Power rankings: No. 27 Padres

It's all about Luke Gregerson. Says a lot, doesn't it?

Over the last two seasons, the best thing about the Padres has been their bullpen. It carried Bud Black's team to the threshold of the playoffs in 2010 and was the backbone of a bad team last year as San Diego fans adjusted to life without Adrian Gonzalez.

Gregerson and lefty specialist extraordinaire Joe Thatcher are all that's left from a group that in 2010 included All-Star closer Heath Bell, setup man Mike Adams and innings guys Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb. It's a testament to the sturdiness of Gregerson's elbow, as well as the inexperience that made him affordable, that he heads toward 2012 as part of the welcome wagon for Huston Street, who was acquired from the Rockies to replace Bell.

Gregerson, a right fielder/closer when he was the Chicagoland Conference player of the year at St. Xavier in 2006, was acquired by the Padres' Kevin Towers in a spring-training trade for Khalil Greene in 2009. He appeared in 72 games for the Padres that season, then 80 the next season and 61 last year. He has piled up 83 holds, the most in the majors over that stretch, all while being paid near the major league minimum.

His reliability allowed Jed Hoyer, who took over when Towers was canned, to wheel and deal. He sent Mujica and Webb to the Marlins for center fielder Cameron Maybin last winter and then made one of the best deals at the July 31 deadline, getting potential 2012 starting pitchers Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland from the Rangers for Adams.

Why Hoyer allowed Bell to reach free agency — he signed a $27 million deal with the Marlins — rather than trade him is a mystery. The question with Gregerson is whether he will hold up well enough for Padres GM Josh Byrnes, who moved up after Hoyer went to the Cubs, to deal him this summer.

Trainers stand standing on the top step of the dugout, watching nervously, when Brad Lidge or another slider-happy pitcher is on the mound. These guys are injuries waiting to happen.

Among pitchers with at least 25 appearances last season, Gregerson (58 percent) relied on his slider more than all big-league pitchers except Lidge (72 percent), Carlos Marmol (64 percent) and Rafael Perez (61 percent). He showed significant wear from the extreme use in 2010, with his strikeouts-per-nine innings mark dropping from 10.2 to 5.5 and his WHIP climbing from 0.830 to 1.365.

Byrnes hopes Gregerson won't become a concern. He has bigger fish to fry in trying to improve a lineup that produced 597 runs last year, the third lowest total in the majors.

Mat Latos was dealt to the Reds in a 4-for-1 deal highlighted by first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal, and it took only two second-tier pitching prospects to get Carlos Quentin from the White Sox. Before Gregerson & Co. can protect leads, the suspect lineup will have to create them.

And furthermore

•Hoyer was closing on a house in San Diego when Theo Epstein's hiring in Chicago set in motion a chain reaction in which Padres owner Jeff Moorad promoted Byrnes from assistant GM and Hoyer wound up with a five-year deal to be Epstein's No. 2 man, retaining a GM title.

•Financing of the Padres is a concern. Moorad's ownership group is widely viewed as fragile, which is why its takeover from owner John Moores remains under review. The team hasn't had a payroll of even $50 million since 2008, before Moores' divorce.

•The rotation will miss Aaron Harang and Latos.

•Towers made an inspired move to deal Jake Peavy to the White Sox while he was on the disabled list, even though the only piece left from that trade is Clayton Richard, who like Peavy has had physical problems. Richard is in the projected 2012 rotation alongside Edinson Volquez, Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley and lefty Cory Luebke.

•Quentin will be the Padres' highest-paid player at $7.25 million. He's a San Diego native and might be receptive to a long-term deal.


Twitter @ChiTribRogers

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in the lake

    'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in the lake

    During an early morning jog along Lake Michigan with his wife and children Tuesday, John Corba spotted a man struggling in the water nearly 30 yards from the shore.

  • Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann watched the world change from behind his drum kit, shoveling coal in the wildly tribal rhythm section as the Dead went from San Francisco underground curio to ground-breaking indie outfit, then progenitor of the improvisation-based rock...

  • Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    The three clichés that color every good rock star story is “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll." For the Grateful Dead, the trailblazing rock band known for its improvisational style, revelatory live shows and dedicated fanbase, there was that and so much more.

  • 10 best movies of 2015 so far

    10 best movies of 2015 so far

    The year’s half-over! How did that happen? No idea. With six months of a good year of movies in the books, let’s see how the Top 10 list is looking, with a quote from each respective review. Note: There are a few I’ve seen that I really like that haven’t yet opened in Chicago, and those aren’t...

  • If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    Nearly 5 million more Americans would qualify for overtime pay under new rules proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration, a long-anticipated move expected to affect a broad swath of salaried employees from store managers to social workers to restaurant shift supervisors.

  • Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Unlike previous summers, UniStaff is experiencing a spike in job applicants at its Little Village location, a trend the branch manager says is tied to the city's minimum wage increase to $10 per hour beginning Wednesday.