The San Diego Padres haven’t been known for grand offseason expenditures over the last few years. Entering this winter their biggest free agent acquisitions were Carlos Quentin in 2011 (four years, $37 million) and Joaquin Benoit last season (two years, $15 million), while their biggest trades in recent years saw them cast off Adrian Gonzalez and Mat Latos for a crop of prospects that haven’t exactly panned out yet (Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo- who was later traded for Andrew Cashner). Needless to say this has changed with the arrival of new general manager AJ Preller, who has attempted a dramatic turnaround in culture in personnel while re-energizing a fan base that hasn’t had anything to cheer for since Bruce Bochy was manager.

Preller capped off an offseason which has seen him add Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Wil Middlebrooks and Derek Norris to an offense that was among the worst in baseball last season, by adding veteran free agent pitcher James Shields to an already strong starting rotation that has Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy on board. Shields, coming off of year where he helped Kansas City make the World Series for the first time since 1985, might not be in the same class as division rivals like Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, but he is a reliable front-line starter who has thrown over 200 innings every year since 2007 and brings valuable postseason experience that the Padres should benefit from, given the overall youth of their roster. His durability will also be a blessing, given the injuries Cashner has had in the past, and now means the veterans like Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson (each signed for one year deals after long recoveries from injuries) will only compete for one rotation as opposed to two.

The big question is still whether or not the Padres have done enough to compete for a post season spot with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the champion San Francisco Giants. While the Giants lost Pablo Sandoval to free agency, their pitching staff will still be strong, especially if Matt Cain returns to his Cy Young form. And the Dodgers did trade Kemp and make-over their middle infield and let Hanley Ramirez walk, they still bring arguably the best offense in the division to go with an intimidating pitching staff led by Kershaw and Zach Greinke. But the Padres moves have given them more to be excited about on offense since Tony Gwynn played in San Diego. Their outfield could wind up being just as good as the Dodgers (with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yaisel Puig and rookie Joc Pedersen), as Kemp shouldn’t experience a power drought that most have in Petco moving from the Dodgers’ also spacious park, while Myers is still young enough to be able to make the adjustments needed to succeed. While shortstop is the current weak spot in the Padres lineup, the rest of the infield has many possibilities with the addition of Middlebrooks. San Diego has options at second base with prospects Cory Spangenberg and Taylor Lindley to go with Jedd Gyorko (who has power but barely hit .212 last season), while Alonso (who has hit nearly enough to make up for his lack of power) was the incumbant at first base but could find himself losing time to Middlebrooks (on days he doesn’t play third) or Norris (if the Padres decided to move him around like Oakland did).

With a pitching staff that will have its usual amount of depth now headlined by Shields, the Padres have at the very least been active enough in adding to their offense that they have entered the conversation of teams looking to contend this season. But many teams have looked like contenders in February’s pasts; the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Miami Marlins in 2012 and the Toronto Blue Jays of 2013 among them. The Padres gave up a ton of prospects without losing their top three (pitcher Matt Wisler, outfielder Hunter Renfroe and catcher Austin Hedges), while signing Shields as a buffer in case they lose Kennedy in free agency next season. The Padres have effectively given themselves a three-year window to contend, so they are in good shape if the worst happens this season.

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