For Padres fans the first half of 2021 was pretty awesome. The second part, however, stunk. A(nother) late-season collapse put them under .500 for the year, not the place anyone in the baseball world expected this obscenely talented roster to be.
On Monday big league camp finally starts up again. With each new year comes new question and this season is certainly no exception. So, here are the five biggest unknowns facing the Padres as Spring Training gets underway:
1. How Big An Impact Can Bob Melvin Have?
The new skipper comes to San Diego with an impressive resume, but can one man make a 20-game turnaround? Melvin is one of the most respected managers in the game and has a history of wringing the last drop of talent out of his players.
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
Melvin deserves a ton of credit for keeping the spending-averse Oakland A's in the playoff hunt for the better part of a decade. He has a steady hand and sets a winning tone in any clubhouse. Mostly, his teams are something the Padres have not been for years:
Over the last four years the A's winning percentage was ,599, .599, .600, and .531. That's despite having Opening Day payrolls that ranked 30th, 25th, 26th, and 24th. That's overdelivering in a big way.
Bob also put together a brand new coaching staff with some moxie (Matt Williams) and some young, talented, but largely unproven commodities (hitting coach Michael Brdar, who turns 28 on Opening Day). It's a bold collection of personalities, to be sure.
If Melvin and his new staff can just get his undoubtedly more talented Padres roster to simply avoid the long stretches of inconsistency, he just might be able to get the Friars back into playoff contention.
2. Can the Starting Rotation Hold Up?
On paper, last year the Padres had one of baseball's most daunting starting rotations. By the end of the year they were relying on Jake Arrieta to start games with their playoff lives on the line.
That's not great.
Yu Darvish was an All-Star but struggled with nagging injuries in the 2nd half. Blake Snell couldn't find his form until late in the season but once he did he looked like the 2018 Cy Young Award winner he is. Grossmont High School alum Joe Musgrove was the most consistent, and many times the best, arm in the rotation.
Chris Paddack struggled to regain his 2019 form. Ryan Weathers seemed to run out of gas in his first full big league season. Adrian Morejon was lost to Tommy John surgery in April. MacKenzie Gore didn't develop as they thought he would.
Getting a full season of the good Snell and another campaign like Musgrove had are both reasonable expectations. Darvish missing multiple starts with ailments might be the norm but when he's on he's still one of the best in the game. The real wild card is Mike Clevinger.
He's back from TJ surgery and all reports have been extremely positive. If he's back to his dominant form and Paddack can find some kind of consistency (as well as the addition of Nick Martinez from Japan) then this rotation should be exponentially better than it was a year ago.
But, as we all know with arms, staying healthy for a whole season is a mighty big IF.
3. Who Handles the 9th Inning?
In 2021 Mark Melancon came over on a 1-year contract and led the National League in saves. He left for the Diamondbacks, leaving the Padres without an obvious closer.
They have several candidates, the most obvious being Drew Pomeranz. He's handled the 9th inning before but is coming off flexor tendon surgery. Emilio Pagan struggled mightily in the final month of the year but saved 20 games for Tampa Bay just a couple of seasons ago. And, there's always the possibility that a free agent or trade piece comes to town before Opening Day.
4. Is it Time to Cut Corners?
Eric Hosmer is a corner infielder. Wil Myers is a corner outfielder. Both guys have had All-Star seasons. Both guys have dramatically underperformed based on their skill levels and have been on the trade block since at least last year's trade deadline.
The Padres want to move them. The big question is can they?
It's easier to deal Myers since he's in the last year of his deal, but he's also the more likely of the two to be a productive member of the lineup. Hosmer has regressed both offensively and defensively and as much as his leadership skills have been hailed by some players he's also been blamed for some of the chemistry issues at the end of 2021.
How Preller assesses the urgency level of moving on from those two will have a major impact on how potent the Padres lineup is.
5. Where Does the Power Come From?
Fernando Tatis Jr. is going to rake. So is Manny Machado. Jake Cronenworth's left-handed bat is as steady as they come. After that things get a little sparse.
If Hosmer and Myers are still on board we can assume they'll give what they have lately, around 30 HR combined. That's why the Friars are trying to add a slugger like Nelson Cruz as a DH and/or Seiya Suzuki in the outfield. Those two bats are likely to be very productive while not breaking the bank.
It would also be great to get a full healthy season from catcher Austin Nola and centerfielder Trent Grisham, two guys who's had success in the past but been sidetracked by various ailments. Ha-Seong Kim making a major step forward in his 2nd big league season would be a bonus, as would a top prospect like C.J. Abrams forcing his extremely talented way into the lineup at Petco Park.
The offense is much like the pitching staff. If healthy it could be among the game's best. If not, depth could be what sinks the Padres playoff hopes yet again.
LISTEN: With NBC 7 San Diego's Darnay Tripp and Derek Togerson behind the mic, On Friar will cover all things San Diego Padres. Interviews, analysis, behind-the-scenes...the ups, downs, and everything in between. Tap here to find On Friar wherever you listen to podcasts.