Young nucleus to lead optimistic Padres in 2013
"I think this team has a shot at doing something special next year," said Padres pitcher Anthony Bass.
There's sufficient reason for hope after a strong second half to the season that saw the team play a lot better thanks in part to its offensive resurgence, buoyed by the bats of Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonso and Chase Headley, among others.
"We do think this is a good group," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes.
The group, at least from a position-player perspective, figures to hold firm over the winter, as Quentin signed a contract extension this summer, while all of the major players who fed that offense following the All-Star break are expected back.
Included in that mix is Headley, who had a breakout season at third base, surpassing the 100-RBI mark, showing more pull-side power while displaying durability.
"The lineup in general, there's an upside where I don't know if we need to mess with it a lot," said San Diego manager Bud Black, who just completed his sixth season with the team.
That doesn't mean there won't be some change. The Padres might be fairly set from a position-player perspective and at closer, where All-Star Huston Street returns after signing an extension this summer.
The Padres figure to go after -- either through trade or free agency -- at least two starting pitchers to add to their rotational mix, a unit that took heavy hits early in the season with injuries to Dustin Moseley, Cory Luebke, Tim Stauffer and Joe Wieland, all four of whom were expected to contribute.
If the Padres decide to add arms through free agency, they appear to not only have a new ownership group willing to increase payroll -- see extensions for Quentin and Street -- but they certainly have the pull of pitching at spacious Petco Park. That same attraction doesn't work with position players.
There are signs that a Padres revival might not be far off. Consider the case of Street, who likely would have made more money on the open market. But he liked the direction the team was headed, the attitude and the optimism of what could happen here.
He wanted to be a part of this.
"The organization itself is a bunch of people that I like, that I like being around, that I want to go play for, and ultimately you have to believe in that, you have to believe in everybody involved," Street said. "Like I told Buddy and the rest of the coaches, I wouldn't have signed this if I didn't believe in you guys, if I didn't believe in the rest of my teammates."
Catcher: Rookie Yasmani Grandal hit two home runs in his first start in June, and he handled the position so well in the second half that the Padres feel he's ready to handle it on a full-time basis, even if he's caught fewer than 300 games in the Minor Leagues. John Baker took care of the backup duties very well and worked well with the pitching staff. Nick Hundley, who signed an extension in March, is still owed $7 million over the next two seasons. He could return as well, either to try and reclaim his starting job or as Grandal's backup. This one could be interesting.
First base: No mystery here, as Alonso, in his first full Major League season, has proved that he can handle the position, can hit left-handed pitching, is durable and isn't scared off by hitting at his home ballpark. There's a lot to like about his game, and don't be surprised if he shows more power in 2013. Jesus Guzman will play some first base, as well, though likely only against tough left-handers.
Second base: This position bears watching, as rookie Jedd Gyorko, if he has a good spring, could be the frontrunner here. He's done all he could at Triple-A, and if Headley isn't going anywhere, he will need somewhere other than third base to play. The good news is he got a big taste of second base in Tucson. Logan Forsythe, who was very good offensively in the second half, could see a lot of time here. A third baseman by trade, he fared well at second base at times, though he's still learning the position.
Shortstop: Everth Cabrera showed the Padres something in the second half, both with his bat -- a switch-hitter, he was much better hitting left-handed -- and his defense. Shortstop is a tough position to play, but Cabrera has the right skill set to make it work. There's no one in the system ready to play in the big leagues that can do so on an everyday basis. Look for Forsythe to get some reps during Spring Training at shortstop, but that's not his ultimate destination.
Third base: While Headley was coveted by other teams at the Trade Deadline, the chance the Padres trade him in the offseason is awfully slim. He produced a monster season at the plate, as he generated more pull-side loft in his swing and became a big-time run producer. Gyorko is in the wings, but he'll likely make the team anyway, though at second base. Headley is durable, his left-right splits (he's a switch-hitter) improved, as did his hitting at spacious Petco Park.
Outfield: The Padres are set in center field with Cameron Maybin and in left with Quentin, though he'll need relief on occasion. Super reserve Chris Denorfia will be back, and he can hit lefties well, as does Guzman. Denorfia could be a fit in right field, as well, if the team prefers to have a left-right platoon with Will Venable, unless the team decides to non-tender him. Also, veteran Mark Kotsay showed he can still play the outfield. There's a lot of mix-and-match options here.
Starting pitching: This is an area the Padres will address this winter, possibly adding as many as two starters to the mix. Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez will return, and each was durable and had plenty of success in 2012. Casey Kelly, a 22-year-old, showed good signs. Luebke and Wieland each had Tommy John surgery in the spring and won't be back until midseason at the earliest. Another pitcher, Eric Stults, could win a job at the back end of the rotation.
Relief pitching: The team is set at closer with All-Star Street, who pitched like one when he was healthy. Street missed 64 games on two DL stints, none involving his right arm or shoulder. Luke Gregerson got his slider back in 2012, and will be a part of the bullpen moving forward. The second half gave Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley plenty of time to work with and evaluate rookies like Brad Brach, Dale Thayer and Nick Vincent, who could have spots in the bullpen in '13. Look for left-hander Joe Thatcher to return as well.