The San Diego Padres are making me sad.
2016 has been a nightmare. Between offseason salary dumps, unfortunate PR gaffes and early-season injuries there has been nothing but negative buzz surrounding the organization. Fans want people fired, apparently.
The team is a rudderless ship, at the mercy of the shifting currents of the baseball landscape. This is a terrible way to run any business, including a professional baseball team.
I don’t know if wholesale changes in the front office is the answer, but I do know the true problem is not the team’s foolish decisions in regards to retired numbers, PA announcers or late-round draft picks. The problem is a common archetype in literature: the Padres simply do not know who they are or what they want to be.
Perhaps the single, most recurring theme in literature is the Latin phrase: nosce te ipsum, or “know thyself”. You can find it in nearly all works of fiction. In Star Wars, Luke has to discover if he wants to follow his father to the dark side of the force, or stay true to his family’s Jedi roots. In the Matrix, Neo needs to decide whether or not he truly is “the One” (I discount the other Matrix movies as they are rubbish). Even in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy finds out that Kansas, even in black and white, is where she belongs.
The Padres need to discover the same. They need to know what they are and how they plan on getting there. Over the past decade the organization has not shown any ability to develop a plan and stick with it over the long haul.
Let’s look back at all the changes in course over the past 10+ years:
2004 – Petco Park is huge, and it is difficult to hit home runs. The team needs to acquire fast players in the outfield to cover all the space. In addition, the team needs to forget about home runs and work on stealing bases and advancing runners. The pitching just needs to induce flyballs that won’t fly well in the heavy air and count on a lights-out bullpen to win a bunch of 1-run games.
2007 – Move toward sabermetrics. Draft players (like Matt Antonelli) who don’t put up gawdy numbers but who get on base at a high percentage. Attempt to work like the Oakland A’s to find value in aging players (Greg Maddux, Jim Edmonds, Jose Cruz Jr.).
2009 – 2013 – Ownership chaos. John Moores and Jeffery Moorad play ping-pong with the team, resulting in slashed payroll and giving young, inexperienced players tons of playing time. Sign more cast-offs from other teams (Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson) to try to catch lightning in a bottle. Trade high-cost players (Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley, Jake Peavy) for prospects and build a farm system.
2015 – Trade prospects for big-name players in an attempt to drum-up fan support and increase attendance. Focus on offense over pitching and defense, even at the expensive of a few first-round draft picks.
2016 – Trade away big names for prospects in an attempt to rebuild farm system with better defensive players and more speed.
Obviously, the Padres can’t seem to get on a path and stay there. In addition to all these philosophical changes, the team has had three general managers, four managers and way too many front office members to count (Alderson, Garfinkle, DePodesta, Dee, etc). To put it in perspective, the Los Angeles Angels have had one GM and one manager in the same time frame, they’ve also won 6 division titles.
I don’t know if Mike Dee and AJ Preller are the men for the job. But I do know that the guy running in a straight line will always gain on the guy changing directions. The Padres need to decide who they are and develop a long-term plan to become the best possible version.