After busy offseason, Padres have higher expectations
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) James Shields wore a stocking cap and smiled Thursday as he worked his way from the front of the clubhouse to the back.
”Time to meet the troops,” Shields said, as he greeted his San Diego Padres teammates with an ”I’m James” and a handshake.
Shields, the Padres’ new ace, was one of many players settling into new surroundings on reporting day for pitchers and catchers.
Thanks to first-year general manager A.J. Preller’s whirlwind offseason, the Padres have gone from one of baseball’s worst teams to a team with higher expectations.
”On paper, we have what I feel like is one of the best teams in Major League Baseball,” said right fielder Matt Kemp, acquired in a December trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. ”God-willing and nobody gets hurt, expect big things from the Padres.”
San Diego hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. Its last winning season came in 2010. The Padres scored the fewest runs in the majors last season (535) while going 77-85 and finishing 17 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.
Now Shields is at the top of one of the deeper rotations in the majors. There’s Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers to man the outfield. Derek Norris is behind the plate. Will Middlebrooks could start at third base. Brandon Morrow could be the fifth starter. Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley are potential setup men.
None were here last year.
”The chance to win and go to the playoffs is real,” right-hander Andrew Cashner said. ”I think you’re always excited to come to spring training, but this year is definitely a lot different.”
Cashner, last year’s opening day starter, didn’t think he’d be around to see Preller’s makeover.
”Honestly, I thought I was going to be traded,” Cashner said. ”I’ve kind of done this before where you get a new GM and he wants his guys. Obviously, there’s got to be change after the season we had.
”I thought one of our starting pitchers would be traded. But it’s awesome that we’re able to stick together.”
Shields was Preller’s last major acquisition. The Padres signed Shields to a four-year, $75 million deal earlier this month. The 33-year-old helped Kansas City reach the World Series in 2014 and has thrown at least 200 innings in eight straight seasons.
”I had a big decision this offseason to decide what team I wanted to go to, and I really liked the direction this team is going in,” Shields said. ”I’m excited to be here and to do my part in this winning equation.”
Tyson Ross, an All-Star last season, and Ian Kennedy join Shields and Cashner in the rotation. The fifth spot is open as workouts begin Friday.
Kemp, who hit 25 home runs last year, was one of a handful of position players already working out Thursday for a team that suddenly has power. Upton had as many home runs with Atlanta last season (29) as the Padres’ outfield combined.
”That was the main thing last year, we didn’t score that many runs,” closer Joaquin Benoit said. ”If our rotation and bullpen do their job and the offense scores a couple more runs than we did last year, then we’re going to be in good shape.”
Shields and the rest of the staff need to become comfortable with Norris, who was an All-Star with Oakland last season. Wil Nieves and Tim Federowicz, both newcomers, will contend for backup catcher.
”I tell you, A.J., man, he had an unbelievable offseason as far as upgrading our team,” Cashner said of his GM. ”I know he worked really hard and it’s awesome to see the product now. And it’s up to us to produce.”
NOTES: RHP Josh Johnson, recovering from a second elbow reconstruction surgery, is throwing from 180 feet. Bullpen sessions could start in three weeks. … RHP Casey Kelly (elbow) will throw on a limited basis to start camp. … Black said RHP Marcos Mateo (travel issues) will not arrive in time for Friday’s workout. … Shields claimed no money changed hands as he took No. 33 from reliever Dale Thayer, who’s now 44.