Cameron Maybin

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.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.