Springtime Storylines: What did the Mat Latos deal do for this team?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: What did the Mat Latos deal for this team?

We are seeing fewer and fewer blockbuster trades in baseball these days, but the Padres pulled one off last winter, shipping out ace Mat Latos and getting back a bunch of guys: Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger.  It was quite a haul, and given that it’s way easier to develop or attract pitching in Petco Park, it seems like a pretty winning trade for the Padres. But how much will the trade help now?

Well, if it pays off this season, it will probably be because the third most important guy in the trade — Volquez — returns to form after an awful 2011.  The real value here come in Alonso and Grandal, and each of them face some challenges. Alonso is going to have a lot of pressure on him to be a middle of the order threat, especially since Carlos Quentin will miss the first month or so of the season.  Grandal is going to be stuck in the minors for a while, it seems, as the Padres just extended Nick Hundley’s contract through 2015.

Alonso will at least get the plate appearances and hopefully the pressure and the spaciousness of Petco Park won’t be too intimidating. Padres fans looking for the Grandal portion of the deal just have to be patient and hope that the Padres can figure out how to turn either him or Nick Hundley into some other parts they’ll need in 2013 and beyond.

What else is going on?

  • While this team has been offensively challenged for a while, there are a core of good hitters here in Cameron Maybin, Alonso, Hundley, Will Venable and Jesus Guzman. But man, that park kills ’em all.
  • That park also helps pitchers, and that makes the rotation seem better than it really is. They play half of their games on the road, obviously, and no one in this rotation save maybe Cory Luebke impresses you that much when you take them away from San Diego.
  • Losing Heath Bell is a blow, but the Padres have not wanted for good relief pitching in some time. Huston Street will slip into the closer’s role and import Andrew Cashner will provide some firepower in support. The pen, as always, will be a team strength.
  • The Padres may not scare anyone right now, but they have one of the top farm systems in the game and that is the sort of thing that keeps hard core fans interested. My spies in San Diego (well, my brother) tell me that there is a lot of excitement about the organization as a whole, even if no one thinks the big boys will do much this year.

So how are they gonna do?

Probably fifth place. Nothin’ personal, man, but they just don’t have the pop and they don’t have the top end pitching to compete, even if it only takes slightly above .500 ball to be in the conversation in this division for most of the season.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.