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September 27, 2009
San Diego Padres
Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 71-91, fourth place
Some of the young pitching does seem promising-so, hope, anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Frye?
Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take
What went wrong: Nobody wants to get into soap opera stuff, but the fact is that the Padres' recent shift in fortunes stem from the breakup of the marriage of owner John Moores. The payroll had to be cut by almost 50 percent as the terms of the divorce was settled, and this is why Trevor Hoffman and eventually Jake Peavy were dumped, and a group led by Jeff Moorad eventually acquired the team. But the good news for the Padres is that the franchise might have hit rock bottom in late July-and showed dramatic improvement in the last eight weeks, to the point where general manager Kevin Towers believes that the Padres could climb over .500 in 2010. San Diego before July 27: 38- 62. San Diego, with a much improved defense, from July 28 forward: 32-21. That's why it's unlikely they will trade first baseman Adrian Gonzalez; they think they have a chance next year.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: Think of yourself taking 50 cents into a candy store. You can buy one thing and one thing only-so it better be good. These are the parameters under which the Padres will be operating this offseason. They probably will have a little cash to spend in what will be a slow free-agent market, so they probably can land the veteran starting pitcher that they need to anchor the rotation, and they'll probably pursue an experienced outfielder, someone like Randy Winn. But in order to have any chance to contend next season, they can't miss, can't afford to have a bust the way that the Rays did with Pat Burrell. But the Padres will take that chance, because their turnaround seems to have come much more quickly than anybody in the organization expected.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
Pop quiz: Who's the second-best hitter on the Padres this year? If you answered Scott Hairston, who hasn't been on the team since July 5 and racked up just 216 plate appearances while he was in San Diego, then you are correct-and have most likely witnessed most of this year's disaster first-hand. To know who any of the other successful players of 2009 were on offense, you would need to have been paying attention. Having Everth Cabrera (16.4 VORP), Will Venable (14.9), and Kyle Blanks (9.8) all help out has been great for those awaiting an infusion of younger talent into the Padres' lineup, but the problem is that outside of Adrian Gonzalez they've been the main sources of the club's offense. Brian Giles was the team leader in EqA in 2008, but posted a -14.7 VORP this year before being shut down with an injury. Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff, two of the organization's supposed better young talents, continue to frustrate, but at least Kouzy has had a good second half (.281/.343/.449).-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus
Key stat: -110
The Padres were embarrassing at the break, with a run differential of -110, thanks to terrible pitching and a bad offense. In the most recent 66 games, though, the Padres have scored 276 runs, or 4.2 per game. While not great, the previous rate was 3.8-which is worse than the San Francisco Giants' current, historically-bad output. Their current run differential is still awful thanks to the first half, but during that same 66-game stretch, their run differential was -22. So, they are still a bit over their heads, but playing somewhere around .500 is much, much better than being unwatchably bad. Sure, a poorer record would net them better draft picks, but it's nice to see that the kids they already employ are helping the cause, and that, unlike the Royals, there may be something to their recent success in the standings.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus
ESPN.com Rumor Central
Trades: The Padres lose the contract of Brian Giles, and minus the commitment to Jake Peavy, this is a team that could very well get their payroll down into the $20 million range in terms of '10 commitments. The way to do that and open the door to pursue almost anybody from Chone Figgins to virtually any of the top free-agent pitchers, such as Randy Wolf and John Lackey, is easy-trade Heath Bell. There are two reasons to do it. One, his value is never going to be higher, and two, why keep a premier closer for a team not ready to close on, say, a winning record? Many local observers expect GM Kevin Towers to take offers.
Moves: Petco isn't built for power, but this is ridiculous in the modern era. The current starters up the middle for the Padres along the infield have a combined three home runs. We're looking at you David Eckstein and Everth Cabrera. Maybe they won't add a lot of pop, but expect the Padres to take a good look at the market for these two positions. Find your scrap elsewhere-this team needs another bat.
Who 2 Watch 4: Mat Latos, RHP
By letting the big right-hander make one last start against the Dodgers three weeks ago before shutting him down, the Padres cost him his Rookie of the Year eligibility for 2010, but he should nonetheless be one of the best young pitchers around next year. Going from Low-A to the majors this year, Latos' 4.62 ERA doesn't tell the whole story. He had some downright dominating performances this summer, including seven one-hit innings against the Reds in his third major league appearance, and seven more shutout frames at Atlanta. "Seeing him in person was one of those 'holy [crap]' moments," said one front-office official. "He could be a number-one starter if his changeup improves."-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
The Bottom Line
Since the All-Star break, the team has hit .279/.343/.445 on the road, which is very good; if the offense could replicate that in 2010, it would not be a problem. The pitching needs to improve if the Padres want to revisit their success from the middle of this decade, but that's why the front office leveraged Jake Peavy into four young White Sox pitchers. The rotation will be better if Chris Young and Cha Seung Baek can return from their injuries and pitch effectively, and with Petco and the NL helping to nullify Clayton Richard's biggest problem (the long ball), he's an attractive rotation option as well. Latos is still a project in many ways, but he's a project with mid-90s heat and a great (if short) minor league career. Add former top White Sox prospect Aaron Poreda (acquired in the Peavy deal) to that mix once he's ready, and the rotation will have come a long way from where it was in 2009. The offense may take all the flak for its ugly, unadjusted numbers, but putting together a rotation that can compete on the road is what the Padres need to focus on-they may have the personnel, but they'll need health as well as youth to dig themselves completely out of their current hole.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .