This team was going to be a story in MLB in 2015, with all the off-season dealings and free agent signings by newly-hired GM A.J. Preller. Opening Day payroll was increased to $108 million (a record expenditure for the franchise), and everyone in the organization from owner (beer distribution magnate) Ron Fowler to CEO Mike Dee was optimistic about the Padres chances of making the post-season.
San Diego Padres CEO Mike Dee
In reality, it was all over by July or August, depending on one’s level of sobriety. The 2015 San Diego Padres will go down as one of the most ill-conceived teams in modern baseball history. As of this publication, they are 67-77, 4th in the NL West; 16 GB in their division and the wild card. Mercifully, only three weeks remain in the season, with their playoff elimination # now well into single digits.
The 2015 Padres were a tantalizingly streaky team early; one that wins five, then drops six on a whim. The Padres now rank: 28th AVG at .244; 30th (last) in OBP at .299; and 26th in SLG at .387. Despite playing half their games in an extreme pitching park, the Pads are no better than 20th in team ERA. Their pitchers are tied for 4th (w/ TB) in K’s, but they’ve allowed the 4th-most walks. Their Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER) is .687, ranking 20th. Petco Park has one of the roomiest outfields in MLB, so poor defense hurts even more there than in a bandbox.
A.J. Preller Padres GM
The entire starting rotation was right-handed, allowing opposing mangers to stack a lefty lineup, day after day. This extreme right-handedness included relief pitching– until Marc Rzepczynski was acquired at the trade deadline, as LHP reliever Frank Garces (35 IP, 5.14 ERA) doesn’t really count towards winning. Evidently, it took A.J. Preller months to realize the value of having at least one reliable left-hander in the bullpen. It’s really tough (for whomever is managing) to get outs against tough lefty hitters in crucial late-game situations, with only right-handers in the pen. This is baseball 101, not complex sabermetrics.
Bud Black– fired after a 32-33 start
Speaking of managers, the Padres haven’t had one since they fired Bud Black in mid-June. Did you hear about it? Since then it’s been interim manager Pat Murphy, who can best be described as a warm body. Black had been the second-longest tenured manager in MLB at the time of his firing, and was well-respected by the players and other mangers.
Darren Balsley– one of the best
Ace pitching coach Darren Balsley worked well with Bud Black, particularly in the development of their young starters RHP’s Tyson Ross & Andrew Cashner. Since Bud Black was fired as manager, Balsley (who is a master a spotting breakdowns in pitching mechanics while offering helpful advice) rarely makes a trip to the mound anymore.
Ross & Cashner were the most-asked-about Padres players up to the trade deadline, instead of the players they were trying to deal; including closer Craig Kimbrel, SP James Shields, and LF Justin Upton. To GM A.J. Preller’s credit, he didn’t panic and give away valuable assets at the July 31st deadline, despite shrieking hysterics from the media. It was a buyer’s market, as top talent including: SS Troy Tulowitzki, and ace LHP’s David Price and Cole Hamels outshined Shields & Upton, or anything else the Padres had available.
The off-season deals that brought in Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel & Melvin Upton, Jr reshaped this team completely, while affecting their payroll flexibility going forward.
The most hurtful deal to the Padres organization was trading C Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers for RF Matt Kemp. Grandal is a good defensive catcher, age 26, with a career line of .247/.356/.418; who makes $693,000 in 2015, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019 at the earliest.
Matt Kemp is now turning 30, and really is much older in terms of playing age. It hurts him to run; watch closely and you’ll see a once-great athlete with degenerative arthritis in his knees, hips & back. The skills still flash at times, but the body has broken down, so he can’t perform with consistency. Preller not only traded a valuable commodity in Grandal to get Kemp, but also took on too much salary. LA pays $18 million of the $21+ million he’s owed this year, after that the Padres are on the hook for $18+ million/year through 2019.
Wil Myers came over from the TB Rays in a frenzied 4-team deal. Myers was/is a RF. Joe Maddon is considered one of the best, and most creative managers in the game, and he never considered Myers in CF. The Padres started the season with the-player-formerly-known-as B.J. Upton on the DL, with turf toe in the right foot. Wil Venable was the only SD Padre capable of playing centerfield. Instead, Myers was moved to center, flanked by Justin Upton & Matt Kemp.
Predictably Myers was a disaster in center– missteps & bad jumps, taking awkward routes, diving for balls other centerfielder’s catch easily; costing his pitchers outs, runs and wins. None of this was Wil Myers’ fault, as his coaching staff & GM put him in a position to fail– and he did. His wrist problems which began in TB, were aggravated by playing an unfamiliar (and more demanding) defensive position, and Myers ended up needing wrist surgery– costing him half the 2015 season. He’s still one of their most valuable long-term assets.
Justin Upton was brought over from the Braves in a series of multi-team trades that (in hindsight) really didn’t cost the Padres much in terms of prospects. He’s paid $14.5 million in 2015, which is considered a bargain. He’s a free agent at season’s end. The Padres would love to keep him, but the problem is they have Matt Kemp too, and only enough room in the outfield for one of them.
Wil Myers (if he’s going to stay healthy & productive) has to be a corner outfielder. Unless the Padres can move Kemp, which will mean eating a huge chunk of his contract, then they can’t even entertain the thought of resigning Justin Upton. San Diego will likely make Upton a qualifying offer, and then take the draft choice when he signs a free-agent deal elsewhere.
Melvin (I’m calling him B.J.) Upton isn’t the greatest option in CF (thru 72 G: .244/.310/.417), but the Padres have him for 3 seasons at $15 million/year, so they have to play him. Like James Shields (mostly) and Carl Crawford (surely), his best years were in Tampa; and the B.J. stood for Bossman Jr., which was the best name in baseball for years.
James Shields is in his 10th MLB season, with over 2000 IP in his career. He will be 34 in December, and is probably best recognized now as a very good #3 starter on a championship-level team. In his prime, Shields was a horse #2 starter. Once again, the problem for the Padres isn’t that the player stinks, it’s that they overpay him. The $10 million this season seems fair enough, but the $21 million/year from 2016-18 limits the trade options.
Yangervis Solarte 3B
Yangervis Solarte at 3B has been a nice surprise hitting .272/.335/.430 as of this writing, while playing good defense at the hot corner. A.J. Preller’s original ‘plan’ was Will Middlebrooks at third, whose 4 MLB seasons have so far produced .231/.274/.399. Middlebrooks is a classic example of someone who is overvalued because he played on a great team (Boston Red Sox). As a comparison, he’s less valuable than NY Yankee utility IF Luis Sojo: .261/.297/.352 in 13 seasons.
Shortstop is still a mess for the Friars, as it’s been an endless carousel since the inconsistency of the Khalil Greene era, from 2003-08. Suffice it to say it’s really an important position, and you can’t be a good team without one.
The latest experiment is to try 2B Jedd Gyorko at SS. Gyorko has the hands & skills, but neither the athleticism nor the arm for shortstop. This move reeks of desperation, and highlights the inability of Padres leadership to learn from their past mistakes. More than anything, Gyorko needs to hit better as his .239/.292/.397 line is approaching replacement level. He is making $2 million this season, but is owed at least $33 million though 2019.
The Padres snagged 1B Yonder Alonso (along with Yasmani Grandal!) from the Reds in the Mat Latos deal. He’s still light on power for first base, and he can’t stay healthy (which is also a skill). His career .282/.361/.381 batting line helps, if only a little. Not all of his injuries have been his fault. This video of Justin Upton unintentionally hitting Alonso with his batting helmet, succinctly encapsulates the frustration & futility of Padres’ 2015 season.
Other SD Padres notes:
1B Adrian Gonzalez would have been a great organizational investment.
West coast bias in sports is real. One reason I chose to be a Padres fan was to test that theory.
RHP’s Brandon Morrow & Josh Johnson both spent the season on the DL, which should have surprised no one.
On 7/19/15, the Padres had their first rainout since 4/04/06. It almost never rains in San Diego. The game against the Rockies was suspended in the 5th inning, and was made up on September 10th– which COL won 4-3.
Dick Enberg does the Padres play-by-play on television, and he’s still a first-rate announcer. He was selected as the 2015 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I personally remember enjoying Enberg when he called the NFL, NCAA basketball, professional tennis, and Olympics for NBC in the 1970’s & 1980’s. He’s always been a thoughtful & pleasant conversationalist on the air, and still has a great voice.
Ted Leitner is in his 36th season behind the microphone for ‘My Padres.’ Baseball is a great game to listen to on the radio.
The Padres military programs which started in 1996, are the most successful in baseball– in terms of market penetration. San Diego is home to several of the largest military installations in the world; including the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Naval Base Coronado, Naval Base San Diego, and US Coast Guard Station San Diego. Taped games are sent to the entire U.S. Pacific fleet for on-board viewing, via the Padres at Sea program. Every Sunday home game is Military Appreciation Day (along with Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day), as the Pads wear their camouflage jerseys, which has now been copied by other teams across MLB. I have mixed feelings about all of this.
The Padres organization has tried to reach into Mexico, as San Diego is the city closest to the border, with mixed results. Note to management: the best way to get Latin America to follow your baseball team, is by having good Latin American players in the organization & lineup.
Matt Kemp hit for the cycle on 8/14/15 , becoming the first Padre in franchise history to do so, in the club’s 7,444th game. Now only the Marlins haven’t accomplished this feat.
The Padres still haven’t thrown a no-hitter, nor won a World Series. They began play in 1969.
The Padres enshrined C Benito Santiago and SS Garry Templeton into their Hall of Fame. In 1981, the Padres traded a young Ozzie Smith to STL, for Templeton.
In conclusion, this organization is a mess, and A.J. Preller has a 5-year contract; so it’s going to be up to him to learn on-the-job and fix it, or suffer the consequences. This fan remains unconvinced after the spectacular crash of 2015. Preller often seems enamoured with his ‘rock star‘ image, to the point where it affects his better judgement.
He succeeds GM Josh Byrnes, who left due to serious disagreements with CEO Mike Dee, over where this organization is in terms of winning a championship. As a Padres fan who signed up on a one-season deal, I’d only take another one-year fan contract from this organization. One of the best parts of being a Padres fan is knowing that many of us really don’t care about winning. Baseball is paid-for entertainment, nothing more. I personally love streaming their games, listening to the drunken fans at Petco chanting “Let’s go, Padres!”– then hearing it quickly lose its rhythm & enthusiasm, completely collapsing upon itself several responses– signalling to all, that Padres fans actually know their team.