The Rebirth of the San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres floundered near the bottom of the National League West under the leadership of General Manager Josh Byrnes, who had previously led the Arizona Diamondbacks from contender to the bottom of the division. This past summer, Padres’ ownership dismissed Byrnes, replacing him in August with A. J. Preller. Preller has taken the bull by the horns and in a few swift moves, has, at least on paper, done a masterful job of addressing the team’s worst weaknesses and making them positions of strength.

Under Byrnes, the Padres saw agonizingly slow improvement, going from 71 wins in 2011

to 74 wins in 2012 to 76 wins in 2013 to 77 wins in 2014, with the team still far below the talent and success level of the division's two quality teams, the best team money can buy Los Angeles Dodgers, and the World Champion San Francisco Giants. As the Dodgers struggle to plug the holes that were so evident in 2014, and as the Giants work to
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replace key free agent losses, they could see the new Padres pass them both this coming season.

As had been the case for several seasons, the 2014 Padres had a group of outfielders who just basically could not hit. The best of the group, Seth Smith, produced a .266 average and was second on the team in home runs with 12. No other outfielder who saw any measure of regular duty hit as high as .240, with the likes of Will Venable (8 HR, 33 RBI, .224 AVG) and Alexi Amarista (5 HR, 40 RBI, .239 AVG) seeing the bulk of the playing time. One of the team’s few star-quality players, third baseman Chase Headley, in the throws of an awful season and with his contract expiring, was traded away, with no viable third base replacement on the roster.

As bad a hitting team as the Padres were, they did have a talented young pitching staff, headed by outstanding starters Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. In another very questionable move, however, in what would be one of his last acts as GM. Byrnes chose to give away the team’s great closer, Huston Street, in a deal that transformed the Angels’ bullpen from the American League’s worst, to one of it’s best. The team still does have, however, a talented array of relievers, led by new closer, Joaquin Benoit.

But now with Preller calling the shots in San Diego, and the totally incompetent Byrnes one of Andrew Friedman’s key advisers in Los Angeles, the Padres have done a spectacular job of creating something out of nothing, far outdistancing the Dodgers’ in the bottom-lime improvement that has been accomplishment. As I wrote yesterday, the many major trades made by Friedman and his questionable staff have likely produced no overall improvement. In San Diego, where the talented pitching staff has not been disturbed, five new regulars are now in place behind the plate, at third base, and throughout the outfield, and the new look team is suddenly a contender.

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The outfield of Smith, Armarista and Venable has been replaced by Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Will Myers. While not a lot can be said of the overall defense they provide, and there is a question as to whether or not Myers can handle center field or if Kemp will eventually have to return there, the batting averages, home runs and run production they will provide could well produce an unprecedented level of improvement from one season to the next.

Similarly at third base, the giant hole left by the trade of Headley has now been filled by Will Middlebrooks, who suffered through a terrible, injury-plagued 2014, but who provided power and run production, as well as solid defense, in his first two seasons in Boston. Behind the plate, the Padres sent the over rated and .220s hitting Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers in the Kemp deal, and replaced him with All-Star Derek Norris, who is a year younger than Grandal.

It looks like a new power is about to emerge in the NL West, and the Dodgers and Giants need to understand just how Preller has built a potential winning team from out of the mess left behind by Byrnes. Too bad that the Dodgers and Friedman could not have done as well in their flurry of deals.

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