Padres shake up - will it work?

What team is this? Is this a team that can win the division or a team that is headed for the bottom of the NL West?

No one knows what to expect of the Padres this season.

The questions that were there when spring training opened are still there.

Can catcher Mike Piazza be counted on for another productive season? Ditto for Vinny Castilla at third base? Can center fielder Mike Cameron and left-handed starter Shawn Estes rebound from major injuries?

Will returning to first base rejuvenate Ryan Klesko's career? Can rookie Josh Barfield be productive as a rookie second baseman?

One thing is for sure: As Opening Day rapidly approaches, both the rotation and bullpen look like a mess. It doesn't take a full hand for manager Bruce Bochy to count the pitchers he can depend on.

Yes, the Padres are the defending champs of the National League West. But these aren't those Padres. Only nine of last year's core players are still with the club.

And, frankly, those Padres weren't very good. The National League was baseball's weakest division last season. The Padres won with an 82-80 record. When you factor in their three-game sweep out of the playoffs by the Cardinals, the Padres had an overall losing record in 2005.

General manager Kevin Towers recognized the need to make over a lackluster -- many would say boring -- club over the winter. The idea is to transition the Padres into a club better suited to the spaciousness of Petco Park while remaining a contender in the NL West.

Certainly, the Padres have improved their outfield defense. And San Diego should be better at the corners, even if Castilla has lost several steps at third and Klesko is Klesko at first. Up the middle, Barfield and third-year shortstop could develop into a double-play combination that becomes the club's cornerstone.

But Piazza has to deliver in the cleanup spot and play more than 100 games for it to work. And the pitching has to pull itself together after a dreadful spring. Too much to ask? Hey, it really is a weak division.

As for the idea of acquiring such veterans as Piazza, Castilla, Cameron and Estes to assist in the transition -- it might work if help from the farm system was a year away. It's not.

But the good news is, again, it's a weak division.

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