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2007 San Diego Padres Team Preview

by Keith Glab,
March 13, 2007

2006 Record: 88-74 (5th Place AL East Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 731
2006 Runs Allowed: 679
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 87-75

The San Diego Padres spent money this offseason as wisely as any other team in baseball.  The one questionable move was Greg Maddux's team-leading $10 million salary (odd, because he is not even among the squad's top five players), but that's hardly a move that is going to set the franchise back.  They have ostensibly filled every hole on the team besides leadoff hitter, and still have a lot of payroll flexibility for insurance.

They also possess an incredible amount of offensive depth as insurance, which might prove extra important for a team that plays in sweltering San Diego.  Having won the NL West two years in a row, albeit unimpressively both times, do the Padres remain the team to beat in the senior circuit's best division? 

2006 Starters -
Mike Piazza, Josh Bard
Projected 2007 Starter -

PetCo Park is a terrible venue for an all-power, no-field catcher.  Exit Piazza, and matters improve, right?  Not when the replacements are Josh Bard and Ryan Bowen, who can't throw out 20% of basestealers any more than Piazza could.  Bard also had a catcher's ERA of 4.28 to Piazza's stellar 3.52 last year.  The real interesting issue is that Bard actually outperformed Piazza on offense.  Will he keep up that pace in 2007?  Even if he does, Bard plus Bowen will equal less offense than Bard plus Piazza did.

First Base
2006 Starter -
Adrian Gonzalez
Projected 2007 Starter -

Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most exciting young hitters in baseball, posting a .906 road OPS and a .960 second half OPS last season.  One caveat is that he has the mental awareness of a walnut on the bases.  Gonzalez somehow managed to get doubled up on the base paths six times last season.  If the lad continues to crush the ball, it will be tempting for Bud Black to move Adrian up in the order, where his baserunning blunders could really do some damage.

Second Base
2006 Starter -
Josh Barfield
Projected 2007 Starter
- Marcus Giles

The Padres did not like what they saw from Josh Barfield defensively.  Neither did I when I saw him play for the Portland Beavers in 2005.  But he made eight more plays than the average shortstop last year, so he must be good at positioning himself or something.  Marcus Giles was the best defensive second baseman around in 2003, but he has degraded to the point where he is average at best.  And speaking of drop-offs, where has Giles offense gone?  He's not likely to find it in baseball's worst park for hitters.  More playing time for Todd Walker here will solve the offensive trouble if Marcus can't rediscover his swing, but he's not going to help the defensive issues any.

Third Base
2006 Starter -
Vinny Castilla, Russell Branyan
Projected 2007 Starter
- Kevin Kouzmanoff

Quite an upgrade here, as the Padres have replaced perhaps the worst offensive position in baseball last year (Castilla and Mark Belhorn combined for a .206 average in 388 at bats there) with the 2006 minor league leader in slugging percentage.  Additionally, Walker, Branyan, and Geoff Blum (who combined for a .266 BA in 221 3B at bats) return to give a tremendous amount of depth and insurance for the rookie.

2006 Starter -
Khalil Greene
Projected 2007 Starter -

Did you know that Greene has 32 career homers in 708 at bats away from PetCo?  An astounding 11 of them have come in 109 Coors Field at bats.  In terms of both hitting and baserunning, Greene gives us a real flavor for what Dave Kingman would have been like as a shortstop.  The difference, of course, is that Khalil is actually an above average defender for the Friars.

2006 Starters -
Brian Giles, Mike Cameron, Dave Roberts
Projected 2007 Starters -
Giles, Cameron, Terrmel Sledge, Jose Cruz Jr.

The Padres enjoyed a remarkably healthy outfield last year, which was fortunate, as they had zero depth out there.  This year they have plenty of insurance, but whatever platoon system they rig up for left field is going to be a far cry from Roberts' superlative season on both sides of the ball.  More importantly, Roberts' departure has left the team without a serious leadoff hitter.  Bud Black has taken to calling Marcus Giles "Leadoff Larry" in some bizarre attempt to distract fans from this glaring team weakness.  Brian is arguably a better choice to bat first, as his 223 walks over the past two years ranks second in the majors.  I'm totally biased here, but I expect Brian to have a bounce-back season, hitting over .300 with 20 homers and 40 doubles.     

2006 Cast - Geoff Blum, Mark Bellhorn, Todd Walker, Ryan Bowen, Ben Johnson, Eric Young
2007 Crew- Blum, Walker, Branyan, Bowen, Paul McAnulty, Jack Cust

This might be the most improved area for the Padres.  The Friar bench is laden with names of players who would be solid starters on many clubs.  Between McAnulty and Cust, I predict one to have a breakthrough season and the other to prove that he is a Quadruple-A player, but I'm not smart enough to tell you which will be which.

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Woody Williams, Clay Hensley
Projected 2007 Starters -
Peavy, Young, Hensley, Greg Maddux

It does not require an expert to determine that Jake Peavy is going to have a phenomenal 2007 season.  His Fielding Independent ERA last year was third best in the NL, and he played in a pitcher's paradise with the best overall defense in baseball working behind him (meaning his ERA should have been substantially lower than his FIP, not two-thirds of a run higher).  Whether bad luck or some subtle effect on the numbers from his ailing shoulder caused this discrepancy, a healthy Peavy should have a Cy Young caliber season this time around.

Speaking of Young, Chris will suffer from Dave Roberts' departure from left field, being the most prolific flyball pitcher in baseball.  Maddux-for-Williams is essentially a wash, as both veterans are solid but no longer dominating.  #4 starter Clay Hensley fits the same mold, though Hensley is entering his prime.

Bottom of the Rotation
2006 Options -
Chan Ho Park, Mike Thompson, David Wells
Possible 2007 Options -
Wells, Thompson Shawn Estes

Pitching depth is an area of concern for San Diego.  The franchise considers a possible July return from Shawn Estes to act like a welcome midseason acquisition rather than a probable burden.  There's no telling how many starts the team can get out of Wells before he ceases to fit through the clubhouse doors.  Mike Thompson has perhaps the worst in a pitching staff laden with control artists.    

2006 Options -
Trevor Hoffman, Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith, Alan Embree
Possible 2007 Options -
Hoffman, Linebrink, Meredith, Royce Ring

The Padres' big three will ensure that the bullpen remains a strength, but it's a mistake to rely on Royce Ring to anchor the bullpen from the left side.  He is a definite downgrade on Embree, as the lack of pitching depth appears in the bullpen as well.

Final Word

The Padres appear deep on offense (if a little light from the right-side of the plate), but thin behind their front pitching ranks.  It doesn't take phenomenal stuff for a pitcher to succeed in Petco Park, and the Padres may push that axiom to its limit if they suffer injuries to their staff.

The team is more or less as talented as the 88-win team of a year ago.  They're not going to give away first place, but they're not going to run away with it, either.  The NL West was a strong division last year, and has improved much in the offseason.  The Padres are still the team to beat, but it's fairly likely that another team will catch a few breaks and surpass them.

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