A Head Of The Game

By Dan McLellan

Although they played winning ball down the stretch in 2013 (32 wins - 30 losses), the Padres finished last season in third place, 18 games under .500 (72 - 90 for the year). This year, the team's general manager, Josh Byrnes, hopes key acquisitions will make the Friars competitive all season long, ultimately putting them in the playoff hunt.

Byrnes' off-season moves brought the squad new players to bolster the pitching roster and add depth to the outfield.

Starting pitcher Josh Johnson , who signed as a free agent, stands out among the new faces. Johnson is a two-time All-Star (2009-10) and led the National League in ERA in 2010 (2.30). Although shoulder inflammation impacted Johnson's effectiveness in recent years, now that he's had bone spurs removed, Padres manager Buddy Black believes he's worth the risk.

"We are really, really pumped to have Josh here," Black says. "This guy... potentially brings a lot to the table."

Byrnes also traded for two hot, yet inexperienced, young arms in Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres . Hahn is expected to be a mid-rotation starter.Left-hander Torres is slotted for mid-relief.

"The left-handed reliever is something critical we've been looking for," Byrnes says.

Offensive help was added when left-handed outfielder Seth Smith was acquired via trade for reliever Luke Gregerson . Smith has a career .279 batting average with 65 home runs and 235 RBI versus right-handed pitchers.

"When we were at our best offensively, from the middle of 2012 to the middle of 2013, we had a balance of left and right, guys who could move around, who had power and speed." Byrnes says. "Smith has done that very well and hopefully he can do that for us."

While injuries played a major role in last year's atrocious start (40 - 60), the retooled and currently healthy 2014 Padres have a chance to compete by playing consistent ball. For the team to reach the postseason, the health trend will need to continue, Johnson will need to be nearly as good as he was in 2010, and young players will need to meet expectations.

"The team is looking really good right now, so it is going to be fun," Johnson says.

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