Padres are this year's NL sleeper

San Diego has the talent to make some noise in the National League in 2014

Updated: January 7, 2014, 5:10 PM ET
By Paul Swydan | ESPN Insider

Andrew CashnerAP Photo/Lenny IgnelziAndrew Cashner posted a 3.09 ERA in 175 innings last season for San Diego.
In 2012, the Padres won 76 games and finished fourth in the NL West, and I touted them as a sleeper team heading into 2013, with the caveat that they sign some starting pitchers. They failed to sign any starters, and then when Cory Luebke had a setback, they were really behind the eight-ball. They would once again finish with 76 wins. And once again, they lurk as a sleeper in the NL West heading into the upcoming season.

The reason? This time around, the pitching looks a lot deeper. Last season, the Padres were counting on Luebke returning by midseason, and as a result entered it with retreads like Jason Marquis and Clayton Richard in the starting rotation. This was a colossal mistake, not only in terms of process, but also results: Both players posted a negative WAR in 2012 and were even worse in 2013.

Now, however, the Padres have five starting pitchers with average or better outlooks entering the season, and that's before even taking Luebke into account.