The San Diego Padres did something this offseason that small-market teams often struggle to do: They spent money.
With the payroll now exceeding $80 million, the front office – not to mention fans – expect more than the 76-86 season the Padres turned in last year.
“I think the expectations are higher, and we know internally the first order of business is to try to win the division and then get into October and try to win 11 more games,” Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said. “We’ve got a good division, but I think our team’s a lot better. We started to pitch better at the end of last year, and I think our pitching staff is the best it’s been in a while. We need to be healthier, but we think we stack up, so we’re anxious to go out and see how it turns out.”
San Diego has two reasons to feel optimistic: The first is Josh Johnson, who was acquired from Toronto in the offseason, and the second is Ian Kennedy, who won a combined 36 games in 2011 and 2012.
Johnson had a down year last year – finishing 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP – as he battled elbow issues. But after having bone spurs removed form his right elbow in October – and now that he’s going from a hitter-friendly park in the AL East to a pitcher-friendly park in the NL West – a bounce-back season appears inevitable.
“Of he 25 guys on the team, he’s probably the one you’d circle because I think he’s been so go good in his career,” Byrnes said. “He’s won an ERA title, he just turned 30 and he feels great. He carries himself like he’s a front-of-the-rotation guy for us. If he can pitch like he has for many years in his career, we’re a different team.”
Johnson and Kennedy should stabilize a team that lacked consistency a year ago. After a 5-15 start, the Padres eventually won seven straight to improve to 36-34, but they had a disastrous stretch just before the All-Star break. They went 2-14 in 16 games leading up to the midsummer classic, a swoon that included 10 straight losses at Miami, Boston and Washington.
San Diego rebounded somewhat in the second half, mainly because pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross “(took) it to another level.”
But in order to win the division – or just make the playoffs – Byrnes knows you’ve got to play well for six months.
It helps that San Diego will enter the season with Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, both of whom received 50-game suspensions last season for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
“It doesn’t sit well,” Byrnes said of his players’ indiscretions. “I think every situation has its own story, and we had two guys last year (get suspensions). It was just a bad decision. It’s important that Major League Baseball has these rules and enforces these rules. As a GM, I think we’ve go to take that seriously, but we also have to be able to forgive and let (them) earn (their) credibility back.”
If they do, the Padres might be able to hang around with the Dodgers, who won the NL West by 11 games last year.
“I think all five teams in our division are good; we have a lot for respect for all those teams,” Byrnes said. “But we think we can play with any of them. I think it does start with pitching. We’ve got to at least try to pitch with them, and I think we have a better chance to do that now.”