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5 questions the Padres face this offseason

@AJCassavell
October 9, 2020

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, the Padres entered their offseason fresh off a last-place finish. They needed a new manager, a roster overhaul and answers up the middle of the diamond. Check. Check. And check. This offseason came too soon for their liking. But organizationally, the

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, the Padres entered their offseason fresh off a last-place finish. They needed a new manager, a roster overhaul and answers up the middle of the diamond.

Check. Check. And check.

This offseason came too soon for their liking. But organizationally, the Padres are in a much better spot than they were a season ago.

Tatis says Padres' future will 'be a fun ride'

Still, there are some important questions that need to be answered this offseason. Here are five:

1) What's the health status of the two aces?

The Padres will always be left with a wretched "what if" from their 2020 season. What if Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet hadn't sustained arm injuries in their final starts of the regular season? The two combined for just one postseason start, which resulted in Clevinger's exit after just 24 pitches.

More important: What happens next? Clevinger was diagnosed with a right elbow impingement and after his last playoff start said it felt "like my bones are hitting in the back of my elbow."

The Padres got assurances that Clevinger could do no further damage to the injury by attempting to pitch through it. But it's unclear what the recovery process might look like and whether it could require arthroscopic surgery.

As for Lamet, his injury status is even less clear, mostly because he never quite worked his way back to the point of pitching in games. According to general manager A.J. Preller, Lamet had been sore in the "biceps, distal triceps area." While the Padres were still playing, Lamet was evaluated by an elbow specialist and was cleared to continue throwing, which is an undoubtedly positive sign.

2) What else is needed in the rotation?

It's a tricky question to answer, given that the Padres don't yet know the status of their two best starting pitchers.

Lamet broke out in a big way, posting a 2.09 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 69 innings this season. Clevinger, meanwhile, only made eight starts with a 3.02 ERA, but his 3.19 mark over the past five seasons is fifth among all qualifying starters.

If those two are healthy, the rotation might only require a tweak or two. Zach Davies emerged as a perfect back-of-the rotation arm, and the Padres probably want to keep opportunity available for big-time prospects like MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño and Ryan Weathers.

But Preller isn't one to rest on his laurels, and if there's a major rotation upgrade within his price range -- whether via trade or free agency -- you can bet he'll pursue it.

Of course there's another question that -- if answered -- changes the dynamic ...

3) How do you fix Paddack?

A year ago, the Padres knew Lamet was on the verge of a breakout. But his fastball was just too hittable. So they invested time and resources, sending staff to the Dominican Republic to work with Lamet -- strengthening to improve his velocity, mechanical tweaks to improve the pitch's efficiency.

Sure enough, Lamet's velocity and spin rate both ticked up significantly. The results were precisely what the Padres hoped for. Opponents batted .329 against Lamet fastballs in 2019. They batted just .225 in '20. Pairing that fastball with one of the sport's best sliders, Lamet became a certifiable ace.

This winter, the Padres are facing a similar task with Chris Paddack, who owns one of the sport's best changeups -- and plenty of swagger -- but a fastball that abandoned him in 2020. Paddack's spin rate ticked down significantly, and opponents hit .308 against the pitch, after they’d batted .204 against it during his rookie season.

For all the talk of Paddack needing a third pitch -- he has a passable curveball, and he's dabbled with a cutter -- he was successful with just two pitches in 2019. But Paddack certainly won't be successful if he only has one.

4) Who are the complementary pieces on offense?

Offensively, there aren't many lingering questions. The Padres had concerns up the middle last season. They answered those by trading for Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth and Austin Nola (and by getting a major defensive turnaround from Fernando Tatis Jr.).

Preller built a roster that was meant to endure attrition. From the starting lineup, only one place is vacant -- the spot in which Mitch Moreland and Jurickson Profar platooned.

The Padres will almost certainly explore bringing back Moreland, who has a $3 million team option. It's possible they bring back Profar, too. But he's a 27-year-old versatile free agent coming off his best offensive season. That will be decidedly more difficult.

If the Padres make a splash anywhere, it'll be in the outfield corners, where Tommy Pham and Wil Myers are nearing the end of their contracts. But considering what the offense looked like in 2020, it's possible Preller simply decides to run it back.

5) What happens to the two free agent closers?

For nearly three years, Kirby Yates anchored the Padres' bullpen. But his 2020 season ended early due to bone chips in his elbow, so the Padres traded for right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, who didn't allow an earned run in nine appearances down the stretch.

Both will become free agents, and the Padres’ most important task this winter might be stabilizing their bullpen.

Emilio Pagán and Drew Pomeranz served as useful setup men, and they'll be back in 2021. But question marks abound after those two, and bullpens are a notoriously volatile beast.

If there's a major shakeup anywhere on the Padres' roster, it will almost certainly be in the relief corps.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.