Running down the rosters: San Diego Padres

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One of the surprise teams of 2010, the Padres will try to rebound this year from a 2011 season that saw them lose an additional 19 games and finish 71-91. And just to make it a bit more of a challenge, the team will give it a go without ace Mat Latos, who was sent to Cincinnati in return for four youngsters, and closer Heath Bell.

Rotation
Tim Stauffer – R
Cory Luebke – L
Edinson Volquez – R
Clayton Richard – L
Dustin Moseley – R

Bullpen
Huston Street – R
Luke Gregerson – R
Andrew Cashner – R
Ernesto Frieri – R
Joe Thatcher – L
Micah Owings – R
Josh Spence – L

SP next in line: Anthony Bass (R), Jeff Suppan (R), Casey Kelly (R), Joe Wieland (R), Robbie Erlin (L)
RP next in line: Bass, Brad Brach (R), Brad Boxberger (R), Cory Burns (R), Alex Hinshaw (L)

Despite the losses, the Padres will likely again finish among the NL ERA leaders. But that’s partly Petco’s influence. Stauffer had a 4.95 ERA on the road last year. Richard was at 5.30 in 10 starts before getting hurt. Luebke projects as the team’s best pitcher, though he won’t go on Opening Day. Volquez may be the key to the staff; while he was far from the key piece in the Latos deal, he still has the stuff to win if he can throw a few more strikes. He fanned 104 and walked 65 in 108 2/3 innings while posting a 5.71 ERA for Cincinnati last year.

The Padres have had plenty of success building bullpens on the cheap, but rather than trying to save money on Bell’s replacement, they opted to take on Street’s salary for a year. They also made a big investment in Cashner, giving up top prospect Anthony Rizzo for him. Cashner may yet have a future in the rotation, but the Padres have made it clear that he’ll remain a reliever this year. With outstanding depth in the likes of Bass, Brach and Boxberger, the San Diego pen should be excellent again.

Lineup
CF Cameron Maybin – R
2B Orlando Hudson – S
3B Chase Headley – S
LF Carlos Quentin – R
1B Yonder Alonso – L
C Nick Hundley – R
RF Will Venable – L
SS Jason Bartlett – R

Bench
C John Baker – L
1B-OF Jesus Guzman – R
INF Everth Cabrera – S
OF Chris Denorfia – R
OF Mark Kotsay – L

Next in line: C Yasmani Grandal (S), INF Logan Forsythe (R), INF James Darnell (R), INF Andy Parrino (R), OF Kyle Blanks (R), OF Jeremy Hermida (L) OF Blake Tekotte (L)

The offense, on the other hand…

The Padres could go in any number of ways with the lineup. MLB.com’s Padres writer Corey Brock projected a Venable-Bartlett top of the order last week, with Maybin and Hudson batting seventh and eighth, respectively. I think that’s kind of crazy, but he might have better insight into what Bud Black is thinking than I do.

The heart of the order seems more certain. I don’t think Quentin was the Padres’ best use of resources, but at least they didn’t have to give up much to get him. He’ll be blocking a couple of other defensively-challenged right-handed hitters in Guzman and Blanks.

The bench has just one opening, assuming that everyone stays healthy. Cabrera will battle Forsythe for the utility job. Since Cabera has the edge defensively and switch-hits, he’s the more likely choice.

I’m not as high on Alonso as some, but it should be an improved offense. Bartlett is the only real liability, and the team could look at playing Cabrera over him against righties if he struggles. Maybin could well take another step forward, giving the Padres a legitimate star in center field. The team might even hit more homers than the Astros this year.

It probably won’t be enough to make the Padres contenders, not unless the Diamondbacks fall back and the Giants fail to improve on their 86-win season. I see the Padres selling at midseason. Besides obvious candidates like Street, Hudson and Bartlett, they could also put Headley, Quentin, Hundley, Stauffer, Richard and Gregerson on the blocks. Thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Adams and Latos trades, the Padres now have one of the strongest farm systems in the game, and while the major league talent isn’t bad, the lack of upside is troublesome. Continuing to gear up for 2013 and ’14 is probably the franchise’s best bet.

Imagining Theo Epstein in politics

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“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Or: “When Theo Epstein won World Series championships with the two most championship-starved franchises in baseball history, he got bored, and decided to run for the Senate or something.”

That latter bit is the premise of a Politico piece speculating that the Cubs president could go into politics one day. The story features an interview with former Obama chief strategist David Axlerod, who thinks Theo has what it takes. Mostly what he has is fame, popularity, good looks and money. No idea what his positions on issue are, but that other stuff goes a long way in politics these days.

Bonus: given what we just elected last fall, a guy who once had a little temper tantrum and dressed up in a gorilla suit is just as viable a candidate as anyone.

Another interestingly named player is promoted by the Pirates

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When you promote a player from the minors, the first and foremost consideration is whether or not he can help your ball club. But, assuming that’s taken care of, teams should really, really make it a priority to call up dudes with cool sounding names because it makes life more interesting for the rest of us.

The Pirates are doing that. The other night Dovydas Neverauskas made his big league debut. In addition to being the first Lithuanian born-and-raised player in major league history, it’s a solid, solid name. Now the Pirates are making another promotion: Gift Ngoepe.

Yep, Gift Ngoepe. He’s an infielder from South Africa, making the leap to the bigs due to David Freese‘s hamstring injury. Ngoepe, 27, was batting just .241/.308/.379 through 66 plate appearances this season with Triple-A Indianapolis, his ninth in the minors, so he’s not exactly a prospect. But man, that’s a killer name.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gift and Neverauskas were arrested together in a bar fight last August in Toledo, so there is already a good basis for some bonding here.

Good luck, Gift. Gift Ngoepe. Mr. Ngoepe. G-Ngo. Man, I could do this all day.