By Tony LovittSan Diego Padres outfielder Justin Upton ; photo courtesty The San Diego Padres" src="http://www.pacificsandiego.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Justin-Upton.jpg" alt="New San Diego Padres outfielder Justin Upton; photo courtesty The San Diego Padres" width="580" height="435" />
Christmas came early for the San Diego Padres in 2014. In mid-December, America's Finest hometeam's new general manager, A.J. Preller, negotiated blockbuster deals to overhaul the squad's outfield, helping the Pads leap from pretenders to contenders in the competitive National League West .
Wil Myers; photo courtesty The San Diego Padres" src="http://www.pacificsandiego.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Wil-Myers-action.jpg" alt="New San Diego Padres outfielder Wil Myers; photo courtesty The San Diego Padres" width="247" height="370" />Wil Myers, who will now patrol center field for the Padres, arrived in an 11-player trade involving the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals . A five-player trade with the team's most bitter division rivals brought nine-year Los Angeles Dodgers star Matt Kemp to play right field (and possibly bat cleanup) and left fielder Justin Upton was acquired in a six-player deal with the Atlanta Braves .
"When [Kemp], Myers, [ex- Red Sox third baseman Will] Middlebrooks , [former A's catcher Derek] Norris and Upton came into the fold... watching that unfold from my chair, seeing A.J. Preller and his baseball ops guys do their work, it was exhilarating to see these moves get done," says Padres manager Bud Black . "To top it off, when we signed [ex-Kansas City pitcher] James Shields, it really put the final stamp on our team to really make the whole thing come together."
By the time the dust had settled and the ink had dried, the oncewoebegone Padres had made five trades that included 24 players and six other teams. Deal or no deal? The latter, it seems, as many baseball pundits have now been calling the Padres "the team to beat" in the NL West - pretty heady stuff for a ball club that hasn't won more than half of its games since 2010 and whose last division title was in 2006.
"Kemp and Upton are proven Major League run producers and performers and are All- Star-caliber players; they are winning-type players," says Black. "Myers is 24 years old and also brings a tremendous amount of athleticism. He has a ton of potential that hasn't been totally tapped yet, but I feel as though he's ready to show the baseball [world] just what kind of baseball player he can be."
Kemp, Myers and Upton promise to help the team post bigger numbers than the 2014 Padres' meager 3.30-runs-pergame average, which was, by far, the worst in the Majors.
Additionally, the outfield trio's hard-to-find right-handed power - combined with Petco Park's now-nearer (by 12 feet) leftcenter field wall - should result in more home runs.
"The guys that were here last year have totally embraced the new guys, and the guys who are new to Padres camp are excited to be with the Padres," says Black.
And for the first time in several seasons, the guys (and gals) in the stands have good reason to be excited as well.