At the San Diego Padres' team awards banquet last week, manager Bud Black and the team's new ownership were expressing optimism and saying they were pleased to open spring training with essentially the same team they finished with in 2012.
To be sure, despite a rash of pitching injuries, the Padres finished strongly last year and have a core of young players who should get better. Chase Headley blossomed into a power-hitting star. A slimmed-down Carlos Quentin will be on hand for the full season. There's a positive vibe after a winter that saw few moves made.
The Padres invited an unprecedented number of pitchers to camp, with pitchers and catchers reporting Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex in suburban Phoenix. The full squad reports by Friday.
"I'm happy we stayed with the guys we've got. I think we've got a chance to be good," Black said last week. Black said his team may "fly under the radar" while winning games. So what's with all this optimism -- is it the usual spring view through rose-colored glasses, or is it myopic? There's promise, but there are problems as well.
The promise: Coming off knee surgery last spring, Quentin didn't get into the lineup until late May. His return seemed to solidify the entire lineup, and Headley began to tear up the NL with Quentin hitting behind him. Youngsters Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Alexie Amarista looked like keepers. Everth Cabrera recaptured the shortstop position and led the league in stolen bases. Closer Huston Street only blew one save all season. The minor league system is in the best shape it's been in years.
The problem: Injuries continue to dog the pitching staff, and several key pitchers won't be ready to start the season. Grandal tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and starts the season serving a 50-game suspension. Catcher Nick Hundley and outfielder Cameron Maybin, given long-term deals before the 2012 season, struggled all year.
The reality: This is essentially the same team that finished fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the World Series champion Giants. They're also looking up at the free-spending Dodgers.
Here's how the Padres look by position.
Infield: Alonso (.273, 9 HR, 62 RBI as a rookie) is set at first. Amarista and Logan Forsythe will play at second, but the Padres hope their top minor leaguer, Jedd Gyorko (a natural third baseman) can win the position. Cabrera could be pushed at short by Amarista and/or Forsythe. Headley, who won a Gold Glove, is set at third.
Outfield: Quentin (.261, 10 HR, 46 RBI in 86 games) is the left fielder. Maybin (.243/8/45) has Gold Glove potential and speed in center. Right field will be split between Will Venable and Chris Denorfia. Also on hand: Jesus Guzman, Kyle Blanks and Mark Kotsay. Forsythe may also play some left.
Catching: The Padres aren't sure what they'll get when Grandal (.297, 8 HR in 30 games)becomes eligible in late May. The job is Hundley's to win. John Baker is a capable backup.
Starting pitching: There's much uncertainty, and still the chance of a trade. The only guys locked in are left-hander Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99 earned run average) and Edinson Volquez (11-11, 4.14, 174 strikeouts). Jason Marquis is probably in as well. Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland each had Tommy John elbow surgery. Luebke may be back after the All-Star break. Tyler Ross, picked up from the A's, was 2-11. Andrew Cashner injured his hand in an off-season hunting accident but is vowing to be ready by April 1. Casey Kelly and Anthony Bass could win spots with a good spring.
Relievers: The bullpen is solid with Street, backed up by Luke Gregerson and lefty specialist Joe Thatcher. Nick Vincent, Brad Boxberger and several other youngsters looked promising as rookies in 2012.
It should be an interesting spring.