In 2021, the San Diego Padres are focused with a 20/20 vision on a World Series title.
As we age, our eyesight fades, and it takes greater effort to see sights right in front of us. Our vision is a depreciating skill, and only about 35% of adults are blessed with 20/20 vision. There are corrective measures one can use to adapt, but none of us truly gets a choice in the matter.
As time passes, we are also faced with choices in how we choose to see things in life. Should we be optimistic? Pessimistic? Realistic? Fatalistic? Maybe, at times, we want to tell others where to “stick” it. As 2020, a year most of America would rather forget, finally elapses, many people are reassessing and correcting their views of themselves and their futures as is the fashion of the season. Our vision impacts our everyday lives more than we might realize, and the 2020 San Diego Padres have corrected the world’s vision of the organization going forward.
Approximately a year ago, ESPN released this article delving into the worst professional franchises in North American sports. In 2019, it was the Kings of Sacramento, the Bills of Buffalo, and then the Padres of San Diego. The pre-“2020” Padres logged in as nearly the best on the continent at being the worst. This stigma-tism with the franchise after a decade bereft of meaningful baseball again could wear on some Padres fans and alienate the baseball world in general. However, 2020 was the season that corrected that stigma-tism. How much damage the A.J. Preller and Jayce Tingler-led crew of this past season did to that reputation is yet to be released by ESPN, but it’s sizable and worthy of second mentions.
San Diego finished with the third-best record in baseball in 2020, and the Padres were second only to eventual World Series champion Los Angeles in the National League. Their .617 winning percentage set the new high mark for the franchise in a season. This season was the Padres’ first winning season since 2010, and by beating Seattle on September 20, the Padres entered the MLB playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Padres also won their first home playoff game and first postseason series since 1998, and as a bonus, they bested their postseason nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the process. Never in the history of beautiful Petco Park had the Padres won a home playoff game till 2020.
Additionally, at least in some circles, individual players experienced heights not often reserved for Padres. Among the many award winners this past season, the Padres had two first-team All-MLB players in shortstop: Fernando Tatis Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado. These two players, of the three Padres earning votes, also finished third and fourth in National League MVP voting. Starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet earned second-team All-MLB standing, and Jake Cronenworth, a jack-of-all-trades second baseman, earned Rookie of the Year consideration. Additionally, centerfielder Trent Grisham earned a Gold Glove, the first organizational win in this category since Chase Headley’s outlier season in 2012. These are not small accomplishments when they happen in a single season on what has been, apparently, the third-worst organization in professional sports.
A new decade now begins. What vision do you have for the upcoming Padres decade? While submitting this article news broke: A.J. Preller struck again, having acquired 2018 American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell from Tampa Bay for Francisco Mejia, Luis Patino, Cole Wilcox, and Blake Hunt. Preller is one of the most significant reasons for the recent accolades and future optimism Padres fans now wield, and this acquisition further adds to that legacy. There have been voids of tangible success in the organizational past, but 2020 continues to provide change and reasons to believe the next decade (or two?) could be monumentally successful.
Another ESPN article, this one by Pedro Gomez, outlines the challenge it takes for San Diego to win when their neighbor to the North and National League West Division rival stand in their way. Gomez compares the task to that of the 90s Marlins as they watched the Braves win repetitively. On the one hand, yes, the Dodgers have some historical, geographical, and financial advantages to maybe all but the New York teams in the panorama of the MLB landscape. It must be a gut punch as Preller leads a monumental turn-around in San Diego, and that is what was for sure, only to see the MLB Executive of the Year Award go to? You guessed it: Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles Dodgers.
But, on the other hand, the vision Preller and company have provided in this last year of the past decade is bright and wonderful for the organization. “2020” Vision is hopeful; it’s fearless; it’s expectant. “2020” Vision realizes there is a moment in time that divides what “was” from what “is.” The very best franchises in sports, more specifically, have a cadre of people who arrive together and change the results forever. In contrast, ESPN lists the New England Patriots as the most successful franchise in American professional sports in 2019. But, in the first 40 years of that franchise’s existence, they only reached the NFL playoffs in 10 seasons, only recording playoff wins in 1963, 1985, 1996, and 1997. This history is not significantly different from our own Padre history. The Patriots simply had a moment of greatness coalesce in 2000: Bill Belichick was hired as de facto general manager/head coach, and Tom Brady became their quarterback. No one could have predicted the two decades of championships and overall dominance to come.
The new ESPN article will presumably appear in the next few days as the end of the year approaches. Where the Padres emerge in its unveiling is yet a mystery. It’s easy in life to focus on the disappointments or failures, especially when the days of faith seem to be rewarded only with days of dearth. As the calendar is about to turn from 2020 to 2021, Padres fans can either focus on the history of disappointments, or they can focus on the here and now. There is no evidence that great times aren’t right around the corner.
Reviewing the roster for the upcoming season, it bears repeating: Preller and company did an amazing job not only creating the 2020 team but in making it sustainable for 2021 and presumably much longer. Let’s look at the team by position as it stands now, long before the final version emerges for opening day in 2021:
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