SAN DIEGO - "Bleak," "time-consuming," and "depressing" are some of the words that could have described recent Padres seasons, so when I call the upcoming 2014 season "intriguing," that could be considered a major upgrade for the local nine.
The Padres spent some money in the off-season, and will carry an Opening Day payroll of close to $90 million, the highest in franchise history. That alone should open up some skeptical eyes among baseball fans in San Diego.
But is that money well-spent? A good 15 to 20 percent will start on the disabled list, including pitcher Josh Johnson, who got an $8 million dollar deal and looked good in Spring Training before suffering a forearm strain that will keep him out at least a month, and probably longer.
The one thing money can't buy is health, and in addition to the pitchers, the Padres will keep their fingers crossed that Carlos Quentin can stay healthy enough to play in 110-120 games and hit 25-30 home runs.
However, if the Padres avoid their usual bad luck, they have the pieces in place to be a contender for a wild card playoff berth in September.
Offensively, the Padres will roll the dice, keeping Chase Headley for the final year of his contract, rather than trading the 3rd baseman for prospects. Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable both had breakout seasons in 2013, and could help the Padres put some runs on the board. If Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal can return from steroid suspensions/injuries with numbers close to their career-bests, then the Padres could have one of the more productive lineups in the National League.
On the mound, Andrew Cashner has the look of an ace-in-the-making, with Tyson Ross adding an electric arm to the mix. Ian Kennedy is the veteran workhorse every rotation needs, and Eric Stults is the slop-balling change-of-pace lefty to keep opposing hitters from getting locked in on the hard heat.
The bullpen should be very strong at the back end, with free agent Joaquin Benoit joining Huston Street, and the Padres have potential Gold Glove defense in Headley, Cabrera, Gyorko, Grandal, and Cameron Maybin, when he returns to the field after a spring injury.
If everything comes together, the Padres should be playing meaningful games in September for the first time since 2010, and could be part of baseball post-season for the first time since 2006.
My prediction is a second-place finish in the N.L. West behind the Dodgers, good enough to grab one of the National League's two wild card slots.