In late October last year, the San Diego Padres hired Bob Melvin as manager. He became the first skipper with significant big-league experience since A.J. Preller took over as general manager in August of 2014. At the opposite end of the spectrum from his predecessors, Melvin has spent 40 years in professional baseball as a player and as a manager.
Melvin barely had time for a meet and greet players or his staff (which has been almost totally revamped since the end of the 2021 season), thanks to Major League Baseball’s shutdown. Spring training’s February 27 start has been pushed back, and the March 31 start of the season is threatened.
However, Melvin’s experience as manager for three teams–the Seattle Mariners (two seasons), Arizona Diamondbacks (five seasons,) and Oakland A’s (11 seasons)—will undoubtedly help him through his initiation. He led the notoriously frugal A’s to seven winning seasons and six playoff appearances. He also won Manager Of The Year honors twice. David Forst, the general manager for the A’s, considers Melvin to be one of the best managers in baseball and said he has a hard time envisioning the team without him.
Melvin also played in the big leagues for ten years as a catcher for multiple teams, including the San Francisco Giants (265 games) and the Baltimore Orioles (257 games). He wasn’t a star but a steady player at a crucial position. During his playing career, he caught the likes of Frank Tanana and Steve Carlton under old-school managers Roger Craig, Frank Robinson, and Hal McRae.
In Oakland, Melvin’s old school background met analytics in the person of Billy Beane (the subject of Michael Lewis’ best-best seller “Moneyball” and a movie). That blend should help him adjust to his new team and tackle the unique challenges he faces in San Diego.
The A’s loss benefits the Padres, especially after the team’s nosedive in the second half of the 2021 season. Dealing with that swoon heads a long to-do list, most of which cannot be addressed until the league and the Major League Players Association come to an agreement. Yonder Alonso, a former Padre, and brother-in-law of Manny Machado, played for Melvin in Oakland from 2016 to 2017. He has told reporters he found Melvin to be a great communicator, as well as “an incredible person, a guy who really wants you to do well.”
Obviously, the 2021 Padres would have benefitted from a great communicator last year, especially in the second half of the season as the team slid from contender to a sub-par 79-83 record. The lack of communication festered in the dugout, culminating in a heated, very public clash between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The shutdown has prevented the players from addressing the issue.
Unlike his predecessor, Jayce Tingler, Melvin has the benefit of experience in managing not only the game on the field but the cast of characters in the dugout and clubhouse. However, the shutdown has prevented Preller from rebuilding the roster. An immediate challenge will be dealing with first baseman Eric Hosmer. It’s hardly a secret that the Padres have been desperate to move him and his unfortunate contract.
Other crucial questions include how to best deploy the uber-talented, injury-prone, headstrong Fernando Tatis Jr. His history of shoulder injuries must be addressed. Since he refuses to have corrective surgery, a move to the outfield could protect his shoulder. (A liability in center (UZR/150 -18.3), he’s more suited to right field where, in 151.1 innings, he has a positive UZR/150 of 1.8. 2021.) So far, though, Tatis insists that he was signed as a shortstop and will stay in the infield (despite his 21 errors and prospect CJ Abrams waiting in the wings).
Currently, the Padres have only three outfielders–Trent Grisham, Wil Myers, and Jurickson Profar— on the roster. However, the team obviously does not consider Profar to be an everyday player and will have to add at least one outfielder.
Like Hosmer, the Padres have shopped Myers almost from the moment he signed a generous extension in 2017. As long as he’s in San Diego, it would make sense to move Myers to left, where he’s played his best outfield defense. Myers could also replace Hosmer at first base (his defensive home in 2015 and 2016) if Preller manages to find a taker.
Melvin’s experience as a catcher should be invaluable in helping to sort out the Padres’ crowded catching situation. The team added Austin Nola in the summer of 2020 as their primary backstop. However, he’s been sidelined repeatedly, losing a total of 83 games to a middle finger fracture, left knee sprain, and strained thumb ligament.
In late November, Preller added Jorge Alfaro (known for his 90.5 exit velocity), who joined Yu Darvish’s personal catcher, Victor Caratini, and the Padres’ No. 2, prospect Luis Campusano on the roster.
On paper, the additions of starting pitchers Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove looked formidable, but in reality, injuries and inefficiencies marred their performances. Only Musgrove, who pitched the first no-hitter in franchise history, met expectations. The injury list has included a long line of pitchers: Blake Snell (groin), Yu Darvish (left hip impingement), Chris Paddack (elbow inflammation), Mike Clevinger (Tommy John surgery), Matt Strahm (right knee), Craig Stammen (undisclosed), Adrian Morejon (forearm strain), Drew Pomeranz (forearm inflammation), Michel Baez (Tommy John surgery), Dan Altavilla (elbow inflammation), Keone Kela (forearm tightness), Jose Castillo (Tommy John surgery), and Trey Wingenter (Tommy John surgery).
No doubt, Melvin’s experience and expertise will come in handy as the Padres, and new pitching coach Ruben Niebla sort out the pitching staff. Snell and Darvish should be healthy to start the season, but the success of second Tommy John surgeries complicates Clevinger’s recovery. The Padres must decide whether Paddack would be better off in the bullpen and identify a closer.
Bob Melvin and his new team share a burning desire to win a World Series title. In 1998 a former catcher, Bruce Bochy, led the Padres to their second World Series. Melvin’s experience and past success give the San Diego Padres the best chance to get to the big dance and prevail since the team hired A.J. Preller.
Alas, the Padres and their new skipper will have to wait to address these serious issues and get the team in playing mode. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Associated have failed to come to an agreement in negotiations over a series of issues.
Alas, the Padres and their new skipper will have to wait to address these serious issues and get the team in playing mode. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Associated have failed to come to an agreement in negotiations over a series of issues. League commissioner, Rob Manfred claimed that “the concerns of our fans are at the very top of our consideration list” while announcing the continuation of the shutdown, which will delay the start of the 2022 season.