As the season winds down to the final five weeks, Padres games have taken an almost comical turn, with freak injuries, walk-off wins (for the opponents), and the dubious distinction of making history by losing by 15 runs in a game in which Wil Myers hit three home runs. Although no one expected the Padres to make the playoffs, most prognosticators predicted the team would at least tread water and not go backward in this fourth (going on fifth) year of A.J. Preller’s reign as general manager.
Instead, the Padres are on a pace to outdo last season’s 91-losses and to come within one game of losing 100. Perhaps giddy from watching the losses pile up, the season has now taken on a downright farcical feel. Of course, injuries can never be considered a laughing matter, but the latest mishaps almost defy belief.
Wil Myers, the former face-of-the-franchise, sustained his third injury in an almost lost season, this time taking a ball to the face during batting practice as he tried to backhand the ball at his newest position (third base). On Thursday, Kirby Yates, the newly anointed closer, gave up his third game-winning home run (for the other team) in four games. In the meantime, Christian Villanueva, playing second as the team tried to turn him into a super utility player, broke his finger (middle, need you even ask?) trying to field a routine grounder. A dropped pop-up early in the season against the Astros set the tone for the Friar Follies. Eric Hosmer, the $144-million man, overran the ball while other fielders, assuming he had the ball, stood and watched.
Manager Andy Green waxes poetic about Myers’ athleticism, but if the second-highest salaried player ($83 million) can’t stay on the field, his skill set is of no use on the bench. He suffered lower back tightness and nerve irritation in his right arm at the beginning season and has played only 53 games this season.
Signing first baseman Hosmer, of course, started the ripple effect that crowded the outfield and ultimately led to Myers moving to third Since he has said he gets bored in the outfield and thinks his arm may be more suited to third, he welcomed the change.
This, in turn, displaced Villanueva from third, so the Padres moved him to second and talked about turning him into a super utility guy. Since he had 12 errors at third, one wonders about his suitability. He’s no Ben Zobrist (Cubs), Marwin Gonzalez (Astros), or Kike Hernandez (Dodgers), players who excel at moving around the diamond. According to Fan Graphs statistic UZR/150, he has a minus -4.2 at third, and his 12 errors rank fourth in the National League. And now, the poor guy will probably be out for the rest of the year.
This attempt to fit square pegs into round holes bombed spectacularly early on in Preller’s tenure with another Christian, as in Bethancourt. Because of his arm, the Padres tried to transform him from a catcher to a pitcher. In fact, in 2016 he also played in left and right field and at second base. The experiment worked so well that Bethancourt is now catching in Triple-A for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox
In another lost season, there is no reason not to experiment. However, the Padres need to limit the experimentation to players who have the skill set to at least be average and not an embarrassment (to themselves as well as the team). For instance, Travis Jankowski serves as an example of versatility, since he can play all three outfield positions, not just passably, but well.
It may appear as if the baseball gods just don’t like the Padres much. But in many ways, this franchise has a tendency to be its own worst enemy. Fans can only hope the Friar follies do not contribute to any further injuries or humiliation until the end of the season.