OF Matt Kemp - The big fish that A.J. Preller caught when he went fishing for offense in December. There are questions about Kemp’s health, his defense and the size of his contract, but if you saw him hit .309/.365/.606 after the All Star break, then you can’t question the bat. The Padres batting order desperately needed someone of that caliber to anchor the offense.
OF Justin Upton - One could argue that Upton is an even bigger fish to catch than Kemp, and when it comes to pure production over the last 3 seasons you would be right. However, Kemp is set to be a middle-of-the-order stalwart for the next few years whereas Upton’s contract expires at the end of the 2015 season. He is going to earn his next big payday no matter what, but what he can help the Padres accomplish this season is what is on everyone’s minds.
SP James Shields - The third in a trio of big fish. Unlike the rest of the big acquisitions, the Padres didn’t cash in their prospect chits to deal for Shields. They flashed cashed and got him to sign as a free agent. Perhaps due to him residing in San Diego, the Padres got a discount on the first year of his contract, while backloading the rest of the deal. An opt-out clause after two seasons in theory prevents the Padres from trying to offload him once his salary gets pricey, since any acquiring team doesn’t know if they are getting 1 year or 3. In the meantime, he can anchor a rotation by bring his consistent durability and high performance to a staff with some injury and regression issues.
OF Wil Myers - If the Padres had traded for Myers a year ago it would have been in the "huge" category. He would be coming off a rookie of the year performance on the back of being called the best hitting prospect in baseball by numerous outlets. He is still the same player that earned those plaudits, but a difficult 2014 season took some of the shine off. He’s still just 24, he’s got the young legs to take on the challenge of switching from RF to CF, and his talent and upside are far beyond anybody else the Padres have had entering their prime in years.
C Derek Norris - The Padres’ catcher merry-go-round finally landed on Norris after Preller dealt promising pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez for him and dealt away almost every other major league catcher than the Padres controlled (Rene Rivera, Yasmani Grandal and briefly Ryan Hanigan). He is coming off an All Star season and at 25 years old one can think his bat is not quite done developing. His ability to get on base both by hits or walks is something the Padres lineup was definitely lacking in years past.
3B Will Middlebrooks - Two up and down seasons with the Boston Red Sox have him now 3 years removed from his promising rookie campaign where he hit .288/.325/.509. Last year was merely a shadow of both that season and his disappointing 2013 that still saw him slug 17 HRs. There’s power in that bat, but a lot of swing-and-miss too. New Padres hitting coach Mark Kotsay will be charged with helping Middlebrooks find the balance. There are also some injuries that factored into those poor performances, so he needs to stay healthy too.
SP Brandon Morrow - The Padres are taking a gamble with Morrow. Glass half full would say that it’s only a 1 year $2.5 million gamble. Glass half empty would point to the lack of production the Padres got last year from another injury prone pitcher, Josh Johnson, who also was a 1 year gamble. That was nada, zip, zero, zilch. Looking at the last couple of years Morrow could be even worse than hurt and unavailable, he could be unproductive before getting hurt again. But then again he could finally fulfil the promise he had as the #5 overall pick in the 2006 draft and flashed in 2012. He’s 30 years old, so this could be his last chance to do so given his history.
SP Josh Johnson - Speaking of Josh Johnson… he’s back with the Padres, this time on a significantly cheaper deal and no promise of a rotation spot even when he does get healthy. He’s purely a depth gamble this time around and he won’t even be ready until near midseason. He looked good last year in spring training before an elbow injury at the end of camp required Tommy John surgery. There might be something left in the tank.
RP Brandon Maurer - After years of flirting with starting pitching, Maurer is finally ready to settle down as a reliever. His skill set is a better fit for short stints and with some luck he could be a backend reliever that helps shuts the door at the end of games. The Padres aren’t counting on him to be that off the bat, but getting him in return for Seth Smith means that there are higher expectations for the future than being just another arm in the ‘pen.
SS Clint Barmes - At this point Barmes’ career you can file him under the archetype "Have Glove Will Travel". Barmes used to have more value with the stick, but his last couple years in Pittsburgh say those days are gone. Incumbent SS Alexi Amarista isn’t a lock to hold onto the job full time, so Barmes will act as insurance to either win the job, platoon with Amarista or back him up as a utility infielder.
RP Shawn Kelley - Kelley is an experienced reliever one year away from free agency who just hasn’t been able to propel himself into a late inning stalwart. The last two years he’s gotten guys to whiff, but gave up too many bases on balls doing so. A 3.02 FIP in 2014 though showed he may have turned a corner only to run into some bad luck, so the Padres gave up a minor prospect to see what he can do.
C Tim Federowicz - Part of the Matt Kemp deal, he figured to be Norris’ backup at catcher until a knee injury in spring training got in the way. He's going to spend most if not all of the season on the DL.
C Wil Nieves - Looked ticketed to catch at AAA, until the TFed knee injury. Now he’s the favorite to be Norris’ caddy. He debuted with the Padres 13 years ago, but has been bouncing around the league as a fill in catcher for the last 10.
RP Jose Valverde - Signed to a minor league deal to see if there was something left in the tank. While the Padres have not guaranteed him anything in the way of a roster spot, if he can find any of his previous form that made him a 3 time All Star then the Padres will find a spot for him at some point this season.