When I was a younger writer and a less charitable person, I took some perverse delight in passing judgment on baseball executives.
Or at least that’s how I remember my younger self, uncharitably.
These days I’m more circumspect. I’m hesitant to judge Josh Byrnes’ performance as the Padres’ general manager. For one thing, he had the job for not even two-and-a-half seasons. For another, it’s difficult to build a winning team with a relatively low payroll. And finally, it might also be difficult to build a winning team when your home ballpark is hell on the hitters.
All that said, it’s difficult to overstate just how inept the Padres have become. Entering this season, the Padres were essentially counting on six young/youngish hitters: Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Cameron Maybin, Yasmani Grandal and Alexi Amarista.
All six have been dreadful.
Well, Maybin’s been pretty good this season. Except he’s played in only 45 games, after playing in only 14 games in all of last season.
And then there are the non-youngish: Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin. They’ve both been dreadful, too. Everybody’s been dreadful. Everyone except Seth Smith, who’s somehow been one of the best hitters in the league this season.
But there’s only so much that Seth Smith can do. The Padres have a .214 team batting average. What’s that? Oh, right. Batting average ain’t/isn’t everything. The Padres are also last in the majors in on-base average and slugging average and scoring-runs-in-baseball-games average. Yes, Petco Park’s a tough place for hitters. But the Padres are also last in all those categories in road games, too. In home games, they’re a little worse than the Mets.
The most striking thing about the Padres is how none of those young players is hitting even reasonably well, with the parade led by Gyorko — who got some Rookie of the Year consideration last season, but was batting just .162 this season before hitting the DL earlier this month with plantar fasciitis.
Gyorko will probably hit some, eventually. But his struggles can’t help but make you wonder about his $13 million salary in 2019; two months ago, he signed a new six-year, $35.5 million contract. Also, Josh Johnson signed last winter for $8 million, then blew out his elbow before pitching. And finally there’s Quentin, who signed a three-year, $27 million extension in 2012; last year he played in 82 games and killed the ball, but this year he’s played in 31 games and hasn’t killed anything except a bunch of worms.
From this distance, it looks like Byrnes was fired because even the modest money spent by ownership seems to have been utterly wasted. So far, anyway.
There is some good news, though! Aside from $11 million for Quentin, $8 million for Joaquin Benoit, $16 million for Maybin, and that $35 million for Gyorko, very little money is committed to any players after 2014. Practically speaking, the next general manager should soon have a clean slate. Other good news: Maybin remains a talented player who might stay healthy someday, and Gyorko’s injury serves as an excuse for his horrible performance this spring.
There’s also bad news! The talent in the organization is terribly thin, with very few exciting prospects. Or maybe none at all. The Padres do have a young catcher, Austin Hedges, who showed up well on the prospect lists before this season. He’s young (21) for his level (Double-A) but hasn’t fared well. Otherwise the Padres’ best prospects are a couple of pitchers who seem like poor bets for future stardom. Their first-round draft pick in 2013, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, has reached Double-A and should reach the majors before terribly long.
But the Padres need more than Hedges and Renfroe, and it’s not clear where more will come from. Payroll flexibility is nice, but you can do only so much in the free-agent market with a limited budget. You can find bargains (Smith) but also busts (Quentin). If the next GM wants to restock the larder, his only valuable properties at the moment are relief pitchers Huston Street and Benoit, and you can get only so much for relief pitchers.
It’s never hopeless. All those young/youngish players? They might all start hitting tomorrow. They might all start hitting next spring. The Padres might win 85 games in 2015.
But there’s just rarely a quick fix or a sudden transformation. The Mets are run by smart people, and so are the Cubs. Yet both franchises have been in the doldrums for years, with no real hopes of contending within the next year or two.
On a happier note, maybe the Padres’ doldrums will persuade ownership to finally junk the lamest uniforms in the majors. Oh. Right. Fiddlesticks. It’s gonna be another few long years, apparently.