Padres’ current status bringing shades of 1998?

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: AP Photo

Does the construction of the current San Diego Padres team remind you of the 1998 NL champions?

For only the second time in franchise history, the San Diego Padres made it to the World Series in 1998 with a team built by multiple general managers.

That year the Padres won 98 games and lost only 64. The exciting season literally built Petco Park. Since 1998 owners and general managers have come and gone as the team drifted along, winning only half or more of their games in just three seasons and finishing at the top of the division twice.

Players on that 1998 team said they knew the Padres were serious when ace Kevin Brown, who ended his career with 67.8 WAR, walked in the door.  Fast forward to 2020, and this current group of players has undoubtedly taken note of the commitment of organization owners led by Peter Seidler. In November, he made it clear to Dennis Lin of The Athletic that “we’re willing to go above and beyond the budget in certain situations if it’s really going to be impactful. … We’re going to be doing a lot of talk about trades and free agents in all shapes and sizes.”

Since Seidler and this ownership took control, the team has outmatched itself with three historical contracts for Wil Myers ($83 million), Eric Hosmer ($144 million), and Manny Machado ($300 million). Currently, the big news in baseball is that the Padres continue to negotiate with the Boston Red Sox for the services of right fielder Mookie Betts which would add another $27 million to the payroll. However, one goal of the deal would be to shed at least part of Myers’ contract.

Multiple general managers built the 1998 team. Jack McKeon drafted Tony Gwynn. Joe Mcilvaine traded for Trevor Hoffman. Randy Smith acquired Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Bruce Hurst, Greg Harris, and Kevin Towers added Brown, Wally Joyner, Chris Gomez, Greg Vaughn, Sterling Hitchcock, and Quilvio Veras with the blessing of owner John Moores.

However, Preller alone owns responsibility for this roster except for the lone holdout from a previous regime, Austin Hedges. Shortly after taking over in December 2014, Preller started his remake of the team by jettisoning both players and prospects (including Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera, Trea Turner, Max Fried, and Joe Ross). In his tenure, the Padres have finished in fourth place in the National League West two times and in last place three times, with the highest winning percentage of .475 in 2015 (his first full season). The team did improve last year by four wins but ended the season 36 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers.

So far, this offseason Preller has added Jurickson Profar to the infield mix. Fernando Tatis Jr. should be healthy and ready to build on his electric but injury-shortened first year at shortstop.  Hosmer and Machado will man the corners. But outfield and catcher spots appear to be up for grabs.

The current depth chart lists Francisco Mejia, Austin Hedges, Luis Torrens behind the plate; Tommy Pham, Wil Myers, Josh Naylor in left field; Manuel Margot, Trent Grisham, Franchy Cordero in center field; Myers, Josh Naylor, Cordero, and Grisham in right field.  The addition of Betts would further scramble the outfield.

Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The depth chart also lists a possible rotation of a mix of Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards, Dinelson Lamet, Zach Davies, Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill, Michel Baez, and Adrian Morejon. Still, obviously, those numbers will be winnowed down after spring training. One or more of the potential starting pitchers may be included in any trade for Betts.

Paddack, who pitched 140.2 innings and produced a 9-7 record, 3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and ERA+ of 127, will undoubtedly have the training wheels removed and certainly would be the ace of the staff. Beyond that, the picture is murky.

Last season, Richards appeared in only three games (8.2 innings) mainly to remove the rust as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Lamet (4.07 ERA 1.260 WHIP, ERA+ 104) appeared in 14 games winning three and losing five.  Newcomer Davies had spent his entire five-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers and produced a 10-7 record last year and 125 ERA+. Lucchesi proved durable but teased with unrealized potential as he pitched 163.2 innings (ERA+ of 101).  Quantrill (6-8) pitched 103.0 innings and disappointed (82 ERA+).  Baez appeared in relief and acted as an opener leading the group at 141 ERA+ but in just 29.2 innings. In a proverbial cup of coffee (five games and eight innings), Morejon pitched eight innings and netting an unsightly 44 ERA+ and 10.13 ERA.

Of those choices, only Paddack has shown the potential to fill the longtime vacancy of a true ace (rather than one by default) at the top of the rotation. At the end of the playoffs last year, the rumor mill had the Padres in the hunt for an ace, but Preller instead added position players.

Last year’s playoffs and World Series yet again demonstrated the importance of strong starting pitching with sterling performances by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Walker Buehler, Masahiro Tanaka.  In 1998 Sterling Hitchcock pitched brilliantly in the NLCS in particular and was awarded the MVP for the series. Overall in the playoffs, Hitchcock won one game against the Houston Astros and two against the Atlanta Braves thanks to a paltry 0.90 ERA. Brown won two games and lost one on the way to the World Series.  The Padres had the misfortune of playing a team for the ages in the 1998 New York Yankees and lost in four games.

Despite the disappointing finish, Padre fans reveled in the journey. No one who had the good fortune to experience the 1998 season in person will ever forget the electric atmosphere at then Qualcomm Stadium. The Q literally shook with the rapture of fans starved for a playoff push.

Obviously, the hunt for October baseball comes down to Preller’s moves and the baseball gods. Although multiple general managers created the second team to reach the World Series in franchise history, the additions made a cohesive unit. At this point in the process, Preller has yet to reveal a coherent plan for the coming season. The roster at the end of Spring Training will give all of us a better idea of the overall vision of the general manager and the organization.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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Gary Klimas
Gary Klimas
2 years ago

So how in the world does anyone have confidence in Preller? But Seidler and Fowler are even worse at evaluating people. There are 30 baseball teams in MLB. Only ONE would keep a guy like AJ Preller as it’s GM. What a debacle the Padres have become! To me, they are totally UNWATCHABLE and I don’t want to read one word of anything Preller says. But poor Diane, she has the toughest job of all.

Tanned Tom
Tanned Tom
2 years ago

If the answer to the question of your title is to be a yes, with a rookie manager, at least one blockbuster trade needs to happen. The Dodgers are exploring a trade for both Betts and Price. That’s a trade we need to make: Betts and Price for Myers and Hosmer plus a ton of prospects. Will it hurt? Absolutely. But that’s the price for dumping not one but two brutal contracts. Hold onto the top 3 or 4 prospects, but everyone else has to be on the block. Teams that fall in love with prospects are always in rebuild.… Read more »

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Tanned Tom

Hi Tom,
Only in our wildest dreams would the Red Sox take both Myers and Hosmer. Plus Preller would be admitting that two of the largest contracts in the history of the franchise were a mistake.
I couldn’t agree more that “teams that fall in love with prospects are always in a rebuild.” Prospects are suspects until they perform at the big league level. With a highly rated system, the Padres can afford to let a couple go.
In the meantime, the Dodgers just might end up with Betts.
Keep the comments coming. I love a good dialogue.
Diane

Tony C
Tony C
2 years ago

I still hold fast that 2020 will not be our year unless AJ trades away the farm for a win now job saving mindset. I cat see them taking on all of Betts money without shedding most if not ALL of Myers. He still has upside and playing first in a Boston might unlock that. Insisting on Price and his salary as part of the deal kills this for the Pads… I hope. Too much dead money for a rapidly declining pitcher. I’ve proposed deals in other writings that include Myers and a lot of upside players for one year… Read more »

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony C

Hi Tony C, I appreciate your input and agree that Padres are not close to contending. However, Preller may be desperate as ownership has made it quite clear they’re getting tired of losing and losing badly. Taking on Price’s salary would be totally nuts, and there’s no way Preller is parting with his guy Mejia. But, if Boston will take on a lot of Myers’ contract, that would be a plus. In my view, one of Preller’s biggest mistakes was extending Myers and then adding Hosmer. If he had passed (as every other team did) on Hosmer, Myers could have… Read more »

Tony C
Tony C
2 years ago
Reply to  Diane Calkins

Hi Diane, I always enjoy your writings. I know Mejia is his guy, I’m just not a fan. I don’t think he’s a good enough catcher and he lacks at any other position. We have so much talent coming up, I’d like to see him moved before he loses the value he currently has. I cussed as soon as I heard about the Hosmer signing. AJ might be able to work with others to build a farm system but he lacks too much in other areas. I agree and would prefer Myers over Hosmer. But, only one idiot was willing… Read more »

Peter Kennedy
Peter Kennedy
2 years ago

More like 1995 or 1997. Both 1996 and 1998 were successes. We still are a couple of trades/free agent signings away from making it a run. Here are the trades/signing from 1997/1998 that put us over the top. The only one of note is Kevin Brown:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SDP/1998-transactions.shtml

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kennedy

Hello Peter,
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It was definitely an incremental process leading up to 1998. I’m afraid you’re correct that this team isn’t ready for prime time, but I am very tired of the moving goalposts.
Preller lost out on pitchers early in the offseason that could have helped. And now a detour to Betts… I don’t see a coherent plan.

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