By Jeff Praught
Nobody really knows what to make of the 2011 Padres.
Though the franchise is coming off of a strong, 90-win season, the cast of characters has changed dramatically. Most notably is the trade loss of iconic first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red S ox. No doubt, his departure leaves the club without its best defender, its most potent offensive force and the hometown guy so many threw their hearts behind.
It seems unlikely the team will match its 2010 success, but, then again, there was nothing probable about the Friars coming within one game of potentially winning the National League West last year.
Just how will the Friars replace Gonzalez’s 31 home runs, 101 RBI and 93 walks from last year? By taking advantage of the depressed market and picking up a few older yet proven veterans, which is exactly what sophomore General Manager Jed Hoyer has done.
Replacing Gonzalez at first base will be right-fielder Brad Hawpe. Given his lackluster performance as an outfielder last season, this would seem to be a head-scratcher. But Hawpe, a career .279 hitter with power, was an above-average first baseman in college and in the minors before being moved to the outfield by the Rockies.
The Padres’ brass is also counting on rebounds from Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett and Ryan Ludwick. H udson struggled in his one season with Minnesota, but San Diego signed him to a two-year deal, hoping the former Gold Glove second baseman would regain his usual form.
“Orlando is a proven winner and a four-time Gold Glove winner,” Hoyer says. “I think he’s going to bring a ton of offense to our team, a ton of defense and a ton of energy. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Friar fans will likely remember Ludwick, who struggled mightily in his two-month, post-trade stint last year, but should understand he has a 30-homer-per-season potential. And Bartlett, acquired via a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, is two years removed from an All-Star season with the Rays, in which he hit .320. While the theme of the rebuilt offense is “hoping for rebound,” the true backbone of the Padres will be their pitching and defense.
The names have changed, but the philosophy remains the same-winning 2-1 counts the same as prevailing 5-4. With Bartlett and Hudson manning the middle infield, and Cameron Maybin covering center, San Diego’s defense should be as good as or better than last year, when it was ranked third via Ultimate Zone Rating (a popular new tool for measuring all aspects of defense).
On the mound, the Padres have brought back roughly the same staff that dominated until September. Mat Latos anchors a team that saw innings-eaters Jon Garland and Kevin Correia depart, being replaced by SDSU alum Aaron Harang. If Harang can regain his ace at spacious PETCO Park, and Clayton Richard can continue to give a steady six innings each time out, the dominant bullpen should kill it on the field.
Closer Heath Bell also returns this year, after signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. Mike Adams will handle the eighth inning, and the nearly-unhittable Luke Gregerson will join recently-signed Chad Qualls in the seventh inning.
“It’s a different roster than last year,” Hoyer says. “We had a lot of turnover, but I like our depth and balance. We are a more talented roster.”
National expectations are not bullish for these Padres. But as the Giants proved by winning the World Series in 2010, it doesn’t matter if you win pretty or score in bunches. Preventing the opponent from scoring is just as important as manufacturing runs.
2011 Notable Games:
March 29: Final Spring Training game in Peoria, Ariz.
March 31: Opening Day at St. Louis (1:15 PT)
April 5: Home Opener vs. San Francisco (3:35 PT)
May 20-22: Interleague play in San Diego (vs. SEA)
June 27-29: Interleague play in San Diego (vs. KC)
July 12: MLB All-Star Game in Phoenix, AZ
September 28: Home Finale vs. Chicago (5:35 PT)
Key Acquisitions for 2011:
Jason Bartlett (SS)
Jorge Cantu (1B/3B)
Aaron Harang (SP)
Brad Hawpe (1B/RF)
Orlando Hudson (2B)
Cameron Maybin (CF)
Chad Qualls (RP)
Key Departures from 2010
Kevin Correia (SP)
David Eckstein (2B)
Jon Garland (SP)
Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
Tony Gwynn (OF)
Edward Mujica (RP)
Miguel Tejada (SS)
Yorvit Torrealba (C)
Ryan Webb (RP)
Chris Young (SP)
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Mat Latos
2. Clayton Richard
3. Aaron Harang
4. Tim Stauffer
5. Cory Luebke/Dustin Moseley