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.
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.