NL West Hot Stove Forecast: How to catch the champion Giants
San Diego can't count on getting similar production out of its bullpen in 2011
Los Angeles Dodgers will likely be a player on the free agent market
An improved bullpen alone could help the Diamondbacks get back into contention
This week, SI.com will analyze the offseason plans for the teams in each of MLB's six divisions.
2010 Results: 92-70, first place, won World Series
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 697/583
Pythagorean Record: 94-68
Free Agents: 1B Aubrey Huff, IF Juan Uribe, LF Pat Burrell, RF Jose Guillen, RP Jeremy Affeldt, RP Guillermo Mota
Players with Options: SS Edgar Renteria ($10.5/0.5M club)
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Brandon Belt, RP Joe Paterson
Building For: Turning a surprising world champion into a perennial contender.
Biggest Holes: Shortstop, first base
Targets: Huff, Uribe
The defending world champions could use more production at the plate to support their championship-quality pitching staff, but the albatross contracts of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand limit their ability to do much more than re-sign a couple of familiar faces. Read my full breakdown here.
2010 Results: 90-72, 2nd place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 665/581
Pythagorean Record: 91-71
Free Agents: SP Jon Garland (declined option), SP Kevin Correia, SP Chris Young (option declined), 2B David Eckstein, SS/3B Miguel Tejada, C Yorvit Torrealba (declined option), UT Jerry Hairston Jr., OF/1B Matt Stairs
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: SP Cory Luebke, 1B/OF Mike Baxter, OF Luis Durango
Building For: To be decided
Biggest Holes: Middle infield, outfield
Targets: 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Juan Uribe, LF Carl Crawford, SP Jorge De La Rosa, SP Carl Pavano, SP Jamie Moyer, SP Hiroki Kuroda
So were the Padres for real in 2010 or were they a fluke? That is a crucial question given that the team is practically a blank slate heading into 2011. The Padres have no financial commitments beyond 2011, and with Garland and Torrealba having declined their mutual options, and the team having declined Chris Young's, only Adrian Gonzalez, whose $5.5 million option was picked up, has a set salary for 2011. The rest of the players under team control are either arbitration-eligible or due to earn the league minimum, and of the arbitration-eligible, only closer Heath Bell and right fielder Ryan Ludwick, each of whom is entering his final year before free agency, are likely to pick up significant raises.
It would be very easy for the Padres to revert to their intended 2010 plan of swapping Bell and Gonzalez for prospects as the final launch phase of a big rebuild, but it's hard to ignore the fact that they just won 90 games and weren't eliminated until the season's final weekend, when they missed a wild card berth by a single game while finishing just two games out in their division. The Padres won the same way the world champion Giants did, with shut-down pitching and a cobbled-together offense of spare parts and unwanted journeymen. The key difference being that, other than sophomore stud Mat Latos, the Padres' rotation was as slap-dash as their offense, and the real shut-down unit on the team was the bullpen.
Given the variability of bullpen performance from year-to-year, building a team around a strong 'pen is not unlike moving into a neighborhood because you like the weather. Nick Hundley can replace Torrealba, but with key pieces Jon Garland, David Eckstein, and Miguel Tejada (seriously, those three were keys to the Padres' success this year) now free agents, the Padres have to decide if they really want to reinvest in what was very likely a fluke.
If so, they need to put some real money behind the task. That money should be available given the Padres' lack of prior commitments and the fact that the team has indicated it would increase payroll for 2011, though that last is almost a given seeing as how they had the second-smallest Opening Day payroll in baseball in 2010. Doubling down on their strength, they should bring in one of the next group of starters behind Cliff Lee (listed above) to team with Latos atop the rotation and pursue the best available options to plug their middle-infield holes. Orlando Hudson is the best middle infielder on the market and would be a good fit on a pitching-and-defense team in a ballpark that favors on-base skills over the longball. By that same token, Juan Uribe's power would be wasted in Petco, but it could be a boon on the road and his defense plays everywhere. Taking a run at Carl Crawford is likely unrealistic, though again he'd be an excellent fit on this team, and the Padres would appear to have the payroll room for one big contract if they really want to play ball.
2010 Results: 83-79, 3rd place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 770/717
Pythagorean Record: 86-76
Free Agents: SP Jorge De La Rosa, RP Joe Beimel, RP Octavio Dotel (option declined), 1B Jason Giambi, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Jay Payton
Players with Options: C Miguel Olivo ($2.5/0.5M club), SP Jeff Francis ($7M club)
Prospects on the Verge: SP Esmil Rogers, IF Chris Nelson, C Michael McKenry
Building For: Fleshing out a contender around the core of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Strengths: Those three studs plus Jhoulys Chacin, the bullpen's end-game, and a lofty home-field advantage
Biggest Holes: Second base, back half of the rotation
Targets: De La Rosa, 2B Orlando Hudson, IF Juan Uribe, 1B Paul Konerko, 1B Troy Glaus
Picking up Olivo's option and declining Francis's are easy decisions, as is non-tendering arbitration-eligible Clint Barmes. Biting the bullet and bringing in a productive first baseman to push Todd Helton to the bench in what will mercifully be the final season of his nine-year contract is a tougher one. The good news there is that next year brings the big first-base class of Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols, so a stop-gap such as Glaus, who would also be a righty complement to Helton, could do the trick. Then again, if the Rockies don't want to commit to another monster contract in 2012, and who could blame them, a shorter term deal for someone like Carlos Pe˝a, Derrek Lee, or even Paul Konerko, who isn't going to get a long contract heading into his age-35 season despite his MVP-level performance this year, might be a good fit, particularly with 2009 third-round pick Ben Paulsen showing some promise in the low minors.
Beyond that, Hudson could allow them to use Eric Young Jr. as a utility man/pinch-runner, a role to which he's better suited than that of full-time second baseman. De La Rosa has proven he can succeed in Denver and spiked his groundball rate in 2010, so he's worth bringing back. Former Rockie Uribe would be a good platoon partner for Ian Stewart at third base and/or a possible solution at second, and his power bat would likely thrive in a return to Coors. Also, with Michael McKenry ready for the Show and catching prospect Wilin Rosario on his way, now might be the time to cash in fading catching prospect Chris Iannetta's remaining trade value, perhaps in a deal with the Red Sox, should Boston fail to re-sign Victor Martinez.