An afterthought entering the 2012 season, the San Diego Padres outperformed expectations and even made a brief run at the National League Wild Card down the stretch. As the off-season begins, the Padres have a lot to build on.
2012 was a season of change in San Diego. Manager Bud Black began the season with a smattering of veterans in an otherwise young roster. It didn’t take long for some of the veterans to get pushed out of the way. Shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Orlando Hudson may have been above average defenders, but an already offensively-challenged club couldn’t afford to carry a pair of weak bats in their lineup. By mid-season, both Bartlett and Hudson had been released and replaced by exciting youngsters like Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe, and Everth Cabrera.
The Padres dipped into their prospect pool and plucked out catcher Yasmani Grandal mid-season after Nick Hundley performed so poorly they had almost no choice. Grandal, who came over with Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez in the Mat Latos deal, wasted little time in showing why he’s been ranked among the top prospects in baseball over the past couple of seasons. Hundley and platoon-mate John Baker combined to see just under 400 at bats behind the plate for the Padres in 2012. In that time, they totaled just three home runs, 36 RBI, and 104 total bases. Grandal clubbed eight home runs, matched their RBI total with 36, and walked nearly as often as he struckout in just 192 at bats.
As much as the young and talented hitters like Grandal made an impact, the breakout season belonged to third baseman Chase Headley. The subject of seemingly eternal trade rumors, Headley became an offensive force in 2012. In parts of five seasons, Headley had amassed a total of 35 home runs and 204 RBI coming into 2012. This season, Headley exploded with 31 homers and a league-leading 115 RBI. While Headley could have fetched a king’s ransom in trade before the season, his value has now never been higher to the Padres.
Headley lead the offensive charge along with slugging left fielder Carlos Quentin. Acquired via trade prior to the season, Quentin was supposed to play well enough that the Padres could land a couple of prospects in a mid-season trade. What ended up happening, however, is that Quentin hit so well at Petco Park that the San Diego native would up signing an extension to stay with the Padres.
Pitching is seemingly never a problem for the Padres given the extremes of Petco Park and 2012 was no exception. Heading into the off-season, however, only Volquez and Clayton Richard have assured themselves of rotation spots. If there is money to be spent during the Winter, one can expect it to be focused on a pitching market that always figures to offer a handful of inexpensive veterans who could benefit from spending a season in a pitcher’s haven. While the club may have to overpay to land a top-tier hitter, they typically have free agent pitchers knocking on their door begging to pitch for the Padres.
For the first time in a long time, the San Diego Padres have the feel of a club that can build not only through the development of minor leaguers, but that can compete in the free agent market as well. John Moores had been trying to sell the club to former Diamondbacks COO Jeff Moorad and all appeared set until the rest of the baseball owners decided not to approve the sale. Moorad’s financing was flimsy, they decided, and after the Frank McCourt situation with the Dodgers, baseball didn’t want another owner who couldn’t foot the bill when needed.
It may have been the best thing that could have happened for Padres fans.
Ironically, it was a former Dodger owner, Peter O’Malley, who joined a group in a successful bid to buy the Padres for a sum of $800 million later in the season. With backing of the O’Malley group, San Diego immediately began extending some core players. Players that, without the sale, would have surely been traded away. There is now money available to augment a surprisingly good roster.
San Diego enters the off-season with just one impending free agent in starter Jason Marquis. There are, however, a dozen players who will see raises through arbitration, including Headley, Volquez, and Richard. Those commitments mean the modest Padres payroll will go up even without looking outside the organization, but all indications are that the Padres ownership group will spend to keep Headley, just as they did with Quentin and closer Huston Street.
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