Padres aim to rebound in '14; must get healthy first
SAN DIEGO -- The answer to what Padres general manager Josh Byrnes would like to see more of in 2014 is simple -- more victories.
To achieve that, Byrnes knows there's one widespread issue that must get better, an element that extends far beyond player procurement.
"I think a lot of the pieces are here but we haven't had a lot of health the last two years to see how all those pieces fit together," Byrnes said.
Looking ahead to 2014, the Padres will try to make inroads in the National League West but fielding a healthy team has eluded Byrnes and manager Bud Black.
"The first order of business is health, then adding on to what we have," Byrnes said. "... That could be a starting pitcher or adding another bullpen arm or -- it's hard to get a big bat -- but a bat to better balance our lineup."
The Padres will head into 2014 with some nice pieces to the rotation, thanks to the development this season of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, two power pitchers, who took big steps forward this season.
"Cash and Tyson, the way that they've thrown in the second half, is very encouraging," Black said. "... And with some guys coming back from injuries and the guys we have in the Minors, there's a lot of encouraging signs."
The Padres are hopeful for healthy seasons from outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin and a full season of All-Star shortstop Everth Cabrera and first baseman Yonder Alonso. They're also looking for a bounce-back year from third baseman Chase Headley.
How good can the Padres be in 2014?
"That's a great question," said catcher Nick Hundley. "We've got a lot to prove. We haven't proven that we can win consistently at all. We've got a lot of work to do to win the division.
"I love the group. I'm not in other clubhouses, but these are some of the more hard-working, blue collar guys in the game. We've got to expect more out of ourselves."
Arbitration-eligible: 3B Chase Headley, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Luke Gregerson, SS Everth Cabrera, INF/OF Jesus Guzman, RHP Andrew Cashner, 1B/OF Kyle Blanks, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Tim Stauffer.
Free agents: RHP Jason Marquis, SS Ronny Cedeno, C Rene Rivera. OF Mark Kotsay has announced he will retire.
Rotation: The rotation will look vastly different in 2014 than it did on Opening Day this season.
First of all, three members of the rotation likely won't be back as the team designated Edinson Volquez for assignment in August and will most likely non-tender Clayton Richard. Marquis had Tommy John surgery and isn't in the plans moving forward.
Now for the positives: The Padres really like what they have in Cashner and Ross, who will anchor the rotation and offer an arsenal of pitches that miss bats.
The Padres traded for Ian Kennedy on July 31 and he pitched well, particularly at Petco Park, following the trade from Arizona.
There's some interesting candidates for the other spots in the rotation. Veteran lefty Eric Stults can start or pitch in relief. Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland, who each missed the season after Tommy John surgery in 2012, could return. Both had setbacks in rehabilitation but both should be ready by Spring Training.
Look for the Padres to add a starting pitcher between now and the start of Spring Training.
Rookies Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin showed well at times in 2013. Smith took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in a September start in Atlanta, striking out 10. Erlin pitched aggressively against right-handed batters and offers very good command. Minor League prospect Matt Wisler could make a push during Spring Training.
Bullpen: The bullpen was a mixed bag in 2012. The back end -- Luke Gregerson and closer Huston Street -- were again very good in 2013, though Street had a few hiccups early in the year that he subsequently smoothed out as the season wore on.
Nick Vincent was solid again and earned the trust of Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley in terms of pitching in high-leverage situations. Tim Stauffer pitched well and could be the long man out of the bullpen again in 2014.
There are a lot of young relievers -- young in age and/or service time -- that have struggled but have also shown promise: Anthony Bass, Brad Brach, Brad Boxberger, Miles Mikolas. Some will be with the team next season, some won't. Dale Thayer scuffled in the second half. Minor League prospect Kevin Quackenbush could get a look with a strong spring.
Catcher: After a lost season in 2012 -- injuries and underperformance -- Nick Hundley bounced back to some degree in 2013, reaching double-digits in home runs while handling the pitching staff. The Padres still aren't sure what they have in Yasmani Grandal, who was suspended for the first 50 games and later suffered a nasty knee injury that could keep him out until mid-2014 or beyond.
Rene Rivera got a handful of starts in September as the team continued to look at him as a potential second catcher in 2014. He handled the staff well and earned rave reviews from several pitchers and figures to return, while Grandal heals.
First base: Yonder Alonso was off to a strong start, hitting .284 with six home runs in 190 at-bats when he broke a bone in his right hand. He missed 34 games but once he returned, the strength in the hand wasn't there. Soreness in the hand forced him out of the lineup on August 30 and he didn't return. The Padres still like Alonso's upside, his gap-to-gap approach and ability to hit a lot of doubles. There are other options to fill-in, like Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman.
Second base: One word: Gyorko. Rookie Jedd Gyorko quelled any concerns that he wouldn't be able to handle the jump to the big leagues in 2013 by putting together a strong season. He hit for plenty of power and provided better-than-expected defense. His statistics might have been even better had he not missed 30 games with a groin strain. Logan Forsythe and Alexi Amarista can also handle the position if need be.
Shortstop: The Padres loved the way Everth Cabrera's total game -- offense, defense and base running -- came together in the first half, as the was the Padres lone All-Star representative. But his career high came to a halt in August when he was suspended for the final 50 games of the season after violating baseball's drug policy. Veteran Ronny Cedeno was a nice fit as a replacement, defensively and his offense wasn't bad either. There's a chance he could return in 2014.
Third base: Chase Headley struggled offensively for the first five months of the season, getting off to a slow start after a fractured finger in Spring Training and never really finding that sweet stroke that allowed him to lead the NL in RBIs (115) in 2012. He was durable and again played good defense. Headley won't be a free agent until after 2014, and he's expected to listen this winter if the Padres are still interesting in locking him up to a deal. Forsythe can play third base and Gyorko -- a third baseman who moved to second base -- could always end up there if the Padres opted to trade Headley.
Left field: Carlos Quentin has had three surgeries on his right knee since he was obtained on December 31, 2011. The last came in September, and he was optimistic that this surgery and his new stance, which alleviates pressure on the knee, will be the key to keeping him on the field more in 2014. Quentin hasn't played more than 86 games in each of his first two seasons. Chris Denorfia, Guzman and Blanks have also seen time in left field.
Center field: The Padres are hoping Cameron Maybin -- limited to 14 games last season due to wrist and knee injuries -- will return to reclaim his old spot. Maybin has had a nagging wrist issue these last two seasons but had surgery on it in September that he hopes will allow him to stay on the field. The Padres would love to see him revert back to his 2011 form. Will Venable saw a lot of playing time this past season in center field in Maybin's absence and Denorfia can play there as well.
Right field: What started as a platoon between Denorfia and Venable turned into Venable being in the lineup essentially every day. He got off to a slow start and caught fire in the second half, reaching the 20-20 plateau for home runs and steals. Like Denorfia, Venable is capable of moving around the outfield. The same could be said for Blanks, who is also a fit in right field.