2009 SAN DIEGO PADRES PREVIEW
The Padres had a very tough year in 2008, finishing in the National League West’s basement with a 63-99 record. The Padres struggled to score runs and ran into a myriad of injuries to their starting pitching. Furthermore, their bullpen had a ton of trouble holding a lead. Overall, 2008 was a year to forget in San Diego.
Unfortunately, 2009 doesn’t look much better. The Padres let go of longtime closer and club icon Trevor Hoffman this offseason and spent literally the entire offseason discussing trade possibilities for superstar pitcher Jake Peavy, who is still with the club (for now). Their only upgrade of note was the arrival of diminutive infielder David Eckstein, who won’t solve the Padres’ run scoring problems. The Padres will be fielding an extremely young team this year and it could turn out to be another rebuilding year.
The Padres have two solid starters atop their rotation in Peavy (10-11,2.85 ERA, 27 starts, 173 IP, 166 K last year) and Chris Young (7-6, 3.96 ERA, 18 starts). Young struggled with injury issues last year and should be healthy this year. However, if the Padres get off to a slow start, it is a virtual certainty that they’ll deal Peavy, which would be a huge blow to the team. Their 3 rd starter will be Cha Seung Baek (6-10, 4.79 ERA, 21 starts) and his statistics should get better this year after gaining some valuable starting experience last year. The final two spots will be filled from a young group: Kevin Correia (3-8, 6.05 ERA, 19 starts) had some experience last year but struggled, Josh Geer (2-1, 2.67 ERA, 5 starts) impressed during a late call up and Wade LeBlanc (1-3, 8.02 ERA, 4 starts) is 25 and ready to contribute. Geer seems the likeliest of the three to make the team but regardless of who actually starts the year in the rotation, their combined experience is very minimal. San Diego has a ton of questions in this group and this is probably the thinnest rotation in the NL West. If (and when) Jake Peavy is dealt, it will definitely be the division’s worst.
The Padres enter a new era this year as Trevor Hoffman won’t come running out of the bullpen to close games for the Pads for the first time in over a decade. After the bullpen blew an incredible 26 saves last year, the opinion around San Diego is that this group can’t be any worse than the 2008 edition. For the most part, the ‘pen will have a new look, beginning at closer where Heath Bell (6-6, 3.58 ERA, 74 Gm) is expected to close. Bell is definitely a question mark as he went zero out of seven in save conversion chances last year. That’s not good. Overall, it looks like it could be another tough year in the San Diego bullpen.
The Padres feature a pretty solid infield, headlined by slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.279, 36 HR, 119 RBI, .361 OBP), who power numbers are far more impressive when you consider that Petco Park is the biggest hitter’s park in baseball. At third base, Kevin Kouzmanoff (.266, 23 HR, 85 RBI, .299 OBP) had a solid sophomore campaign and will join Gonzalez in the middle of the lineup. Expect him to develop even better numbers this year. Up the middle, new acquisition David Eckstein (.265, 2 HR, 27 RBI, .343 OBP in 94 Gm) is expected to be the starting second baseman. While Eckstein won’t provide a lot of power, he is a sparkplug atop the lineup and a good fielder. At shortstop, rookie Everth Cabrera and Luis Rodriguez (.287, 0 HR, 12 RBI, .326 OBP is 64 Gm) will battle for playing time but neither is a major threat at the plate. Nick Hundley (.237, 5 HR, 24 RBI, .278 OBP in 60 Gm) is expected to be given every chance to win the catcher’s job but Henry Blanco (.292, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .325 OBP) will see the field as well. Overall, there is potential around the infield and should receive solid production from this group. Padres fans would do well to carefully watch Hundley and Kouzmanoff because they’re part of the young core that the team is building around.
The outfield is headlined by veteran right fielder Brian Giles (.306, 12 HR, 63 RBI, .398 OBP), who is still an excellent hitter despite his dwindling power numbers. Leftfielder Chase Headley (.269, 9 HR, 38 RBI, .337 OBP in 91 Gm) is one of the organization’s brightest young players and impressed during his first half season in the big leagues. Centerfielder Jody Gerut (.296, 14 HR, 43 RBI, .351 OBP) provided his first productive season in the major leagues and is a solid player. Cliff Floyd (.268, 11 HR, 39 RBI, .349 OBP) and Scott Hairston (.248, 17 HR, 31 RBI, .312 OBP) will provide good depth while young prospect Will Venable (.264, 2 HR, 10 RBI, .339 OBP in 28 Gm) will likely find steady playing time by the end of the season. Headley and Venable are two more young players to keep a close eye on because they’re a big part of the Padres’ future.
Simply put, this is a very young Padres team with a questionable pitching staff. Even if the Padres get off to a good start, odds are that Peavy is gone before the trading deadline and that would kill any momentum the team might have. Furthermore, the Padres’ bullpen looks like it could be a quagmire as they enter Spring Training without a proven closer. In short, it is probably going to be a long and forgettable year in San Diego during which Padres fans will likely have to say goodbye to Jake Peavy. The best thing for Padre fans to do this year is to watch their young and talented players develop and look towards the future. The Padres probably aren’t as bad as last year’s 99 loss edition, but they won’t win more than 65-70 games this year and will find themselves in the National League West Division’s basement when October rolls around.
By Matt Baxendell
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