In 2016, the San Diego Padres went 68-94. They finished 23 games out of first place.
Attendance was down 1,337 per game—a 8.25 decline%.
TV ratings were down a league-leading 38%.
Active payroll was just over 29 million at season’s end.
Yesterday, the General Manager responsible for the team’s disastrous finish came back from a 30-day suspension for an ethics violation to find the team President, Mike Dee was fired.
Those are undisputed facts.
Nevertheless, many Padres fans are convinced the team is headed in the right direction. Who, outside of San Diego, could believe this? As the “motivational speaker” in The Natural drones, losing is a disease.
Losing franchises think this way: We will tank this season and the one after and maybe the one after for high draft picks and to provide prospects the chance to mature. When the time is right, we will go grab one or two free agents and voila! World Series, baby.
That’s how losers think.
The fundamental problem is, prospects are extremely high-risk (even top prospects), and the team will still have to pay credible free agents (several—not a sprinkling). It is also a far better strategy to let kids grow alongside veterans than to have unproven kids grow together. In general, we learn from those who are better and more experienced than us, not just like us. The team needs quality veterans now, not just later.
Losing is a disease and the Padres have it, badly. The reason the same teams tend to make the playoffs and win the World Series year after year is because they never let their team fall this low intentionally. There is a sense of organizational pride that recognizes losing a hundred games is not acceptable, and that burning the team to the ground in the name of the future isn’t a strategy. It’s a recipe for long-term mediocrity. After all, what goes down, must come up. The difference between a 15-game and a 30-game turnaround in record is the difference between hiking your local “tough hike” and hiking Kilimanjaro.
The losing mentality also hurts the team in free agency. After all, who wants to go to a losing team known for not paying their people long-term. Look at the Padres current contracts. There are NO long-term contracts on the entire team. I’m not saying the team doesn’t have club control. I’m saying the disease of losing also develops a culture of “cheap” that pervades the organization—and it is visible in the Padres current approach to contracts.
What are the chances the Padres will resign Wil Myers (especially if Josh Naylor is ready), Hunter Refroe, or Manuel Margot when they need to be paid? Well, there is little evidence of any chance. They haven’t paid anyone else—and kept them. The Padres are becoming the Chargers of MLB—only the Padres are cheaper and win less.
There is a better way.
The model of a perennially winning franchise isn’t found in Kansas City and Houston, as some suggest. It’s found in San Francisco, St. Louis, Texas, Boston, and yes, Los Angeles. These teams not only compete for their divisions every year at the MLB level, they have elite farm systems. They chew gum and walk at the same time.
Thus far, A.J. Preller seems to be an able scout—although his results are still unknown. Many of the Padres’ top prospects are Josh Byrnes picks (Renfroe, Hedges) or those drafted and grown in other systems recently traded for (Margot, Asuaje). If he is a quality scout, he has proven only (to be kind) a mediocre General Manager. The 2014-15 experiment was a mess. The team’s record has declined under his leadership. You can read my thoughts on the Padres current organizational imbalance and gaps here. We won’t even address ethics concerns.
Padres fans must expect better from ownership at the Major League level. Simply saying, “wait until 2019” (or likely much later) isn’t good enough. Losing is a disease. The cure is ownership committing to winning strategy that believes they can chew gum (build the farm system), and walk (have a credible MLB team on the field) at the same time.
Heading into 2017, both the Padres’ offense and defense projects to be improved—mostly by virtue of replacing average, older talent with fresh legs, team speed, and plus arms/gloves. However, the pitching situation is dire, and the Padres shortstop situation is fragile at best. Ignoring this is only kicking the can down the street. The Padres could legitimately compete for a Wildcard spot next season if they built a credible pitching rotation. But that is unlikely to happen, because losing is a disease.
Spend some money. Re-sign players that are key to the future. Build a roster you think can win 80 games in 2017, and 92 the next. Trade some of these high-upside long shots for credible Major League talent—or MLB ready prospects—especially pitchers. Don’t try to buy yourselves two or three seasons at the thrift store.
Whatever you do, just don’t lie to us as previous ownership has—saying…we’re saving our money for when we have a shot. Because, when you’re committed to losing now in the name of the future—the future never comes.
Winning costs money. Winning takes risks. Winning refuses to accept mediocrity. And…winning pops the champagne and makes it all worthwhile. On the other hand…
Losing is a disease.