When the only Rockies news worth reporting is the acquisition of Jamey Carroll, it's time to look elsewhere for post topics. With spring training well and truly nigh, we might as well begin taking a closer look at what for lack of a better word we'll call the competition in the NL West. Today we're doing the Padres, because, well, I say so.
(Regarding Carroll: He will have no impact, unless someone gets hurt and he actually plays, in which case Jamey will make Rockies fans long for the golden age of Aaron Miles. It would be pretty scary if Carroll somehow impresses Clint Hurdle to the degree that it costs a healthy Luis Gonzalez playing time, but c'mon. It's Jamey Carroll. Hurdle's not that dumb. Is he?)
OK, the Padres. As you may have heard, they won the division with an 82-80 record last season, giving newspaper columnists nationwide the easiest 800 words they wrote all year. They were then summarily stomped by St. Louis in a division series less watched than "M*A*S*H" reruns in many major markets. The division champs weren't even as good as their record. The good ol' Pythagorean equation had them at 76-86. They were 29-20 in one-run games, a stat perhaps aided by their team strength, a deep and versatile bullpen. The Padres were third in the majors in innings pitched by the bullpen and 6th in ERA. That's pretty unusual -- the first and second place teams in innings pitched were Kansas City (22nd in bullpen ERA) and Texas (26th). The presence of a bullpen that was both busy and good allowed San Diego to scrape into the postseason with a middle-of-the-pack rotation (17th in the majors in starters' ERA) and a poor offense (23rd in OPS).
The sea air at Petco Park plus deeper-than-average power alleys indeed suppress offense. But San Diego fans have to be getting as tired of hearing that as an excuse for everything that ails the franchise as Colorado supporters are of the altitude thing. Fact is that the Padres just had a poor bunch of hitters last season. It's true that they were an abysmal .255/.330/.377 at home. They were also .259/.336/.404 on the road, and they got to play at Coors and Bank One nine times apiece. That's not very good.
So who's coming to save them? Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron. Piazza is not quite washed up at the plate but near-useless defensively, while Cameron continues his tour of the most unfriendly hitters' parks in the majors. They re-signed Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman, as they probably had to, but curiously they let much of their bullpen depth get away as Akinori Otsuka (trade) and Chris Hammond (free agent) will not return. Their rotation isn't going to soak up any of those lost innings, as after Jake Peavy and reliably average Chris Young it goes Shawn Estes, Chan Ho Park, Woody Williams. Unintentional hilarity alert: this padres.com mailbag includes the clause "If Woody Williams, Shawn Estes, and Chan Ho Park shine...." Well, what then? Will the lion lie down with the lamb? Will a snake swallow its own tail? I don't think we need to worry about what might happen, because all of those guys are terrible.
The Padres are to be praised for keeping the free agents they couldn't afford to lose (excluding Ramon Hernandez, who was wildly overpaid by the Orioles) and adding a nice smorgasbord of bench depth (Mark Bellhorn, Geoff Blum, Termel Sledge) but that all overlooks the fact that they're still desperately lacking at several major starting positions. What's sad is not that they've acquired Vinny Castilla to play third, but that barring catastrophe he will almost certainly be an improvement upon what they ran out there last year. They're not getting power from left field (Dave Roberts) or first base (Ryan Klesko) so they're really counting on Piazza, Cameron, and Khalil Greene to step it up in that department. Says here they will be disappointed. There were few more mystifying deals this offseason than the trade of useful, affordable two-way player Mark Loretta for designated knuckleball chaser Doug Mirabelli. Sorry, San Diego, Tim Wakefield was not included in the deal.
It's true that championship banners fly forever, but the Padres' 2005 NL West title seems as if it will be as memorable as their 1998 World Series appearance. (Remember that? It really happened!) But for injuries the Dodgers and Giants would have passed them up last year, and those clubs seem to have moved slightly forward this offseason while San Diego has taken a step back with both its starters and relievers, and has done nothing to bolster an already impotent offense. Nice bench, though. It's not out of the question that San Diego will repeat as division champs in 2006, but if they do so it will follow much the same script as last year -- San Francisco and Los Angeles end up waylaid by the DL and eighty wins and change is good enough for the crown. The Padres' long-term future is murky, as the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks, and even the Rockies have way more talent in the pipeline. They're better prepared than some of their divisional brethren to absorb a major injury here and there, but that's only because they're already starting replacement-level guys all over the lineup. If Peavy or Giles goes down, things will get real ugly real quickly.