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Spring Postcard: Outlook couldn't be gloomier for Padres in 2009

1) No buzz in camp. As some veteran San Diego beat writers have noted, there is zero buzz surrounding Padres camp this year. Blame the WBC (stars Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez were both absent for much of the spring), blame the Padres' stinker of a season last year (their 99 loses were the franchise's most since '93), blame the shrinking payroll (the team still wants to trim the current $45 million tab), blame the departures of two future Hall of Famers (Trevor Hoffman and Greg Maddux), blame AIG. Barely 2,000 people have been showing up for recent games at the Peoria Sports Complex. About the biggest news of the spring was the 25 pounds dropped by new closer Heath Bell. The entire organization seems to be in a bit of a holding pattern with the pending sale of the team to Jeff Moorad, which everyone seems to think will get done by the end of the month.

2) No truth to the rumor that Danny Gokey is in the hunt for a bullpen spot. San Diego needs nothing short of great seasons out of Peavy and Chris Young to even have a chance at a .500 record in 2009. Unfortunately for the Padres neither has pitched well this spring. Peavy racked up a 14.40 ERA in the World Baseball Classic, while Young has been bothered by elbow tendinitis. Young's fastball has been topping out in the mid-80s and he's having trouble locating his off-speed pitches. Young missing time this season would, of course, be disastrous for an already thin rotation. Kevin Correia and Cha-Seung Baek have starting jobs, but with the season just a few weeks away the bullpen beyond Bell and the No. 5 slot in the rotation remain up for grabs. The relief corps took a big hit with the news that Mark Worrell, obtained from St. Louis for shortstop Khalil Greene this winter, will have elbow reconstruction surgery next week. "Traditionally you could count on them having a good bullpen," says a scout. "This year it could be a disaster."

3) Things are going to go from ugly to uglier. The Padres head into the season as the worst team, on paper, in the National League. Just think of what this team will look like when its ace is dealt at the trade deadline, which is a near sure bet to happen unless San Diego somehow stays afloat over the first half. The Padres could use the haul of prospects that a deal for Peavy would net; perhaps most disheartening to Padres fans is the lack of talent developing in their minor league system. (The Padres farm system is currently ranked 29th by Baseball America.) "There's nothing on the way for them, now that [third baseman turned left fielder] Chase Headley is up with the team," says a scout. "[2006 first-round pick and second baseman] Matt Antonelli has been a big disappointment. [Pitcher] Wade LeBlanc has taken some steps back. [Right-hander] Mat Latos has gotten hit hard this spring. They just don't have the young players coming up that make you think they're going to turn this around sometime soon."

Every year Adrian Gonzalez just keeps producing: While playing half his games in the graveyard for hitters that is Petco Park, the most celebrated MLB player in Mexico still put up huge numbers last season (36 home runs, 116 RBIs). But don't count on A-Go to reproduce those numbers. Last year teams began pitching around him (his 18 intentional walks were fourth most in the league), and look for that to happen even more this season.

GM Kevin Towers recently said that the emergence of prospect Kyle (Little Hurt) Blanks has been the "highlight of the spring." That may say more about the Padres' spring than Blanks, but there's no question that the 6-foot-6, 285-pound first baseman is turning heads. Blanks is of course blocked by Gonzalez at first base, which is why the Padres are considering a move to the outfield for their 2004 42nd-round pick. Towers said that Blanks will take fly balls in left field before he starts the season at Triple-A Portland.

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