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.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.