Baseball is back and that means it's time for us to preview the Mets' opening series with the San Diego Padres. Bud Black's team finished last season in fourth place in the National League West with a 76-86 record. I sent a few questions over to jodes0405, one of the bloggers at SB Nation's Gaslamp Ball, in order to give us some more insight into the 2013 Padres and she was kind enough to help us out.
Amazin' Avenue: With the Giants coming off a World Series championship, the Dodgers spending like drunken sailors, and the Diamondbacks still formidable, the NL West looks to be relatively competitive again. What are your expectations for this Padres club and where do you see them fitting in that division?
Gaslamp Ball: This will be an interesting season for the Padres. General consensus seems to be that 2013 will be just another rebuilding year for SD. Our offseason was pretty uneventful in terms of acquiring new talent, and the injuries that plagued the team last season seem to be continuing into this one. On paper, the Padres seem destined to finish no higher than third or fourth place. But there are some things to be optimistic about. We have a young group of guys who show a lot of promise, and with our front office’s decision to move in the fences this past offseason, we could be looking at a much improved offense. We’ll be missing some key players to start the season, but April and May are usually never great months for the Padres anyway, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the team kind of stumbles out of the gate.
Our rotation is far from flashy, but if our pitchers stay healthy they will surprise some people. Also, I give a lot of credit to Bud Black and our coaching staff for bringing a team together and pushing them to exceed expectations. It’s why he was named NL Manager of the Year in 2010. So even though most would put SD in the bottom of the NL West this year, I would go out on a limb and say they could very well make things interesting in the division.
AA: Which players do you see as the biggest keys to the Padres' success in 2013 and beyond, and do you see any potential sleeper contributors that could really help the club that Mets' fans might be unaware of?
GB: In past years, the emphasis for the Padres has tended to be on pitching. However, I think there will be a much bigger emphasis on offensive production, especially with our ballpark’s new dimensions. I think Nick Hundley will play a major role in how the Padres do this season. He’ll be looking to redeem himself after a troublesome 2012 that saw him sent back to the minors. But he had a very strong Spring campaign and he will have the chance to continue that into the regular season while Yasmani Grandal serves his suspension.
Another player that could be key is Jedd Gyorko, who will be getting his first taste of the majors. He spent most of his Spring at second base as the Padres were grooming him for a starting job there, even though he came up as a third baseman. But with Chase Headley and Logan Forsythe both starting the season on the DL, Gyorko will get some starts at both second and third and could be a very exciting and productive addition to the lineup this year and beyond. I would also count on players like Everth Cabrera and Alexi Amarista to help on offense. Their speed makes them dangerous on the basepaths (Cabrera led the NL in stolen bases last season despite spending six weeks in Triple-A). They’ve both been inconsistent/streaky in the past, but can be deadly when they hit a hot streak.
AA: Chase Headley will start the year on the disabled list but is coming off of a breakout season in 2012. As I recall, there was a lot of chatter late in the year (and in the offseason) about the Padres using Headley as trade bait but they ended up hanging onto the 28-year old. Do you see the overall gains that he made in 2012 (mainly regarding his power) as sustainable and what do you think of his long term future in San Diego?
GB: Chase Headley is in his prime right now. His 2012 season wasn’t a fluke, but rather a result of the work he did to improve his mechanics at the plate. Headley is an intelligent player and knows the game very well, and I think that will help him continue his success as both a hitter and a defender into this season and beyond. Headley agreed to an $8.575 million deal with the Padres for 2013 and he’s arbitration eligible again next year. If he does have another year like last year, I can see his value increasing to the point where it might just be best to move him, especially when the Padres have a player like Jedd Gyorko who would be an above average replacement for Headley. The Padres’ infield right now (injuries aside) is one of the strongest they’ve had in a while and, as we’ve already seen this offseason, we have multiple players in the system who could contribute to the team in Headley’s absence. Fans would love to keep Headley because he’s a great player and just an all-around great guy. I’m a big Headley fan, but I’m not keeping my hopes up too high.
AA: Last offseason, the Mat Latos trade with the Reds brought some exciting young talent to San Diego. A year later, though, Yasmani Grandal is set to begin the year on the shelf due to a PED suspension and Yonder Alonso will be looking to build on a .273/.348/.393 season that came with only a .120 ISO. How do Padres fans feel about this trade a year later, and in general about the job that Josh Byrnes has done so far in rebuilding the team?
GB: Even though I think most fans agreed at the time that it was very reasonable trade and one that the Padres couldn’t have said no to, it still left kind of a bitter taste in our mouths because Latos was a fan favorite. A lot of us really needed that trade to work out to get over the loss of Latos, and for a while it seemed like it did. With the season Nick Hundley had, Grandal was a welcome addition to the team in the latter part of the season and helped the Padres win a lot of games down the stretch. Edinson Volquez had his ups and downs but the fact that he stayed healthy the entire season was a great upside considering the rotating door of starting pitchers the team went through last year. Alonso is still learning and even though he didn’t exactly have a breakout year in 2012, he seemed to progress as the season went on, and I think he’ll continue to progress and grow with time. Brad Boxberger also helped out the team in the latter half of the season last year and his development is still in progress, but he has the potential to be a great asset out of the bullpen. So despite Grandal’s suspension, there is still a lot of good that came out of that particular trade and I think for the most part Padres fans still consider it a success (in the making).
However, a lot of fans were very unhappy with the lack of activity by Byrnes in the offseason. They expected him to acquire a nice arm via free agency to boost the rotation. But his biggest move last Winter was to resign Jason Marquis, who will start the season pitching in the no. 4 spot. Many also wanted Byrnes to take action on Chase Headley, either by trading him or signing him long-term, neither of which happened. I think Byrnes is someone that Padres fans are divided on. Some trust that he knows what he’s doing and believe he’s doing what is best for the team while others don’t find him up to the task of making this a team worthy of contention.
AA: It looks like gigantic outfielder Kyle Blanks had a strong spring for the Padres after missing most of last season. What are the expectations for him this year and do you think he can stay healthy enough to fulfill them?
GB: Injuries have definitely been a big hindrance to Blanks’ career. When he is healthy, he can hit for power and his defense plays well both at first base and in the outfield, as he showed us in 2009. He’ll start this season in Triple-A Tucson, which will be good for him. Bud Black wants him to establish his durability, and he will get the chance to do so in Tucson where he can be an everyday player. Blanks is an extremely hard worker and has taken up a really optimistic approach coming into this season, which is crucial after what he’s gone through in his career. If he can keep up that mentality to go along with his physical abilities, this could be a great year for him.
Thanks to jodes0405 for giving us a preview of the Padres. Here are the pitching matchups for the opening series: