Spring Snapshot: Padres push on after oh-so-close 2010

Big League Stew

Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus league. Next up is a stop to play in Peoria, where closer Heath Bell and the Padres are back to battling doubters, one season after almost toppling them with a division title.


2010 RECORD: 90-72, second in NL West

BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: For a GM battling a budget, Jed Hoyer managed to bring in a fair number of affordable "names." Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson will provide improved defense up the middle. Pitcher Aaron Harang and outfielder Cameron Maybin, meanwhile, will try and jumpstart their stalled careers.

BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Hometown boy A-Gone became exactly that after a trade to the Boston Red Sox in December.


1. So who replaces Adrian Gonzalez at first? That would be Brad Hawpe, who will take the whopping 0.5 WAR he accumulated over 103 total games with the Rockies and Rays in 2010, and try to fill A-Gone's 5.3 WAR shoes from last season. OK, that's not even fair, is it? The sad fact is that the Padres are going to have to learn to live without the luxury of a patient-at-the-plate first baseman who hits from the left side, wields plenty of power and plays Gold Glove defense in the field, to boot. {YSP:MORE}

2. Will Heath Bell finish the season in San Diego? Ah, this question again. We were quite certain this would be answered with a trade last season, but then the Padres shocked the world by camping out in first place all season. Temporary untouchable stickers were slapped on Bell and Gonzalez as the team made what was ultimately an unsuccessful playoff push that lasted into the season's final weekend. Now Gonzalez is gone and Bell will be a free agent after this season. Like last year, it's hard to imagine the Padres not getting something in return for him at the deadline if they aren't players in the NL West.

3. Can anyone be Robin to Mat Latos' Batman? The 23-year-old Latos confirmed his star potential with a stellar season in 2010 (14-10, 2.92 ERA) and should be able to contribute even more with an increased innings count in 2011. But will anyone else separate himself from the solid but mostly average group of starters behind Latos to be a true No. 2? Harang will certainly try as his career reclamation project hits the wide open spaces of Petco, though Clayton Richard (14-9, 3.75 ERA in '10) might be the safer bet at this point.

4. Hey, whatever happened to Kyle Blanks? The baseball world had high hopes for Blanks after he hit 10 homers in 54 games for the Padres in 2009, but they were sidetracked last season when the 24-year-old outfielder — a behemoth of a man — struggled out of the gate with an elbow injury and then fell victim to Tommy John surgery. Blanks is back swinging the bat in camp this spring, but his first outing against live pitching didn't go so well. Expect more recovery and rehab time before Blanks can even think about giving the Padres a much-needed spark on offense.

5. Do the Padres have another run in them? It seems like pundits are again writing off the Padres as easily as they did last season and they have a couple of good reasons. Gonzalez is gone from an offense that struggled to produce runs with him and it's a lot to ask the pitching staff to limit the opposition to an insanely low 581 runs for the second straight season.  Still, that's a solid pitching staff with a good defense behind it and that can win you a lot of ballgames. The Friars probably won't occupy first place for as long as they did last season, but there's also no reason to believe they can't compete for third place in the division, if not second. They should've earned the benefit of our doubt for now.

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