Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas gift for Padres fan: Optimism

This Christmas, some baseball fans should already be pessimistic about their teams chances in 2011.

The Pirates are obviously not going to be good and their losing season streak will no doubt reach a shameful 19. The Royals waved the white flag with the Greinke trade. The Mets and Cubs are a year away from a massive relief of bad contracts expiring. The Diamondbacks should have another year wandering in the desert. And the Nationals will probably stink again even though they seem to think they are on the verge of contending.

You would think that I would throw the Padres onto the scrap heap of hopeless teams, especially after dealing Adrian Gonzalez and inevitably sending Heath Bell packing before Opening Day.

But I can’t. I think there are too many reasons to be optimistic in PetCo Park, and I don’t just mean the ability to get a decent seat.

First of all, they are still LOADED with pitching talent. Mat Latos looks like he will be an All Star for a while. Clayton Richard looks like a steal from the White Sox. And even though Jon Garland has skedaddled and taken his 200 innings with him, there are other options. Aaron Harang has come to town and while he has been kind of lousy the last few years, he is moving from the hitters haven of Great America Ballpark to the pitcher paradise of PetCo Park.

Also Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke or even young Simon Castro could step in and fill out the back of the rotation.

And their 2010 bullpen was a never ending parade of effective arms. Whenever I saw the Padres play (and as a West Coast resident I saw them A LOT) they always pulled out some reliever that I hadn’t heard of before but had some sickeningly good numbers.

Seriously, besides the biggest baseball fans or residents of the Gaslamp District, who the hell heard of Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica, Joe Thatcher or Ryan Webb? If Heath Bell is dealt, ONE of those guys could step in and pitch the 9th.

And if Bell is dealt, Padres GM Jed Hoyer seems to be pretty good at actually getting useful players in return. Clayton Richard came over in a deal for a broken down Jake Peavy. Casey Kelly, brought over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, could be in the pitching staff this year. Gonzalez also yielded Anthony Rizzo who could fill in at first base and Raymond Fuentes who could be in the outfield by 2012.

Take note Pittsburgh. Just because you trade expensive players doesn’t mean you have to dump them for no value in return.

And I think some of the moves they have made have made the team better. Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson are a terrific middle of the infield and should be an improvement defensively. And Brad Hawpe is just a season removed from being an All Star. The Padres don’t need All Star production from him… just hit well enough to not have first base be a hole.

And in the light of what happened in 2010, many of the young Padres experienced meaningful games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. If they went 2-8 between August 26th and September 5th instead of 0-10, they would have been playing in the playoffs. As it were, they won 90 games and lost the Division to the eventual World Champions.

And the Giants will inevitably take a slight step back in the wake of their World Series title, the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, the Dodgers are a mess and who knows what will happen in Colorado. The NL West isn’t the AL East with super powers gobbling up super stars.

And what else did the Giants championship teach us? With a good pitching staff, you don’t need to be an offensive powerhouse to win. The Giants upgraded their offense from “A FEMA level disaster” to merely “terrible” and look where they ended up.

If Bell could fill in a hole or two in the line up and the young pitching takes advantage of the ballpark and the improved defense, they could have a winning season. And in the NL West, a winning season could mean contention in September.

And what else can you ask for in September than meaningful games. So be optimistic this Christmas morning, Padres fan. You may not have the sexiest team, but you do have reason to look forward to 2011.

Go ahead and have images of National League West titles dancing in your head.

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