Pressing Questions: The San Diego Padres

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San Diego, 14 years removed from its last World Series appearance, has provided little fantasy utility in recent seasons. That is, for the offensive minded. The club's absence of power and spacious ballpark have turned it into a town devoid of runs. Slow base-trots by memorable mashers Dave Winfield, Phil Nevin, Greg Vaughn, Ken Caminiti and, most recently, Adrian Gonzalez are long in the past. Last year, the weaklings of the West crossed home just 3.6 times per game, second-to-last in the NL. Essentially, Pads bats were to fantasy what Lana Del Rey was recently to the SNL stage: utterly cringe-worthy.

In order for the franchise to boost its offensive gusto and attempt to gain the upper-hand in a wide open division, new general manager Josh Byrnes, like many antsy fantasy owners, was a wheeler and dealer this offseason. Since taking the job in late October, he's consummated six trades grabbing closer Huston Street, outfielder Carlos Quentin, rotation anchor Edinson Volquez and prime power prospect Yonder Alonso (via the Mat Latos trade). Although Byrnes is still in the market for additional help in the bullpen, it appears, for now, the dealings are done.

Entering 2012 the revamped Padres appear to be an ascending franchise equipped with several mixed-league worthy assets. If expectations are met, the team's "punchless" days could be a distant memory. To help fanatics decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are four pressing questions about the suddenly interesting Pads this year:

Of the newly acquired assets which ones are worth going the extra dollar for? Which should be avoided?

Volquez and Alonso undoubtedly are the biggest winners.

The former, almost two years removed from Tommy John surgery, should undergo a rebirth in the roomy dimensions of Petco Park. Last year, Volquez couldn't throw a baseball through a hula-hoop, but his velocity never waned. His average fastball speed in 2011 was 93.6, the same as it was during his breakout campaign in 2008. If he can hit spots consistently, his dreadful HR/FB rate (20.7) from last year is bound to decrease, along with his ERA.  Keep in mind, he's still just 28. Going around pick No. 227 in early mocks, he's a superb low-dollar bounce-back candidate.

As for Alonso, he's no longer standing in Joey Votto's cumbersome shadow. Finally, the standout prospect has a chance to play everyday. Expect him to shine in deeper leagues. Yes, Petco will suppress his home run total, but because of his high-contact history and keen eye (11.7 BB% with Triple-A Louisville in '11), he should contribute solidly in BA and RBIs. Remember, he posted a spectacular .943 OPS over 88 big league at-bats last year. Think of him as a poor man's version of Billy Butler. If he nails down a job in spring training, a .285-15-75-70 line is achievable, making him a nice sleeper pick during the cash-strapped portion of your draft.

Unfortunately, it's not roses and champagne for all new Pads. For "San" Quentin, Petco could force his numbers into solitary confinement. In four years playing half his games in the South Side shoebox he averaged 26.7 long-balls per season. The change of venue and league could dramatically reduce his power production. Twenty homers could be a stretch. Since he's expected to bat cleanup, his RBI output will remain useful. But due to his likely HR decline and sub-.260 BA, he's no longer the premium OF3 he once was in Chicago. Throw in a long injury history, and Quentin is a commodity worth avoiding in most leagues.

In early mock drafts, members of the experts community have slapped wallets/outstretched arms to secure the services of Cory Luebke. Should you buy into the hype?

Spicy meatball. That's what Luebke is. At the Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft in Las Vegas last Monday (14-teams, mixed), the buzzy southpaw was taken in Round 13. That may seem ambitious, but he's rarely waded in the player pool beyond Round 15 in analyst drafts. With a 130.76 ADP at Mock Draft Central, many common leaguers are also buying into his upside.

Giddiness over the lefty is completely warranted.

After working out of the 'pen over the first couple months of 2011, Luebke was thrust into the rotation full-time by late June. The transition was smooth. Over 104 innings he posted a sparkling 3.38 ERA. His impeccable command and high-K contributions (3.55 K/BB) were equally dynamite. The two-trick pony's fastball/slider combo is quickly becoming one of the league's best. No surprise, Bud Black recently divulged to Fangraphs he believes the 27-year-old is on the precipice of developing into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

As long as Luebke can continue to entice whiffs (10.9 strike percentage), he has excellent odds of delivering at least SP3-level production in 12-team mixers. Wins could be elusive, but if Quentin and Alonso can provide a spark, 13-15 victories aren't out of the question. Chip in an ERA in the low-to-mid-3s and roughly 160-180 Ks, and the lefty is one Padre worth pining for. Go the extra mile.

Owners have waited on pins and needles for Cameron Maybin to develop into a five-cat rockstar. Last year he delivered his best season yet setting new career bests in steals, runs and BA. Will his power arrive in 2012?

Maybin has been talked about so much in the fanalyst community for so long stories have surfaced he once joined Jamie Moyer and Old Hoss Radbourn on a Tijuana bawd-romp in the spring of 1876. Incredibly, though, he doesn't turn 25 until April 4.

Finally breaking through the Quad-A ceiling in 2011, Maybin earned an everyday gig, delivering plus numbers in steals (40) and runs (82). Overall,  he was the 36th-best outfielder in mixers according to Baseball Monster. Sadly, however, he managed to slap just nine homers in 516 at-bats.

Many scouts still contend the svelte outfielder will one day fill into his 6-foot-3 frame, eventually cracking 20 homers per season. Obviously, Petco is a significant obstacle, but until Maybin stops beheading ground vermin (1.93 GB/FB in '11) and starts driving the ball to the gaps, his slugger side will remain in dormancy.  For now, slight across-the-board improvement should be expected.

No doubt his price-tag has been and will continue to be driven by speed. As a result, he's gone around pick No. 102 in traditional mixers and between $10-$15 in early auctions. That's a little bit pricey in leagues with deep player pools, but if he unlocks his inner Winfield, it will be a bargain. Speculate.

In recent history the Pads have endured numerous midseason swoons, paving the way for young talent to gain invaluable experience. If that happens again, what farmhands have the best shot of making a mixed league impact?

Overshadowed in the Latos deal with Cincinnati, Yasmani Grandal is an intriguing catching prospect with substantial fantasy upside. Jumping from High-A to Triple-A last year, the backstop notched a .305/.401/.500 line in his first full professional season. If he scorches in Tucson, a midseason promotion could be in the offing. Nick Hundley isn't exactly Johnny Bench … If Chase Headley struggles, hot corner James Darnell is waiting in the wings. Blessed with a sharp eye (16.0 BB% in the minors last year) and plus power (18.34 AB/HR), he's interesting to say the least. Eligible at a resource-thin position, he is someone worth keeping an eye on in deep mixers … Southpaw Robbie Erlin has the strongest odds of becoming an impact arm. Acquired in the Mike Adams deal, he's posted eye-catching strikeout totals in his three-year minor league career, tallying a 9.81 K/9 over 264 innings. Opportunity could knock if back-end starters Clayton Richard or Dustin Moseley falter.

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