The San Diego Padres are not only in first place in the National League West at 31-20, but they also have the best record in the National League by a full game over the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s not exactly where most people and experts thought they would be at this point in the season. Yet, the Padres have gone from potential cellar dwellers and “sellers” at the trade deadline to buyers and possibly being able to take on salary above their $38 million payroll.

They’ve gotten great pitching from young starters like Mat Latos and Clayton Richard, as well as solid veteran pitching from Jon Garland and Kevin Correia.

But what if you could add one more arm that might solidify the rotation and turn this team from a “contender” to outright favorite to win not only the division, but the National League?

I’m talking, of course, about Detroit Tigers’ left-hander Dontrelle Willis who was designated for assignment a few days ago. Signing Willis wouldn’t be expensive either. In fact, they could sign him to a minor league deal and not have to trade any of their players away to get him.

That is, if the Tigers don’t trade him to another team first.

The Arizona Diamondbacks already have interest in him, but I can’t see Willis going to a team that’s already 11.5 games back in the NL West. He has said that he would prefer to play in the National League and for a team out west.

Hearing that, I would narrow his choices to three teams: The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and the aforementioned Padres.

At this point, I can’t see the Giants signing Willis on top of already having Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.

The Dodgers might be a candidate to add Willis to a rotation that already boasts Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda. The once-dominant left-hander could definitely give the Dodgers a boost.

What might keep the Padres from bringing Willis on board is already having a set rotation with Garland, Correia, Latos, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc. What do you do with Willis if, in fact, you do sign him, and who becomes the odd man out?

The other question becomes, what happens when Chris Young comes off the disabled list? If Dontrelle doesn’t mind coming out of the bullpen, I’d add him in a heartbeat. But I doubt he’d be open to that.

As it stands now, the only thing we do know is that Dontrelle wants to be back in the National League and he wants to play for a team on the west coast. That being said, we saw how things worked out for John Smoltz when he left Boston for St. Louis and when Brad Penny also left Boston for San Francisco.

Could Willis become the dominant pitcher he was in Florida by returning to the National League? He still has a lot left to offer a team, so whoever signs him is taking a risk that could pay off huge.

As it stands now, and if you’re asking me, I believe the Padres could be the biggest benefactor by adding Dontrelle, especially for a fly ball pitcher in a ballpark where fly balls go to die.

He could definitely help them pull away from the rest of the pack and be a contender come playoff time.

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