The Padres face a complicated off-season

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It’s no surprise that Bob Melvin chose to get out of town—his relationship with A. J. Preller, the San Diego Padres general manager and president, had reached a low.

A new team offered the perfect escape for Melvin, especially since he had no desire to be a lame duck in 2024.

Unfortunately, Melvin accepted the offer from a National League West rival–the San Francisco Giants. Preller will have to concentrate on a search for a new manager while also making trades and acquisitions to improve the team after another disappointing season. No doubt he understands that when the Giants face the Padres, their manager will have a plethora of insights about the players he managed for two tumultuous seasons.

Long-time Padre fans will undoubtedly remember what happened when Bruce Bochy left the Padres for the Giants and won three World Series rings in five years. A catcher like Bochy, Melvin played for 11 years and then went on to manage the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Oakland Athletics. Over 20 seasons, Melvin’s teams made eight appearances in the playoffs and won four division titles.

Since Preller was hired in 2014, the Padres have a .469 record and two winning seasons–this year 82-80 and last year 89-73–and only two trips to the playoffs (one during the COVID-shortened season). In Melvin’s first year, the Padres went 89-72 and made it to the National League, taking out the Los Angeles Dodgers on their way (3-1).

The Dodgers (111-51 overall) owned the Padres during the regular season, winning 14 of 19 games. However, the tables were turned in the playoffs when the Padres ended L.A.’s run, only to lose 4 of 5 to the Philadelphia Phillies.

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However, from the beginning of the 2023 season, the Padres struggled, especially moving runners in scoring position (19th 3.56). Early on, rumors began to swirl about the effect of a negative vibe, and some coaches complained of “nitpicking” from the front office, according to Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic.

In the future, ownership has made it clear that the payroll can’t continue to spiral upward and will have to be cut back to around $200 million (still a princely sum). Obviously, that will leave no wiggle room to re-sign starting pitcher Blake Snell, a definite Cy Young candidate with a record of 14-9, an ERA of 2.25, and 234 strikeouts.

Aside from Melvin, all of Preller’s managerial choices have been men with no experience at the big league level, including Pat Murphy 42-54, Andy Green 274-266, Rod Barajas 1-7, and Jayce Tingler 116-106. Preller recently remarked that “we’ve been through the process a few times here,” as if that were a plus.

On his way out the door, a former player remarked, “You can argue he’s one of the best talent evaluators ever in the game. But just because you can evaluate talent doesn’t mean you know how to handle people.”

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Unfortunately, handling people is a prerequisite for a job in any sport. Preller’s expertise in scouting (his job with the Texas Rangers for ten years) hasn’t automatically transferred to a front-office role. He obviously feels comfortable with the men he’s been working with, and rumors indicate he’ll hire from within. Bench coach Ryan Flaherty, pitching coach Ruben Niebla, and senior adviser Mike Shildt have been mentioned in the local media as contenders. Shildt has managerial experience with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Other candidates include former Padre players Wil Venable and Phil Nevin and experienced managers Buck Showalter and Don Mattingly. Of course, every candidate will be aware of the lack of managerial continuity and interference from the front office, which will affect their judgment.

They will also be aware that the budget will be cut back. If the third-highest outlay in Major League Baseball didn’t lead to the playoffs, how will cutting back around $50 million affect the roster? Owner Peter Seidler obviously doesn’t have to count pennies, but he can’t be satisfied with the lack of wins per million. Fans have flocked to Petco Park for the last two years, but that may change, especially with the increase in ticket prices.

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