The San Diego Padres have only one place to go as they suffered again in 2019 to a last-place finish.
As the clock turned to midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Padres said goodbye to a tumultuous, promising, discouraging decade of baseball in San Diego. From 2010 through the end of the 2019 season, the team averaged only 73.9 wins. The best year of the bunch began the decade.
Although the pundits had picked the Padres to finish last in the National League West in 2010, the team actually had a fairly firm grasp on the top spot at 6.5 games above the San Francisco Giants in late August. On the 26th of that month, a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks began a ten-game slide. When the dust settled, the Giants won the West with the Padres in second at 90-72. Despite that nose dive, Bud Black won Manager of the Year in 2010, joining Bruce Bochy as the only Padre’s skippers to garner the award.
From then on, the Padres took a nosedive. The team hasn’t even broken even in any year since, with the worst of the decade being the 2018 season when losses outnumbered wins 66-96. In 2013 and 2014, the Padres finished third in the division but otherwise fell to fourth and fifth place and by wide margins. Last year, thanks in part to the Dodgers’ 106-56 record, the Padres found themselves 36 games back of the NLW leader.
A decade of decline began with an indiscretion, a nasty divorce, and the drawn-out sale of the team. John Moores had bought the team in 1994 from Tom Werner. During Moores’ tenure, the Padres made it to the World Series in 1998. Thanks to the excitement generated by that heady experience, the Padres moved from Qualcomm Stadium to Petco Park, one of the best ballparks in the country. But when Moores’ wife Becky sued for divorce, he was forced to sell the team.
Although a group led by Jeff Moorad agreed to buy the Padres in 2009, the sale fell through but only after a protracted period in limbo. The decade began with major league owners refusing to approve the sale on January 12. Just in time for spring training, Moorad stepped down as chief executive. The excitement that usually accompanies the return of baseball changed to confusion and uncertainty for players and fans alike.
The sale remained in limbo until August of 2012 when Moores pivoted and sold to the current ownership group led by Ron Fowler and including members of the famed Dodger O’Malley family: Peter and Tom Seidler, Kevin and Brian O’Malley. While stability has come to the owners’ box, the same cannot be said for the positions of general manager, manager, hitting coach, and a roster in constant flux.
Josh Byrnes acted as general manager from 2012 to 2014 when Preller took over August 5th. Since the current owners took charge, Black, Dave Roberts (one game), Pat Murphy, Andy Green, and Rod Barajas (eight games) have managed the Padres. Next year first-timer Jayce Tingler will take over, and much of the coaching staff will have changed as well. Even long-time pitching coach Darren Balsley has lost his position. Adding to the disarray, Mike Dee, the Chief Operating Officer who hired Preller, moved on for undisclosed reasons in October 2016
When Preller fired Black in mid-June of 2015 Sports Illustrated’s headline read, “Despite improvement, Black ousted for not meeting steep expectations.” Author Cliff Corcoran made a note of the fact that the winning percentage had actually improved as the 2015 season evolved.
Apparently, expectations had outpaced reality as Preller’s remake of the team fell flat. Those expectations had been sky-high thanks to the new general manager’s attempt to remake the team on the fly at the end of the 2014 season. Dubbed “Prellerpalooza,” the team’s roster changed substantially. The trade of shortstop Trea Turner for Wil Myers has become the symbol of Preller’s wholesale changes in the roster.
In the meantime, Preller has received high marks for his draft classes from 2017 to 2019, according to Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser (“Ranking Every MLB Team’s Draft Performance in The 2010s.”) Overall for the last decade, he places the team 20th in performance with 49.1 WAR, while the Astros led baseball with 103.8 WAR.
When the 2019 season ended, Padres owners declared that their patience has run thin. Hope for the Padres lies in the highly-rated farm system created by Preller. In 2018 and 2019, San Diego led baseball with ten players in the top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino wait in the wings and may see some action in 2020.
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and pitcher Chris Paddack generated renewed excitement in Petco Park last year, as did the addition of third baseman Manny Machado to the top contract in MLB history at $300 million over ten years at the time. For the historically penny-pinching Padres, the contracts for Machado and first baseman Eric Hosmer, as well as the extension for Myers, put the team in uncharted territory. While the latter two contracts have weighed the team down rather than uplifting it, the ownership group has shown an unprecedented commitment to bringing winning baseball to a starved city.
In reality, there’s no place to go but up for a team that generated more frustration than excitement in the last decade.