Most observers feel the team to beat in the NL West this season is the Padres, even without big game pitcher David Wells. Why? Young, eager talent coming of age around cagey veterans, a pitching staff that lights up radar guns and strike zones alike, and a dominant, and finally healthy, closer named Trevor Hoffman. What the Diamondbacks will have to measure up to in the NL West.
The San Diego Padres went into the offseason with re-signing David Wells as their top priority. They believed they were close until Wells’ wife entered negotiations and reportedly ruined the deal.
General Manager Kevin Towers had a backup plan in place, telling Woody Williams that they would have a deal if he could not reach an agreement with Wells by 5 PM on December 8. And that is how it played out with the right-hander, Williams, signing a one-year deal with a club option for 2006.
Besides a front line starter, which the Padres believe they have in Williams, plus plans to slide ERA Champ Jake Peavy in as the ace of the staff, the Padres also had holes on the bench, in the bullpen, with the fifth starter and overall team speed.
The majority of their work involved trades, a trademark the Padres have developed over the years.
Dennis Tankersley and Terrance Long were traded for Ryan Bukvich and Darrell May. May, a left-hander, fills the fifth spot in the rotation. He is finesse pitcher with a propensity for giving up the long ball. Towers believes his ERA will drop more than a run with a move to the National League and is not concerned about the 97 homers he has given up over the last three years.
Besides the addition of Bukvich, the Padres added right-hander Rudy Seanez and lefty Dennys Reyes to the bullpen and traded with Seattle for lefty Randy Williams. It gives them two left-handed options in the bullpen, a year after going without a left-hander in the bullpen for the majority of the year.
The Padres also acquired ex-Dodger Dave Roberts from Boston in exchange for Jay Payton, Ramon Vasquez and prospect David Pauley. Roberts adds instant speed to a lineup devoid of it. He also has better range than Payton did to cover a spacious outfield but his arm is below average. He will be slotted as the leadoff hitter, allowing Sean Burroughs to move down in the lineup to utilize his abilities better.
The signing of Eric Young continues to add speed and solidifies the bench, while the addition of Geoff Blum gives them another bench player who can play multiple positions.
The loss of Wells hurts the Padres but they have made up for it in other areas. They are also banking on bounce back years from some players who did not live up to expectations. They did not make a big splash in free agency, preferring to keep payroll down and filling in the gaps.
They filled the issue of team speed, getting a centerfielder with better range, restocking the bench and bullpen but questions will remain. It is unclear if the starters are better than last year and the bullpen, besides the big three of Akinori Otsuka, Scott Linebrink and Trevor Hoffman, remains a mystery.
Counting on Ryan Klesko returning to form and his defensive limitations in the outfield will be essential to their success. Brian Giles also had a down year by his standards and will ask to carry a bigger load. The lineup is loaded from top to bottom, especially with Khalil Greene no longer so green. If they can live up to rather lofty expectations, the Padres are a team that can contend in the NL West.