San Diego Padres strive for greatness


It’s official: baseball is back. Padres’ pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona for the start of spring training with pennant contention on their minds.

For the first time in many years, the Padres are in the discussion for the National League Pennant race. These are not murmurings longtime fans of the hometown Friars are used to hearing. However, under the guidance of new rock star general manager A.J. Preller, this is also not the same team that San Diegans are used to rooting for.

It appears that the days of cost-saving rosters full of fringe major leaguers, dormant offenses buoyed by occasionally-spectacular pitching, and collective disinterest from fans both in San Diego and around the league are long gone.

Preller, in his first offseason with the team after being hired in August, has taken the Padres from afterthought to attraction with a flurry of trades and free agent signings that have kept the heads of baseball insiders spinning all winter.

Interestingly enough, the Padres offseason actually began with rejections from two of the most sought-after free agents available, former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. However, the simple fact that the Padres were even in the running for such big-money stars signaled a possible shift in the attitude of the team’s front office.

Within two weeks, Preller had almost completely remade the Friars’ Opening Day lineup. First, he traded up-and-coming catcher Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers for former National League MVP Matt Kemp. Many fans dismissed the move as nothing more than an attempt to generate ticket sales.

However, they were not saying the same thing when former No.1 prospect Wil Myers was added from the Rays or when, the very next day, the team made a deal with the Braves for brawny slugger Justin Upton, completing the transformation of the Padres’ outfield that had minimal offensive production last season.

Preller didn’t stop there, either, adding former top prospect Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox and All-Star catcher Derek Norris from Oakland before signing marquee free agent pitcher James Shields to a four-year contract just a few weeks ago.

Suddenly, industry insiders were forced to take notice of what was brewing out in San Diego. Had the Padres’ rookie GM turned them into legitimate title contenders? In many regards, it would appear so.

The new outfield made up of Kemp, Myers, and Upton will bring much-needed pop to an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league last season. Shields adds both playoff experience from his appearance in the World Series last year as a member of the Kansas City Royals organization, and undeniable consistency to a staff that has been bitten by the injury bug again and again in seasons past.

By headlining a starting rotation that already included All-Star Tyson Ross, flamethrower Andrew Cashner, and the reliable Ian Kennedy, the Padres look to be formidable from the mound once again.

Of course, questions still remain about the talent the Padres have added. Most prominently, insiders are wondering how the Kemp-Myers-Upton trio will fare in defending PETCO Park’s vast outfield.

The infield, comprised of second baseman Jedd Gyorko and what amounts to a collection of also-rans, leaves much to be desired and should be the Padres’ main weakness if more trades or signings are in the works.

Finally, aside from Upton, all of the team’s new additions are either coming off of poor performances last year, such as Myers and Middlebrooks, or have doubts about the long-term durability of Kemp, Myers, and Shields.

While it is not wildly imaginative to dream of these players matching or exceeding their potential, it also is not wildly imaginative to see them suffering through injuries or extended slumps.

The fact remains, however, that the Padres have added several potential face-of-the-franchise type players to a team that desperately needed some, and are finally relevant again in the increasingly-competitive world of Major League Baseball. The 2015 season has potential to be special for the city of San Diego. Fans can certainly only dream at this point, but the fact that such ideas are even being tossed around speaks to the successes generated by Preller and the Padres front office over the past few months.

Without a doubt, this buzz-worthy team will be one to watch moving forward and promises to bring some highlight-worthy moments to the Gaslamp District. in the very near future.