It is tough to see the Padres competing in 2012, but the same was true entering the 2010 season and they won 90 games then. I'm picking against them, but in the NL West, they have some sleeper potential.
2011 record: 71-91 (5th in NL West). Projected 2012 finish: 74-88 (5th in NL West).
Projected starters: C Nick Hundley, 1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Jason Bartlett, 3B Chase Headley, LF Carlos Quentin, CF Cameron Maybin, RF Will Venable, SP Tim Stauffer, SP Cory Luebke, SP Edinson Volquez, SP Clayton Richard, SP Dustin Moseley, CL Huston Street, RP Andrew Cashner, RP Luke Gregerson.
Half-full outlook: When the Padres won 90 games two years ago, the primary reason why was a 3.36 ERA that ranked second in the NL. Even if that number was skewed by them calling Petco Park home, they could pitch, and their bullpen was dominant. Am I crazy for thinking they could — not will, but could — have similar success this year? I can see Cashner/Gregerson/Joe Thatcher dominating the seventh and eighth innings and Street having success as he goes from Colorado's Coors Field to Petco. Any rotation that plans to start Stauffer on Opening Day is far from perfect, but then the fifth guy (Moseley) had a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts last year. If Volquez somehow gets back to close to his 2008 form — again, he's another guy who is moving to a far more favorable home ballpark — the Padres could be in business.
Half-empty outlook: No matter how optimistic you might be, it's hard to say nice things about the Padres offense. Any hope they have of not finishing last or close to last in the NL in runs is depenendent on things like the 24-year-old Alonso raking right from the start, Quentin matching or exceeding last season's .838 OPS as he goes from U.S. Cellular Field to Petco and Hudson finding the Fountain of Youth. It's not that every Padres position player is just terrible — Maybin, for one, had an under-the-radar 4.7 WAR season in 2011. But Petco suppression and a lack of big-league talent will combine on offensive numbers that will be probably be far too paltry for the Padres to compete.
Halfway between the two outlook: I like a lot about the Padres. I like the way they realize their financial constraints and try to build a team built around pitching and defense tailored to win in their home park (though going and getting Quentin really doesn't fit that model). I love their farm system. I think they have a chance to be something of a perennial playoff team in a division that doesn't have a team poised for future dominance. But for now, their shortcomings will be too much to overcome.