January 14, 2004

A 50-to-1 shot

While in Vegas last week, one of the first things I did was go to a sports book and one of the first things I did once I was there was to find the odds for the 2004 World Series.

After looking at the odds for all 30 teams, I was fairly disappointed. The odds for all of the teams I would consider to be likely playoff teams in 2004 were extremely low. The Yankees and Red Sox were 3-to-1 and even the Twins were just 12-to-1. Then I remembered which teams have won the World Series the past two years - Anaheim and Florida.

Prior to the 2002 season, you'd have been hard-pressed to find many people who thought the Angels were going to be serious contenders. And prior to last year, the same was true about the Marlins. Heck, I picked the Marlins to finish dead-last in the NL East.

With that in mind, I shifted my attention to the bottom of the list, to see if any "sleeper" teams jumped out at me. I was nearly to the bottom (Detroit: 300-to-1!) when I saw the following:

San Diego Padres: 50-to-1

Wait, don't laugh. I know the Padres went 64-98 last season, finishing with the worst record in the National League. I'm pretty sure no one thinks the Padres are going to win the 2004 World Series. But did anyone think the Marlins or the Angels would either?

When you're looking for a sleeper team to come out of nowhere and win the World Series and you're looking for 50-to-1 odds, you're not going to find many great teams to pick from.

Here's something to think about:

In 2002, the Marlins finished with the 9th-best record in the National League.

In 2001, the Angels finished with the 9th-best record in the American League.

Well, okay, the Padres finished with the 16th-best record in the NL last season, but you get the point. If you're looking for a true long-shot, a team you can put $5 or $10 on to win the World Series with some huge odds, I think the Padres are your team.

They've got the three keys that I think an "out of nowhere" World Series winner should have:

1) They have several very good, established veterans.

I don't care how out of nowhere a team is, they are going to need some star players to win the World Series. Anaheim had Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Troy Percival. Florida had Ivan Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell. The Padres have Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman.

2) They have several intriguing young players ready to step up their games.

The Angels got huge post-season contributions from Francisco Rodriguez, who was 20 years old and had pitched a total of 5.2 innings in the majors prior to the playoffs. They also got big contributions from young guys like Glaus (25) and John Lackey (23). Brendan Donnelly wasn't a youngster, but he made his MLB debut in 2002 and had a 2.17 ERA in 49.2 innings.

The Marlins had a ton of young players, including Josh Beckett (23), Dontrelle Willis (21), Miguel Cabrera (20), Juan Pierre (25) and Brad Penny (25).

The Padres will have Jake Peavy (23) and Adam Eaton (25) in their starting rotation, and those two may be joined at some point by Dennis Tankersley (25) and Ben Howard (25). They will also have Sean Burroughs (23) as their starting third baseman and will likely open the season with Khalil Greene (24) as their starting shortstop. Xavier Nady (25) looks headed back to Triple-A, but could come on at the end of the year ala Miguel Cabrera and Francisco Rodriguez.

3) They have made several important acquisitions during the off-season.

The 2002 Angels added Brad Fullmer (.289/.357/.531 as the everyday DH), Kevin Appier (14-12 with a 3.92 ERA in 188.1 innings) and Aaron Sele (8-9 with a 4.89 ERA in 160 innings).

The 2003 Marlins added Rodriguez (.297/.369/.474 as the everyday catcher), Juan Pierre (.305/.361/.373 as the everyday CF) and Mark Redman (14-10 with a 3.59 ERA in 190.2 innings), as well as Ugueth Urbina and Jeff Conine, who were added mid-season.

So far this off-season the Padres have added David Wells, Jay Payton, Ramon Hernandez, Ismael Valdes, Sterling Hitchcock, Tom Wilson and Akinori Otsuka.

More importantly than any of those three things above is the fact that, in looking at San Diego's roster, I see a team that seems set to make a huge improvement in 2004.

Here's how the roster looks, right now:


C Ramon Hernandez
1B Phil Nevin
2B Mark Loretta
SS Khalil Greene
3B Sean Burroughs
LF Ryan Klesko
CF Jay Payton
RF Brian Giles

C Tom Wilson
IF Ramon Vazquez
IF Jeff Cirillo
OF Brian Buchanan
OF Terrence Long

SP David Wells
SP Jake Peavy
SP Brian Lawrence
SP Adam Eaton
SP Ismael Valdes

RP Sterling Hitchcock
RP Kevin Walker
RP Scott Linebrink
RP Jay Witasick
RP Akinori Otsuka
RP Rod Beck

CL Trevor Hoffman

I don't know about you, but I see a lot to like with that group. The offense has potential elite-hitters in Giles, Klesko and Nevin, and there really isn't an everyday player who is a good bet to be below-average offensively for his position.

The bench is deep and has both quality platoon players (Wilson, Buchanan, Vazquez) and good and/or versatile defenders (Vazquez, Cirillo, Long).

The starting rotation doesn't have a true "ace," but it is very deep with #2/#3 starter-types. Wells, Peavy, Lawrence and Eaton each threw at least 180 innings last season and they all had ERAs between 4.08 and 4.19. San Diego also has a solid sixth starter in place, should one of their top five get injured.

The bullpen is also deep and the trio of Beck, Witasick and Otsuka (a dominant closer in Japan) setting up Trevor Hoffman could be outstanding.

The one area I am concerned with is their defense, although signing Payton and moving Giles from center field to a corner spot helps quite a bit. Still, I think the outfield defense is below-average, at best. The infield is potentially fairly good, depending on how well Khalil Greene plays as a rookie. Burroughs and Loretta are above-average at 3B and 2B, and Ramon Hernandez is a very good defensive catcher.

Is this a 95-win team? I really doubt it. Is it a team with a lot of depth and very few gaping holes? Definitely.

The National League West is not looking like one of the stronger divisions in baseball for 2004 and I think there is a definite chance that 85-90 wins could get the job done. That may be the upper-limit of San Diego's potential in 2004, but I think there is a good chance they will end up somewhere around 85.

And, of course, once the playoffs start, we know just about anything can happen.

I'm not saying you should bet the house on the Padres in 2004, but if you're looking for a true long-shot that will pay some pretty huge odds, Giles, Klesko, Nevin and company are the guys to go with.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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