2012 MLB Season Preview: San Diego Padres

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San Diego Padres 2012 Season Outlook

The San Diego Padres deserve the award for most improved team, if not in the National League, in all of baseball.  Sure, the Marlins went out and spent a ton of cash on free agents, but how good are they actually going to be?  The Padres made savvy front office moves on a low payroll, and they will probably see a 12 win bump this season because of it.

The 2011 Padres, sans Adrian Gonzalez, struggled to find their offense.  They filled holes with veterans and role players, but they were not able to replace Gonzalez’s bat.  The pitching was good, but not as good as in year’s past.  They stumbled their way to a 71-91 record in 2011, last in the National League West.

However, things began to change when then GM Jed Hoyer decided to follow his long-time friend and mentor, Theo Epstein, to Chicago.  The Padres promoted Josh Byrnes to General Manager, and Byrnes started rebuilding.  Unlike most rebuilding processes, Byrnes had a clear goal of building toward the future while competing in the now.  He was willing and able to make the hard choices and spend a little extra cash while doing it.

Byrnes first made a splash when he dealt Wade LeBlanc to the Marlins for a back-up catcher in John Baker.  The move at surface level was innocuous, but considering the back-up catchers the Padres employed in 2011, and their ineptitude at the plate, the addition of Baker can and should pay dividends for the team.

Heath Bell was offered arbitration by the Padres, but ultimately chose free agency and signed with the Marlins.  This left a gaping hole at the closer spot in the pen.  Many thought the team would look to an internal replacement, but Josh Byrnes reached out to the Rockies who were looking to shed payroll.  He picked up Huston Street for a player to be named later and got the Rockies to agree to paying Street’s buyout after the 2012 season.

Byrnes then shook the entire San Diego community when he traded the team’s ace, Mat Latos, to Cincinnati.  Many people didn’t like the move, but the fact is, the team got prospects, a major league pitcher in Edinson Volquez, and a a major league first baseman in Yonder Alonso.  This, of course, led to the next big move.  With Alonso slated to be the number one first baseman on the depth charts, rumors began swirling about the future of Padres’ prospect Anthony Rizzo.  Trade rumors came to fruition when Byrnes traded Rizzo to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner (there was an exchange of low level prospects as well, but I won’t bore you with that).

The Rizzo trade was the first move that had fans questioning Byrnes’ direction.  Not many people were on board.  They had come around on the Mat Latos trade, but this was Anthony Rizzo.  It will take a lot for fans to agree with this move, but the Padres got a very capable, hard-throwing pitcher in return.  So far this spring, Cashner has dominated, and he looks to earn a starting job by 2013.

The last big move made by the Padres was the addition of Carlos Quentin.  They gave up a couple mid-level prospects in the deal, but Quentin is a power-hitting left fielder that should help boost the anemic Padres offense.  Quentin is expensive (at least to the Padres), and there is no clear decision as to whether the team will work to extend his contract or keep him as a one-year rental.  This has some fans concerned, but the reviews on Quentin’s addition have generally been good in San Diego.

So what does this all mean for the 2012 season outlook?  I ran a projection on ChickenFriars.comto estimate

the run production of this “new” Padres team.  I used Fangraphs fan projections, Roto World projections, and Bill James’ projection to estimate the runs scored.  Based on the results, the Padres are projected to be a much better offensive team.  If all lines up with the projections (because that happens all the time of course), the Padres should move from the bottom of the division in runs scored to the middle of the pack.

The moves during this offseason, combined with the top-ranked farm system, have the Padres on the right path.  They will not win the division this season (but don’t be surprised if they make a similarly shocking run as they did in 2010).  They will, however, be a much improved team.  I’m looking for the Padres to go 83-79 and finish third in the division.  But come 2013 and 2014, the Padres will be competing for a division crown.

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Find your team’s 2012 season preview or when it will be published here.