While it may have seemed that the Padres playoff chances in 2011 dissipated into shambles following the departure of superstar slugger Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, the Padres brass has responded in the best way possible: making extremely cost effective moves to bring in quality players.
Despite many critics, San Diego made a solid deal when they moved Adrian Gonzalez. They received several solid prospects for a player who had already made clear his intentions to leave via free agency following the season. While his deal was team friendly (about $6 million for the 2011 season), moving him frees up space for the Padres to make other acquisitions that can help the team down the road.
In trading away Gonzalez, San Diego received Boston's highest regarded prospect in SS/P Casey Kelly. Kelly immediately becomes San Diego's best pitching prospect, and could arrive to Petco Park within the next 2-3 years.
The Padres also received 1B prospect Anthony Rizzo from Boston, who recently jumped slugger Lars Anderson as Boston's best prospect at the position. Rizzo should also step in to become San Diego's number one 1B prospect. His continued development would allow the highly regarded Kyle Blanks to remain in the outfield, should San Diego wish to keep him there.
Speaking of outfield help, San Diego also received Boston's first-round draft choice of a year ago, Raymond Fuentes, in the deal. Fuentes helps to add to what is a very strong collection of outfield prospects already owned by San Diego.
Top prospect Jaff Decker has continued to make strides in his development. After Blanks moved to the Padres lineup full time, Decker took over as San Diego's top prospect and has not disappointed thus far. CF prospect Donovan Tate is also one of San Diego's better prospects, and could pair with Decker in San Diego's outfield for years to come.
At the major league level, the Padres and GM Jed Hoyer have made numerous small deals that could very well keep the Padres in contention in 2011.
Hoyer has completely revamped the middle infield by signing 2B Orlando Hudson, and trading for SS Jason Bartlett. Bartlett and Hudson are both veterans who played on division winning squads in 2010, and should stabilize the middle infield and serve as regular starters.
Brad Hawpe was signed just hours ago to a one year deal as Adrian Gonzalez's replacement, likely until Rizzo is ready to perform at the major league level or another suitable replacement comes along.
This move almost guarantees that Blanks stays in the outfield. Along with Ryan Ludwick, Blanks should provide enough power from the outfield to score runs in spacious Petco Park. While Hawpe likely will see a drop in power moving from Coors to Petco, he should be able to utilize the parks' confines to hit more balls in the gap and raise his OBP.
The third outfield spot (likely CF) should be a contest, possibly resulting in multiple players splitting time. Once regarded as a top 5 prospect, the talented Cameron Maybin was acquired from Florida for two relievers—Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. If he proves ready, Maybin could compete for the Padres' starting CF gig out of camp. If not, San Diego still has Oscar Salazar and Will Venable to split time. Both proved reliable a season ago.
Supremely talented youngsters Chase Headley and Nick Hundley should anchor the 3B and C positions, respectively. They, along with Blanks, provide San Diego with a young core to build around for the next few years, and are coming off seasons in which their potential really began to show. Headley hit 11 HR and knocked in 58, while hitting 29 doubles. Hundley hit 8 HR with 43 RBI and slugged .418.
The rotation has also received a boost from the signing of starters Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley.
Harang, once Cincinnati's ace, is looked upon to rebound from his recent struggles that dropped him behind Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto in the Reds' rotation. What better place to have a resurgence than in Petco Park? And for only $4 million, Harang is a very safe bet that even a small market team like San Diego can afford to take a chance on.
Although not known for a dazzling career, Moseley is a solid signing for San Diego as well. The Padres were able to reel him in for a minimal $900 k, and they hope that he can build off of decent numbers in Anaheim and New York, the last two to play a role in revitalizing their staff. He won't be looked on to be a top starter, but to provide depth. Again, Petco Park should prove very friendly for Moseley.
Young guns Mat Latos and Clayton Richard look to see continued improvement on impressive seasons from a year ago (Latos' 2009-'10 could be referred to as largely dominant). Even at such a young age (Latos just turned 23), he will be looked upon to be the club's ace, with Harang likely the No. 2 starter followed by Richard, Wade LeBlanc and one of Moseley or Aaron Poreda.
Hoyer's belief that he could acquire solid talent for cheap, as he has thus far, is one likely reason that he stood pat on not moving premier closer Heath Bell as part of any Gonzalez deal. Bell, along with Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams, return to a bullpen that was among the league's best over the past 2 seasons, and serve as the team's strength. Continued success from this group is key for San Diego to contend again in '11.
San Diego has not given up hope in 2011 despite the loss of their star slugger and face of their franchise. They will look to their young players and cheap, quality additions to build on last years season that caught the league by surprise.