Cactus League countdown: San Diego Padres

There was perhaps no quieter offseason in baseball this year than that of the San Diego Padres.

To fans of the team, which finished 76-86 last season and fourth in the National League West, that might seem cause for concern. The Padres, though, seem confident that their best plan of action this winter was to stand pat and parlay momentum built up from a strong second half of 2012 into a stronger 2013.

That’s not the kind of plan that’s going to get fans fired up, but given the circumstances, maybe it makes sense.

Injuries hampered the Padres early in 2012, and their season was essentially doomed by the halfway mark. After the All-Star break, the Padres went 42-33 and climbed out of last place.

The Padres would have liked to have added starting pitching depth in the offseason, but with a thin free-agent market, any possible upgrades quickly exceeded the Padres’ price range. Rather than overspend for modest improvements, the team stuck with what it had and added 25-year-old Tyson Ross to the mix via a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Veteran starter Jason Marquis also re-signed and figures to slot in behind Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez in the rotation. Veteran Freddy Garcia signed a minor-league deal and will compete with Eric Stults, Casey Kelly, Ross and Anthony Bass for the final two spots. More pitching help should arrive midseason when Cory Luebke, Andrew Cashner and Joe Wieland return from injuries.

There’s nothing sexy about that group, but smart moves trump desperation moves. And backing that pitching corps is a lineup that should look better on Opening Day 2013 than it did in 2012. Left fielder Carlos Quentin should be in it as long as he avoids another spring training injury. And third baseman Chase Headley had a breakout 2012 and looks like a bona fide star for the Padres.

Notably absent, though, will be talented young catcher Yasmani Grandal, who debuted last June. Grandal must serve a 50-game suspension after testing positive for high testosterone levels. He’s allowed to participate in spring training, though, and will undoubtedly have to answer question about offseason reports that linked him and numerous other players to a Miami steroids dealer.
Spring training also will offer the Padres a strong look at infield prospect Jedd Gyorko, who they hope shows enough defensively to take over everyday duties at second base. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Gyorko tallied 100 RBI and 30 home runs while putting up a .921 OPS, so his bat should be an asset. Gyorko was drafted as a third baseman, but with that position blocked by Headley, he transitioned to second base a year ago.

Manager Bud Black, now in his seventh year, could face questions about his job security if the Padres are unable to sustain last season’s momentum. Though well-liked by fans and higher-ups, the Padres have posted winning records in just two of Black’s six seasons.

Who’s new: P Tyson Ross, trade, (A’s), P Faustino De Los Santos, waivers (Brewers), OF Travis Buck, P Freddy Garcia, IF Cody Ransom, C Eddy Rodriguez.

Who’s gone: OF Jeremy Hermida (Indians), P Ross Ohlendorf (Nationals), P Matt Palmer (Dodgers), SS Andy Parrino (A’s), P Josh Spence (Yankees), OF Blake Tekotte (White Sox), P Andrew Werner (A’s); SS Jason Bartlett, SP Dustin Moseley, SP Jeff Suppan, RP Kip Wells.
Battle ground: The Padres would like to see Gyorko win the starting job at second base in camp, freeing up Forsythe for a utility position. And with three starters on the disabled list to start the year, there should be at least two rotation spots available behind  Richard, Volquez and veteran Marquis. Garcia and newcomer Ross will battle for those spots with Stults, Kelly, Bass and Robbie Erlin.

Health watch: Cashner suffered a lacerated tendon in his right thumb during the offseason. He’ll start the season on the disabled list, possibly joining the team sometime in June. Fellow starters Luebke and Wieland had Tommy John surgery last season (Luebke in May and Wieland in July) and won’t be available until midseason or later.
Sneak preview: Catcher Austin Hedges, a 21-year-old, received an invitation to big-league camp and will be the organization’s highest-rated prospect there other than second baseman Jedd Gyorko. Hedges, drafted in 2011, could reach the majors in a couple seasons. He’s regarded as a superb defensive catcher with offensive potential — he tallied 56 RBI in 96 minor league games last year — but is blocked at his natural position by Grandal.
Spring training info: Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria. First workouts: Feb. 13 (pitchers and catchers), Feb. 16 (full squad). First game: Feb. 23. Tickets: