated following a calamitous 2013. He may not have the legs under him anymore to be a 20/20 threat, but he can sure as hell still hit. I don't think the transition to Petco will have much of an effect either. Kemp holds a .322 career average and .867 career OPS in his new home stadium. New left fielder Justin Upton has just as much to prove, if not more, following his trade to San Diego from Atlanta. Upton's contract is up at season's end and will be looking to cash in at probably triple his current $50 million deal. He won a Silver Slugger award last year after hitting 29 home runs and driving in a career best 102. Like Kemp, the transition to the NL West won't do much to Upton's psyche having spent the first six years of his MLB life in Arizona. The last new shiny toy for manager Bud Black is Wil Myers. It was obvious that the first two additions to the outfield were salary dumps but the convoluted three way deal that landed Myers in sunny So Cal is still a bit of a head scratcher. One year removed from winning AL Rookie of the Year, Myers did battle a wrist injury that killed his 2014 production (.222 BA from .293, 6 HR from 13, 35 RBI from 53). But pulling the plug on a talent of Myers' caliber after what amounts to one full Major League season is just odd. Maybe Myers never regains his stroke and Tampa comes out smelling like roses. I think, similarly to the David Price trade, the new brain trust down at the Trop may be a little out of their depth. Don't forget though that San Diego still has their entire starting outfield from last year (Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, and Will Venable) under contract. They should become trade fodder to make room in the coming years for top prospects Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano to get roster spots.
The starting rotation wasn't immune to change either. It starts at the top with the arrival of James Shields. He comes from Kansas City fresh off a World Series run to reunite both principal pieces of the Myers/Shields KC/Tampa trade of 2012. The 4 year, $75 million contract probably had a bit more to do with it. Shields' entrance gives San Diego a true ace for the first time since former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy was in town. Last year's Opening Day starter, Andrew Cashner, slots in as the team's #2. Cashner's 5-7 record doesn't properly indicate how well he pitched in his first full season as a starting pitcher. He sported a 2.55 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and pitched two shutouts. Third starter Tyson Ross had similar success to Cashner in his first legitimate run in the rotation. He made the All-Star team supported by a 2.81 ERA and a strikeout per inning. Ross made very good use of his cavernous park as he allowed only 3 of his 13 home runs at home. Ian Kennedy will once again be the backbone of the rotation. He pitched 200 innings for the third time of his career, leading the team with 207 strikeouts. His 13 wins tied Ross for the best on the squad. The fifth starter battle is coming down to the wire between Brandon Morrow and Odrisamer Despaigne. Morrow has been a perennial underachiever forcing Toronto to finally cut bait following last year's ghastly starting performance and eventual bullpen demotion. Despaigne on the other hand was halfway decent as a midseason call-up. Neither have much upside but Despaigne is the younger (he turned 28 TODAY) and cheaper option so he'd be my pick.
The bullpen is now Joaquin Benoit's to rule after last season's trade of Huston Street. Benoit excelled as both Street's set-up man and as closer following his exit last year. If he finishes 55 games this year, his $8 million team option for next year will be guaranteed. The 37 year old should get plenty of opportunities to accomplish that goal. Setting up for Benoit will be hard throwing right handers Kevin Quackenbush and Nick Vincent. Vincent has the better control of the two, but it looked more evident in 2014 that Quackenbush had more of Bud Black's confidence. The main lefty option is Frank Garces. He gave up two runs in nine innings following his late August debut last year. The Padres may look to get a more experienced option if Garces encounters any problems over the season's opening months. Prospect Matt Wisler and former Yankee Shawn Kelley could also see important innings over the course of 2015.
The Padres did their best to shift the balance of power in the NL West. San Diego has a legitimate shot to snatch a Wild Card spot and make the Giants' and Dodgers' summers more difficult than they originally hoped they'd be. I just can't bet against other teams that have proven their worth in the past couple seasons. AJ Preller clearly has a plan and by no means looks done reshaping this squad. There is many more moves to be made and plenty of prospects who'll be Major League ready come 2016. 2015 will be good, but 2016 may have the potential to be great.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: 22 (UP 10)
PREDICTED RECORD: 86-76
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Matt Kemp (outfielder), Derek Norris (catcher), James Shields (starting pitcher), Joaquin Benoit (relief pitcher), Nick Vincent (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley once saw Ron Gant hit a walk off home run against San Diego way back in Qualcomm Park.
Image Credit: Padres logo (sportslogos.net)