The Padres and the dilemma with Tommy Pham

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Questions are surrounding the future of Tommy Pham with the San Diego Padres. 

In December, San Diego Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller traded Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards to Tampa Bay for Tommy Pham. Signed to play left field and occasionally as a designated hitter, Pham certainly had an eventful first season with the Padres.

Just as Padres players finally gathered for camp at Petco Park in early July, Pham tested positive for Covid-19, the only Padres’ player, and one of just 31 total Major League Baseball players to test positive. He self-isolated for the required number of days, then began his career in San Diego.

A broken hamate bone limited Pham in his first year with the team, and he ended up appearing in a total of 37 games, including the playoffs.  Shortly after the Padres season ended, Pham found himself in the hospital after being stabbed in the lower back during an altercation outside Pacers Showgirls International on Midway Drive in San Diego. Three days later, the San Diego County health department issued a cease-and-desist order accusing the strip club of violating public health orders prohibiting live entertainment.

Of course, Pham wouldn’t be the first baseball player to make head-scratching choices.  But one would imagine that Preller and company expected more from a 32-year-old veteran and may even be regretting the trade at this point. Guiding a group of young males, no strangers to risky behaviors, through a global pandemic represents a challenge, no doubt.  But Tommy Pham is no kid. A much younger man, 21-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. made a point of wearing a mask throughout spring training.

“I just feel it’s more protection,” Tatis Jr. told San Diego Union-Tribune Padres beat reporter Kevin Acee. “I feel my boys are protected from me if something happens or from each other. I just want to feel more safe all the way around.”

This year especially, community safety has been an issue on a global as well as an individual level.  At least during the season, every athletic team undertakes a communal endeavor, ideally with an “I’ve-got-your-back” vibe. During the most deadly pandemic in over a century, Tommy Pham potentially endangered his own teammates at the beginning of the season.  And his subsequent behavior indicates he learned nothing from his positive test results.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pham began his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 after being drafted in the 16th round in 2006. During his five years in St. Louis, Pham batted .271/.365/.463/.828.  In his best year, 2017, he batted .306 with 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 128 games, coming in 11th in the Most Valuable Player voting for the National League. Despite Pham’s performance the Cardinals traded Pham to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline in 2018 during a dramatic shakeup of the team, which included the firing of manager Mike Matheny.

The Rays valued Pham as an all-around player, and he appeared in 184 games in Tampa. He batted .287/.385/.485/.870 the year before being traded to the Padres.  Pham’s second year of arbitration had put him out of Tampa Bay’s price range.  Preller and company valued his defensive and offensive skills and the fact that he could occasionally play center and left field.

Although the Padres have been bigger spenders than the Rays, especially in the past few years, the shortfall in revenue in a condensed season leaves San Diego with very little wiggle room financially. Paying Tommy Pham $8,000,000 in 2021 certainly must seem less palatable thanks to his demonstrably poor choices as well as his overall performance.

By every offensive measurement, Pham has underperformed this year, batting .211/.312/.312/.624. His -0.2 WAR and OPS+ of 74 do not come close to his career 14.5 WAR 124 OPS+. However, according to the Padres’ depth chart, Pham has become the team’s lone option in left field.  On October 28, Jurickson Profar opted for free agency after playing in left in 26 games.

Of course, Preller has problems galore to solve over the offseason. The shutdown of the minor league season did not help, making player evaluation next to impossible. With coronavirus going the wrong way in the United States and eclipsing the summer peak of case numbers, no one can accurately predict baseball’s fate in 2021. Tommy Pham will just be one of a multitude of questions facing the San Diego Padres moving forward.

17 thoughts on “The Padres and the dilemma with Tommy Pham

    1. Hi Tempe,
      I certainly hope the trade won’t reach that level. But I have a slightly different take on Bush debacle. Sure, they made a huge mistake by not vetting him better. However, what if they’d actually helped him with his substance abuse problems? What if they’d actually helped Khalil Greene with his social anxiety disorder instead of filing a grievance against him and then trading him?
      Thanks for the comment,

  1. Unfortunately not all trades work out the way you plan. However, Cronenworth looks like a keeper. And it’s considerably more difficult to fill 2B than a corner OF spot. Trade or non-tender Pham and move on.

    1. Greetings Tom,
      Too true about all trades not necessarily working out… While I would consider Pham expendable, Cronenworth could make the trade a plus over time. However, there’s always the possibility of a sophomore slump. It will be very interesting to see if there are any really consequences for Pham (MLB, Padres, or both).
      Thanks as always,

  2. tammy pham sucks. they said he was a great clubhouse guy and played aggressively. playing aggressive is great but he plays aggressively stupid! getting picked off or making dumb base running mistakes is all he does. No wonder many Ray fans where more than happy when he was traded!

    1. Hi Gio,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. In my view great clubhouse guys don’t put their fellow teammates at risk of a deadly virus. His careless behavior combined with his relatively poor performance on the field will be just one of Preller’s many head aches this off season.
      The Rays aren’t stupid or they wouldn’t have made it to the World Series.

  3. I’m going to say these conclusions by everyone here are premature. We are all going through a little CoVid 19 fatigue. Considering all the people out and about in North County I would guess everyone has had some major lapses in judgment when implementing their social distances rules. That being said, Pham will prove his worth next year and you’ll be discussing contract extension this time next year.

    1. Hi Erik,
      I appreciate your comments and certainly agree that we’re all experiencing Covid-19 fatigue. But the fact remains that the United States leads the world in deaths, and people who take risks and possibly expose others do a grave disservice to all of us.
      He may prove his worth next year, but character counts. If I were a player abiding by the rules, I wouldn’t want him in my clubhouse.

  4. Thank you for another excellent article, Ms. Calkins. I was not thrilled with the trade because I like Hunter Renfroe, even though I know that his numerous strikeouts can be frustrating. It bothered me when people wrote that Preller needed Pham for his excellent defense. Renfroe, despite his shortcomings with his batting average, is a much better defender than Pham. Renfroe worked very hard to improve his defense, and he clearly has one of the best throwing arms of any MLB outfielder. It’s impossible to know how important Pham was as a clubhouse leader, but he seems injury prone, and his career is clearly on the decline. I agree with SGG that Pham going to strip club during a pandemic showed poor judgment. I think that Renfroe has more upside than Pham and is years younger, and we will have to wait to see how good Xavier Edwards is.

    1. Thanks Eric,
      In retrospect this trade looks questionable at best. Early on Renfroe was best known for his bat with the Padres. He has a great arm but otherwise was not much of a defender. However, he did work really hard to improve. Plus, he’s younger and less expensive ($4 M to $9 M).
      So far Pham has proven to be a bust all around, but the Padres are stuck with him. However, the Padres did end up with Jake Cronenworth.
      p.s. no need to be formal…

    2. Hi there TT,
      Thanks for the comment. The Rays certainly traded high on Pham, and the Padres may have ended up with a lemon, who underperforms and makes poor choices off the field. Plus at 32, Pham is on the down side of performance expectations.
      He should be acting as an example for younger teammates rather than behaving like the village idiot.

  5. Interesting. Less than a year ago his acquisition was considered a major boost, he was going to put the team over the top. He was an offensive dynamo!! He’s a great leader!!! A few months later he is on the chopping block. And perhaps deservedly so. One thing for sure, he is absolutely brutal on defense. He looks done. There is a reason (or reasonS) why the Rays traded him, even against the wishes of their star pitcher.

    1. I agree with everything TT said about Tommy Pham. Not to mention there is always something with this guy, injury to start the year, then covid-19, can’t hit, horrible outfielder, eye problems, ( as mentioned on National TV during playoffs when missed a easy fly ball ) then the latest incident outside a Strip Club. ( I have no problem with him going to a Strip Club in general speaking, However Not During A Global Pandemic ). Just my opinion he did not seem like a fit in the dugout, judging just by body language. A. J. you and management and ownership have done a great job ( uniforms are outstanding as well ) if Tommy Pham is your everyday left fielder he will give up more runs than he will produce, thus a strain on the pitchers and not as many wins. I will say Tommy did hit in the playoffs, I’m sure we all wish him the best just not in a Padres uniform.

        1. Hi SGG,
          Thanks for reading and commenting. To say Pham had a rough year would be an understatement. From the positive test at the beginning of the season to the stabbing outside a strip club his judgment has been suspect to say the least. Add his sub-par performance, and the Padres find themselves with an pricey problem.
          You’re absolutely right about his defense adversely affecting the pitching staff.

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