The Padres had had a busy winter already, but the signing of James Shields last night pushes it toward the ridiculous. If they get Cole Hamels, everyone in San Diego may plotz. Heck, they may plotz anyway after acquiring Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Brandon Morrow Will Middlebrooks, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Maurer Josh Johnson and now Shields. It’s a totally different team than it was last year.
Is it a better team? Almost certainly. Even if Matt Kemp continues to have injury issues and Justin Upton remains the good-but-not-as-good-as-people-thought-he’d-one-day-be player from his early days in Arizona, the offense is improved. If Kemp looks like he did in the second half last year and Wil Myers rebounds to his rookie form, all bets are off. Shields provides them with a near-certain 200+ above average and, occasionally, excellent innings. The team is much stronger than it’s been.
That doesn’t mean Padres fans should start setting aside money for playoff ticket deposits yet, of course. There are a lot of uncertainties here. The new hitters conquering Petco Park is not a given, even if they are healthy. Shields has a lot of miles on the odometer. The Padres were just a 77-win team last year and, as history has shown, making 15-20 game improvements in a single season is not an easy trick. Ask the 2013 Blue Jays and 2012 Marlins how adding a bunch of big pieces in a single offseason can go.
But there is definitely reason for excitement in San Diego. For one thing, all of these additions came at a relatively limited cost. The Padres did not give up any of their top prospects to acquire the talent they got and, even if you include Shields’ deal, none of the financial outlays for the new players are particularly crazy. The future has not been mortgaged for a one-year improvement. Indeed, this could just be a year in which the Padres makes a nice little competitive surge that gets the fan base excited with a more traditional and sustained improvement on the horizon.
And that’s pretty key with this franchise. The fan base excitement. The Padres have had some successful seasons over the years, but they were somewhat isolated and never came by virtue of ownership opening up the safe and truly investing in the team. Before this offseason, their biggest-ever free agent deal was Joaquin Freakin’ Benoit, for crying out loud.
A lot of Padres fans I know — some I met as recently as back in December at the Winter Meetings — would’ve never believed that the team would be as active in the offseason as they have been this year. That Padres brass would do the sorts of things to stir up some excitement and get the Padres faithful to shell out for tickets and merch with the level of enthusiasm they are likely to this spring.
Maybe what the Padres did this winter is not enough to make the playoffs — the Giants and Dodgers aren’t going anywhere any time soon, after all — but they have certainly taken some much needed steps to kick up some excitement in San Diego.