After hiring skippers with no big-league experience, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller did an about-face and turned to a man who has played and managed since 1985– Bob Melvin. When the San Diego Padres hired him, Melvin had a record of 1,346-1.272. Also, he’d won Manager of the Year honors in 1994 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and in 2012 and 2018 with the Oakland A’s.
Preller made a point of emphasizing Melvin’s experience when he introduced the new skipper. “Bob is one of the top managers in the game and brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and a proven track record to win at the Major League level. Throughout the process, Bob showed our group a true love of baseball and a natural presence to lead. It was immediately evident how he’s been able to bring out the best in his players throughout his managerial career. We believe that Bob is the right man to take our talented group and help them deliver a championship to the city of San Diego.”
Preller learned the hard way that inexperienced managers like Andy Green and Jayce Tingler were ill-equipped to handle or garner the respect of veteran players. So on October 28, 2021, he turned to Melvin, who delivered the first winning season (not counting the 2020 COVID-shortened year) since 2011.
Early in his first year with the Padres, Melvin learned that Fernando Tatis Jr. had flouted team rules by riding a motorcycle. As a result, the offensive phenom would have surgery on a broken wrist instead of reporting for spring training. Even worse, when Tatis Jr. was slated to return to the team in August, Melvin learned that he would instead sit out 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s PED rules. The Padre’s skipper took all this in stride and exhorted his players to focus on the task at hand.
And they paid attention.
Pitching and defense carried the Padres into the summer. With the exception of third baseman Manny Machado, the players couldn’t get the bats going. In almost every offensive category, they did not perform well– batting average 14th, on-base/slugging 17th, hits per game 15th, home runs per game 19th, RBI per game 12th, strikeouts per game 11th, stolen bases per game 27th.
The Padres had counted on Fernando Tatis Jr. to upgrade the offense. In just 130 games in the big leagues, he had batted .292/.369/.596/.955 with an on-base and slugging percentage of 160.
Instead of dwelling on what could have been, Melvin kept his team focused on reaching the playoffs. The odds of catching up with the Los Angeles Dodgers (who won the National League West with a record of 111-51) were slim to none. Instead, the Padres focused on a Wild Card berth.
In mid-September, the generally mild-mannered manager gave players a tongue-lashing after a desultory loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth remarked that it was the “right time and place to kind of light a fire under everybody.”
In their final 18 games of the season, San Diego scored 82 runs, hit 34 doubles, and mashed 20 home runs. The pitchers gave up an average of 2.9 runs a game and combined for a 2.68 ERA. On October 3, the team clinched a playoff spot.
Third baseman Manny Machado gives his manager credit for getting the most out of his players through the end of the season and into the playoffs for just the seventh time in the franchise’s history. They began by defeating the Mets in New York. Then, even more encouraging, the Padres vanquished the dreaded Dodgers.
Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies put a stop to the Padres’ momentum in the National League Championship Series. However, Melvin and company had set a standard. Finally, the San Diego Padres could compete with the big guys.
This year, Melvin will have the advantage of regular spring training. He’s also worked with most of the team’s coaches, except assistant hitting coaches Scott Coolbaugh and Oscar Bernand, as well as Brian Esposito, who will replace Francisco Cervilli as the catching coach.
After recovering from multiple surgeries, Tatis Jr. has been cleared for baseball activities. He’s remarked that he feels “really good” and close to 100 percent while admitting that his shoulder problems had definitely had an adverse effect. He appears to have undergone a welcome change in attitude and will rejoin his teammates in April.
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The acquisition of shortstop Xander Bogaerts will cause a domino effect around the diamond and into the outfield. According to numerous reports, Jake Cronenworth will move from second to first, Ha-Seong Kim from short to second, Juan Soto to left, and Tatis Jr. to right.
Last year the Padres began the season with six pitchers deemed capable of starting (Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Sean Manaea, and Ryan Weathers). This year only Darvish, Musgrove, and Snell are sure things (barring injury or ineffectiveness).
Melvin, the coaching staff, and the front office have a number of important decisions to make. Fortunately, the San Diego Padres have the right manager at the right time.
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.