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Black excited to lead reinforced Padres

San Diego manager should enjoy healthier roster next season

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- More than two months before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, manager Bud Black can look up and down the Padres' roster and find a lot to like.

He's got a rotation overflowing with options, a lineup that's pretty much set and a mostly healthy group of players who collectively have made far too many trips to the disabled list. The Padres are a relatively finished product because they accomplished a lot of their offseason goals before heading east for the Winter Meetings, picking up a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Josh Johnson and a much-needed left-handed hitter in outfielder Seth Smith.

But the latter acquisition came at the cost of setup man Luke Gregerson, and they gave up lefty Joe Thatcher last year to bring in starting pitcher Ian Kennedy. Those moves have left Black with an unsettled bullpen, no doubt, but there's seemingly little else to take care of this offseason.

"As we speak, we're trying to fill that void," Black said Wednesday at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. "And [general manager] Josh [Byrnes] and his guys are working awfully hard to do that. You'll probably see some different names in the bullpen to shore that up."

One of those names will belong to a left-hander, another to a late-inning option who could form the bridge to closer Huston Street. Black admitted it was tough to see Thatcher go last season and just as hard to part with Gregerson this winter, but he's confident he'll have plenty of viable options in the bullpen come Opening Day. Some of them could come through Byrnes' offseason moves, and it's not out of the question that the Padres' surplus of starters could yield a reliever.

"We'll have to look at each guy, and there are certain starters I think can pitch effectively out of the 'pen," Black said. "I think there's other starters who can't -- they're starters or nothing -- but we've got a couple of guys that we think could go into the 'pen and contribute."

The fact that Black could even discuss that topic was good enough news to him. They could have at least nine starters fighting for five spots in the rotation this spring: Andrew Cashner, Johnson, Tyson Ross, Kennedy, Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Burch Smith. Casey Kelly will start throwing in January as part of a closely monitored program and could join the mix at some point during the season.

Of course, the real question is whether they're actually going to be fully healthy. Black said Wieland will "for sure" be ready to go at the start of Spring Training, and Luebke should be "real close" depending on how he feels when he starts throwing next month. Johnson, who had bone spurs removed from his right elbow in October, has had trouble staying healthy in recent years, too.

"The depth of the starters is something that we feel good about, if they're all healthy," Black said. "We felt good about it last year. Things sort of went the other way for us."

Beyond that, the Padres are going to count on adding Smith to the group of position players they trotted out last year and hope for improved results -- and, again, much less time spent on the DL. There could be upgrades here and there, particularly on the bench, but Byrnes has said all week the club's greatest focus remains on upgrading the bullpen, not the lineup.

"The lineup we feel pretty good about," Black said. "The players that you've seen over the last couple of years are still intact. ... Health is such a big part of professional sports, and staying healthy, we need that more than anybody."

That's especially true in the case of center fielder Cameron Maybin, whose knee and wrist injuries limited him to 14 games in 2013. Black said Maybin is going to be "100 percent" by February and seemed encouraged that he expressed an interest in playing winter ball.

"He's indicated to me that he wants to play and play a lot, get a lot of at-bats," Black said. "That's a great sign that Cam wanted to play in either Venezuela or the Dominican. The injuries weren't quite healed yet, but he should be ready for spring."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

San Diego Padres