By Eric Gold, MLB Editor (Sports Network)
2004 FINISH (87-75) - Third Place (NL West)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: INF - Geoff Blum; RP - Chris Hammond;; SP - Darrell May; SP - Tim Redding; RP - Dennys Reyes; OF - Dave Roberts; RP - Rudy Seanez; RP - Steve Sparks; OF - Mark Sweeney; SP - Woody Williams; INF/OF - Eric Young
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: SS - Rich Aurilia; INF - Alex Gonzalez; OF - Terrence Long; RP - Antonio Osuna; OF - Jay Payton; SP - Dennis Tankersley; INF - Ramon Vazquez; SP - David Wells
PROJECTED LINEUP: Dave Roberts (CF); Mark Loretta (2B); Ryan Klesko (LF); Phil Nevin (1B); Brian Giles (RF); Sean Burroughs (3B); Ramon Hernandez (C); Khalil Greene (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jake Peavy (RHP); Brian Lawrence (RHP); Woody Williams (RHP); Adam Eaton (RHP); Darrell May (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Trevor Hoffman (RHP)
MANAGER: Bruce Bochy
Is the city of San Diego ready for a return to the playoffs from its baseball team? Not since 1998, the year they were swept by the Yankees in the World Series, have the Padres earned a berth in the postseason. If all the pieces fall into place, it could be a banner season for Bruce Bochy's bunch.
With Barry Bonds out of action indefinitely for the Giants, and the Dodgers retooling during the offseason, the Padres figure to be tough to top in the NL West.
Last year, the Padres finished third in the division with an 87-75 record, which was a 23-game improvement from 2003. The additions of speedy outfielder Dave Roberts and the return of a healthy Ryan Klesko in left field and Sean Burroughs at third could be the keys to success at the plate. On the mound, Woody Williams will try to fill the void left by David Wells.
Trevor Hoffman returns as the closer following a dominating 2004. The Padres are also banking on healthy, fruitful seasons from first baseman Phil Nevin and shortstop Khalil Greene, who made a run at the NL Rookie of the Year before suffering a broken bone in his right index finger in mid-September. Righthander Jake Peavy, who led the majors with a 2.27 ERA, leads a pitching staff that had the fifth-lowest ERA last season.
Nevin has two years remaining on his four-year, $34 million contract, but at 34-years-old remains a solid contributor offensively and also plays his position well in the field. Although Nevin doesn't have a lot of speed, his work around first base is admirable, even if this will be only his second full season at the position. His numbers last season (.289, 26 HR, 105 RBI) were solid, considering the dead zones at spacious Petco Park.
Possibly the best second baseman in the National League, Mark Loretta is coming off a huge season with his bat and glove. He hit .335 with 16 homers and 76 RBI. Also, his on-base percentage of .391 and slugging percentage of .495 were great for a second baseman. He also topped the majors with 16 sacrifice flies and figures to be a favorite for his second straight All-Star selection and get exceptional opportunities hitting No. 2 in the lineup.
Greene hit .273 with 15 homers and 65 RBI last year and will likely again work from the No. 8 spot in the lineup. He has tremendous range at shortstop and is destined for Gold Glove greatness.
Burroughs was the primary lead-off hitter last year, but with the arrival of Roberts, he'll likely be pushed to sixth or seventh in the order. At 24-years- old, the left-handed hitting Burroughs was touted as a can't miss prospect. However, he lacks walks and is now mostly known as a singles guy. Last year he had 156 hits, 28 of which went for extra bases. To make matters worse, a bruised right knee was limiting him in spring training.
Ramon Hernandez is mostly known for his outstanding defense behind the plate, in the batter's box he can pull his own weight. With 18 homers, 63 RBI and a career-best .276 average last season, Hernandez is proving he's worth the money.
One year and $1.35 million was a steal for the Padres to secure Roberts with a contract through this season. He appeared in a combined 113 games with the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2004, batting .254 with seven triples, 14 doubles, 35 RBI and 38 stolen bases in 41 attempts. He led both clubs to a 26-3 mark when he recorded a stolen base, but none bigger than Game 4 of the ALCS versus the Yankees, keeping the Sox alive and on the way to their historical rally. The 32-year-old Roberts will have to use his speed to survive in the lead-off spot. His career on-base percentage is a lowly .335. He's stolen at least 38 bases in each of the last three seasons and has great range in the wide open spaces of center field at Petco Park.
Klesko, who has been suffering from a bit of arthritis in his throwing shoulder this spring, has watched his production tail off in the last three seasons. Surgery on his right shoulder has limited his swing, and it showed last season, as he had just nine homers and 66 RBI, a sharp contrast from 2001 when he was at 30 HR and 113 RBI.
Brian Giles is going into his free agent year and everyone knows what happens to most mediocre power-hitters at that juncture - they're numbers have a tendency to be off the charts. Giles' first full season playing right field at Petco Park turned out to be a disappointment, in most standards, as he hit .284 with 23 homers and 94 RBI. He must improve on battling lefties (.237), but hitting fifth instead of third could produce more RBI opportunities.
Peavy was 15-6 last year, but he missed six starts with inflammation near his right elbow. The 23-year-old righthander would have been considered more for the NL Cy Young if he wasn't sidelined from mid-May until early July. After giving up a hefty 33 homers in 2003, his rate plummeted in 2004 (13 HR) and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.3:1) was equally impressive.
Brian Lawrence had a slight improvement in 2004, logging a career-high 15 wins (15-14) with a 4.12 ERA. He gave up 26 homers, down one from the previous year. With a quick delivery and his usual 200 innings, Lawrence is a durable, but not flashy starter who will just try to give the Padres six quality innings a night.
Williams logged a 4.18 ERA last year, but pitching at Petco Park should lower that back into the threes this season. He got off to a slow start last year following shoulder surgery, but won 10 of his final 13 decisions. The 38-year- old returns to San Diego, where he pitched from 1999-2001. If his ERA is anywhere like it was in 2003 (3.87) or better yet 2002 (2.53), he'll be a welcome addition to the rotation.
Adam Eaton has been working on getting balls down in the strike zone to avoid his home run total, which ballooned to 28 last season. The 27-year-old improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to nearly 3:1 while almost getting to 200 innings. Expect him to be a workhorse this year with a possibility of moving up in the rotation.
Darrell May is the lone lefthander on the starting staff, but will have to rebound from 19 losses and a 5.61 ERA last year for the Royals. He could be challenged for time on the mound by Tim Redding, who was acquired by the Padres near the end of spring training.
Hoffman gave up less than a baserunner per inning last year and his ERA (2.30) was still impressive, although he's lost a bit on his fastball. He had 41 saves in 55 games last season and should come close to that number this year, especially if the Padres continue to improve offensively.
Hoffman is flanked by set-up men Akinori Otsuka (1.75 ERA) and Scott Linebrink (2.14 ERA). Slider specialist Akinori Otsuka had a successful first season pitching in the majors with a 7-2 record and 1.75 ERA in 73 appearances. Lefthander Chris Hammond and Dennys Reyes will be the main men in long relief, in what's proven to be a steady bullpen.
Bochy has the luxury of a deep bench with outfielders Mark Sweeney, Xavier Nady, Eric Young and prospect Freddy Guzman. Young's speed is a plus, especially in the late innings, while Miguel Ojeda remains as the back-up catcher.
The Padres lacked speed in 2004, but they worked to correct that deficiency by acquiring Roberts. Between Peavy leading the rotation and Hoffman closing games, plus a healthy Klesko and Nevin, along with Giles having a strong offensive year, the Padres could be in position to pounce on the competition and return to the playoffs.