Can the San Diego Padres Be Contenders in 2015?

Already aggressive this offseason, San Diego might move Yasmani Grandal and more. But can they compete with the Giants and Dodgers next year?

In 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League West with a record of 94-68 and had a payroll of $229 million.

The San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five years, finished second with a record of 88-74, and had a payroll of $149 million.

Last year, the San Diego Padres finished in third place in the NL West at 77-85, 17 games behind Los Angeles and 11 behind San Francisco, and sported a payroll of just over $90 million.

It seems like a steep mountain to climb, yet the Padres seem to think they can contend with the best in their division next year.

Of course, not everybody is on board.

The Padres have been aggressive early on in free agency, in the mix for Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, who signed with rival Arizona, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who signed for less to play in Boston. But it's clear the team is not standing pat in a division with two heavyweights, both of whom have deep pockets.

A major reason for skepticism is the total lack of offense shown by the Padres last year. They were brutal.

Padres10.1 (15).226 (15).292 (15).342 (15)109 (14).283 (15)

Last year, San Diego hitters ranked dead last in every category above among NL teams, except for home runs, in which they were second-to-last. They were shut out 19 times and scored two runs or fewer in 61 games (37.6% of the time). And among players with at least 200 plate appearances last year, only Seth Smith, Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera, and Yangervis Solarte were above average run producers.

That ain't gonna get it done.

But that is why San Diego is focusing on bats. After losing out on Tomas and Sandoval, the Padres have turned their attention to the trade market, aggressively shopping Grandal, who posted a nERD of 0.43 last year, meaning a lineup full of Grandals would score 0.43 runs a game more than a league average player. Grandal slashed .225/.327/.401 last year with 15 homers in 128 games behind the plate.

Grandal could be the centerpiece in a deal that might net San Diego Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and/or Evan Gattis, or Matt Kemp. There are cheaper trade options such as Marlon Byrd out there as well. They could also pursue Melky Cabrera or their old third baseman Chase Headley on free agent deals.

If San Diego is able to land a couple of productive bats, they will add that to a pitching staff that was among the best in the Majors last year.

Padres11.6 (8)3.27 (2)3.57 (3).236 (2)1.22 (4)

While their combined Wins Above Replacement from Fangraphs was just eighth-best last year, their ERA was second-best in the National League and fourth-best in all of baseball. Their Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) was third-best, their opponents' batting average against was second-best and their walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) was fourth.

Led by Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross - and the possible return from Tommy John surgery of Josh Johnson - San Diego could have another outstanding rotation in 2015.

They also have a bullpen that can shut games down in the late innings, featuring Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Quackenbush, Nick Vincent, and Blaine Boyer. Tim Stauffer is a free agent and could be on the move somewhere else, but there is enough depth there to make up for it.

San Diego plays in a park that gives pitchers a wide berth, and the team will likely never boast an offense that ranks in the top 10 of most categories because of it. But adding a few bats to a rotation and bullpen that has the pieces to compete already could make the Padres a very dangerous team next year.

Last year, San Diego had a collective team nERD of -0.23, which placed them 17th in our year-end power rankings. You know who was 16th?

The Kansas City Royals. You know, the team that played in the World Series last year.

So, perhaps it's not crazy to think that the Padres could make a leap in 2015. No one expected Kansas City to do it this year, and the Orioles are now perennial contenders in a division that is loaded with big spenders.

General manager A.J. Preller has a lot of work ahead of him, but look for San Diego to be one of the busiest teams at the Winter Meetings next week.