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2012 Preview: San Diego Padres

Yesterday, I previewed the 2012 San Francisco Giants. They're a team with playoff aspirations, but they're coming off a pretty quiet offseason. Now I'll look at the 2012 San Diego Padres -- a team that isn't expected to compete, but still made a flurry of moves this offseason. They signed a couple free agents, Mark Kotsay and Micah Owings, to one-year deals (both of which were worth roughly $1M). In late November, they acquired catcher John Baker in exchange for lefty Wade LeBlanc. A couple weeks later, they acquired closer Huston Street. Another couple weeks passed, then their big move of the winter went down, as they sent ace Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for Edinson Volquez and a few prospects (Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger). At the end of December, they sent a couple pitching prospects (Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez) to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin. On January 6, they traded Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na. Finally, they signed Cameron Maybin to a five-year $25M extension.

I've actually neglected to mention a couple trades, believe it or not, but I think you get the gist of it. They were quite busy this winter. So, after all the reassembling, how do they look entering 2012?

Well, let's begin with the offense. And right off the bat, there's no better starting place than Cameron Maybin, who finally broke out this past season. He's entering his sixth major-league season, but he's still a few weeks away from his 25th birthday. When the Padres acquired him in November of 2010, he had tantalizing potential and a full season's worth of playing time to his name, but not a lot to show for it: 610 PA, .246/.313/.380, 82 OPS+, 13 HR, 19 SB. After taking over the Padres' everyday centerfield role, he blossomed. The numbers -- .264/.323/.393 -- might not seem all that great, but he did play half his games at PETCO Park, and his park-adjusted numbers reflect that: 112 wRC+. That's not eye-popping, but it's a good notch above average; throws in his skills on the basepaths (40 stolen bases, 4.3 UBR) and his great defense in centerfield, and he looks like an all-star. In fact, he finished fourteenth in the National League in fWAR, right behind Lance Berkman. As Maybin continues to progress, he'll be a centerpiece of this Padres team for years to come.

The rest of the lineup isn't quite as good, but it is rife with quality contributors. Nick Hundley won't be posting a .800+ OPS again (especially as a Padre), but even league-average production from a catcher is a nice thing to have. Then there's Chase Headley, the starting third baseman, who has a career road line of .303/.364/.441. I was a bit perplexed by the acquisition of Carlos Quentin, a relatively expensive outfielder (and soon-to-be free agent, at that) whose defensive shortcomings could be amplified by his new homepark, but there's no question about his hitting prowess. He's hit 20+ homers in each of the last four seasons, and for his career, he owns a 118 wRC+. Heck, even Will Venable has been a consistently average player over the past few years. Add in the 24-year-old Yonder Alonso, who spent 2011 tearing up Triple-A (131 wRC+, 409 PA) and the majors thereafter (160 wRC+, 98 PA), and things don't look all that bad with San Diego's lineup. As bad as they might appear on the surface, this is actually a pretty okay lineup. Somewhat surprisingly, they were even middle-of-the-pack last year in team WAR.

The only part of the Padres' lineup that stands out as a legitimate weakness is the middle infield, where San Diego is employing a couple of aging singles-hitters in Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson. Bartlett and Hudson are already well on their paths in declining toward sub-mediocrity (it's worth noting that, by defensive runs saved, they each cost their team nearly ten runs with their gloves).

At the head of the rotation is Tim Stauffer, a pitcher who, while solid, is by no means an ace. He'll probably be good for a few wins though. Clayton Richard has never excelled at yielding strikeouts (or keeping down walks, for that matter), but if he can remain healthy over a full season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in 2011, he projects to be average. The newly acquired Edinson Volquez is a bit of a wild card, but there's reason to be hopeful about him as he transitions from an extremely hitter-friendly environment to an extremely pitcher-friendly one (Steamer projection system has him at a sub-4 ERA/FIP, even). And then there's Cory Luebke, the most intriguing arm of the bunch: he's only made 20 starts in his career, but in those starts he's maintained a 9.7 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. Those are some pretty impressive peripherals, and as he makes the transition to pitching a full season out of the rotation, there's reason to believe he can be the best pitcher of the bunch. He certainly has the most upside.

The Padres bullpen used to be something fearsome, back when they had the three-headed-monster of Heath Bell/Mike Adams/Luke Gregerson. They still have Gregerson, but the other two have gone. Taking over for Bell is Huston Street, who's both expensive and good. His 2011 numbers, 8.49 K/9, 1.39 BB/9, and 1.54 HR/9. He's now throwing half his games in PETCO, where the ball isn't nearly as prone to leaving the yard, and he should accordingly thrive. The Padres are planning to use Andrew Cashner as a setup man, at least for the beginning of the season, and if he's healthy, he shouldn't have much trouble in the role. Then there are some familiar faces...Joe Thatcher missed a big chunk of the 2011 season, but the lefty owns a career 3.14 FIP in 137 innings; and Ernesto Frieri, interestingly enough, has a career 3.15 FIP (I swear, it's purely coincidental that I've written this the day after Pi Day). All told, their bullpen isn't quite the same unstoppable force it was a couple years ago, but it's still fairly solid.

The Padres, in all likelihood, won't contend this year, but they're not nearly as terrible as they might appear on the surface. At the very least, they're not going to completely embarrass themselves out there. And several years down the road, they could look pretty scary.