Stephanie McMahon Q&A:

No. 22 Padres: Chase Headley's breakout season a sign of club emerging as NL sleeper?

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the San Diego Padres.

MLB Springboards: No. 30 Astros | No. 29 Marlins | No. 28 Mets | No. 27 Rockies | No. 26 Twins | No. 25 Pirates | No. 24 Indians | No. 23 Mariners | No. 22 Padres | No. 21 Cubs | No. 20 Brewers | No. 19 Red Sox | No. 18 White Sox | No. 17 Royals | No. 16 Orioles | No. 15 Phillies | No. 14 Diamondbacks | No. 13 Athletics | No. 12 Rangers | No. 11 Yankees | No. 10 Rays | No. 9 Cardinals | No. 8 Giants | No. 7 Tigers

2012 record: 76-86

Finish: Fourth, NL West
2012 final payroll: $62.9 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $65 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 22
Hashtags: #headleycompany #grandalseizure #intimatePetco #Qrating #chasefield #overyonder #gyorkopark #fowlerball

OFFSEASON ACTION

In a winter in which they had options, the Padres chose to believe in what they are. They re-signed Jason Marquis. They extended the contracts of Carlos Quentin and Huston Street. For a sprinkle of variety, they traded for 25-year-old right-hander Tyson Ross. They pushed manager Bud Black's contract through 2015. They settled in under new owner Ron Fowler. And they reworked their ballpark, bringing the outfield fences closer to home plate.

They could, of course, change their minds. For the moment, however, the Padres are who they are. And, pretty much, who they were. Only, they hope, healthier, which could change everything.

First, that means they held on to third baseman Chase Headley. The 28-year-old switch-hitter might have fetched a nice haul in an offseason in which the best free-agent third baseman was Kevin Youkilis. He is under club control for two more seasons. He put together a huge 2012 – 31 homers, a league-leading 115 RBIs, a Gold Glove and fifth place in the NL MVP balloting. In 528 major-league games before last season, Headley's offensive WAR was 7.3. Over 161 games in 2012 it was 6.2.

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Chase Headley had a career season last year with 31 HRs and 115 RBIs. (USA Today Sports)

[Related: Ex-Padre Enzo Hernandez found dead in Venezuela]

So, it appears, the Padres seemingly will neither trade him nor grant him a long-term contract, but will put him back in the lineup and ask him to do it again. The risk is that he does and becomes more expensive in a multi-year contract. For their little market, even too expensive. Or, he doesn't and they'll have missed their opportunity on the trade front.

Again, the Padres – GM Josh Byrnes and new ownership – seem willing to live with that.

Second on the winter front, the Padres held to the notion their starting rotation has the talent and depth to compete in the meaty NL West. Fifteen pitchers started at least one game for them in '12. Thirteen started at least five. As a result of the attrition, Padres starters became less reliable as the season played out, culminating in an ERA near six over the final month.

Rather than reach – or spend – for the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse (though he's still out there), Edwin Jackson, Dan Haren or Ryan Dempster, the Padres appear willing to stand on the status quo, leading with Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez.

REALITY CHECK

The interesting development for the Gaslight Quarter's baseball franchise: by the end of 2012, it could hit but couldn't pitch. The sturdiest among it was an offense that hasn't been in the National League's top 10 in runs since 2007, and even then it was just barely. The ballpark didn't help, of course, but the Padres also weren't developing or acquiring dynamic position players. So every night, it seemed, Black would push his cap back and wonder if he'd ever see another two-run double.

That appears to have changed. Assuming they find five effective – as important, durable – starters, the Padres might just be the NL's sleeper team in 2013. They were 42-33 after the All-Star break (18-10 in August) in spite of the injuries to their rotation. From July 1 on, they were fifth in the league in runs.

Part of that was Headley's breakout season. Also, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, both acquired in the Mat Latos trade with Cincinnati, showed some early big-league chops. (Sadly for the Padres, Grandal will miss the season's first 50 games for violating the league's drug policy.) Carlos Quentin didn't see the field until late May, then hit 16 home runs in 86 games, slugging at a higher percentage than Headley. Cameron Maybin had a promising second half.

[Related: How much did Padres' payroll grow? ]

Also, a top-five farm system has players coming. Jedd Gyorko, a second-rounder from the 2010 draft, demonstrated two things in three minor-league seasons: He'll hit for average and power, and he might not have a position. A third baseman by trade, and so trapped behind Headley, he'll get a chance in spring to win the second-base job.

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Clayton Richard was an anchor for the Padres' starting rotation last season. (Getty Images)

The Padres are likely to open with a Chris Denorfia/Will Venable platoon in right field. They didn't upgrade there in part because 21-year-old Rymer Liriano should eventually be their man there.

For the first time in years, the Padres shouldn't be an offensive pushover. They'll have to hold on early with a rotation that should return Cory Luebke (Tommy John surgery) by the All-Star break and Andrew Cashner (thumb laceration) in May. A combination of Robbie Erlin, Casey Kelly, Anthony Bass and Ross will have to claim spots in the rotation in the meantime and then pitch well.

The rest will be up to the offense. For the first season in a bunch, that's not so scary.

SAVIOR

For one reason or another, Quentin has never played more than 131 games in a season. More often, he's strained to reach 100. The Padres saw enough from him in 86 games last season to commit $27 million over the next three years, a club-friendly contract that still makes him a huge part of what happens next in San Diego.

Quentin is just 30. In 2008, he hit 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs for the Chicago White Sox. That's the guy who makes a difference for the Padres.

HAIKU

The hunt for starters
Dare not end with field dressing
Your starting pitcher

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