Padres need to get house in order before trade deadline

Should the Padres stick with general manager Josh Byrnes and manager Bud Black? 

Andy Hayt/Getty Images

The July 31 non-waiver deadline is less than six weeks away. Do the San Diego Padres know who their general manager is?

Technically, they do — it’s Josh Byrnes. But is Byrnes empowered with the authority to make trades? Ownership isn’t saying, leaving the front office in an unsettled state.

Well, the Pads need to get their house in order — and fast.

Their trade candidates include not only a number of veterans who could help contenders, but also a starting pitcher with the potential to shake up the entire market — right-hander Andrew Cashner.

If the owners want Byrnes to continue as GM, they should make their position clear. If not, they should dismiss Byrnes and install a replacement as quickly as possible.

The latter scenario is more likely; Byrnes’ relationship with ownership has deteriorated, according to major-league sources.

Assistant GM A.J. Hinch, who has close ties to Byrnes, likely would be the interim successor, sources say.

Byrnes hired Hinch as manager during his tenure with the D-Backs. Both were fired on July 1, 2010, and Hinch joined the Padres’ front office three months before Byrnes’ arrival.

The death of Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn last Monday complicates the timing of any decision; the memorial service for Gwynn will not take place until Thursday.

Firing Byrnes or anyone else would be distasteful while the franchise remains in mourning. But at some point, the uncertainty needs to end.

The Padres’ owners, who inherited Byrnes when they took over in August 2012, seem itchy to make a move, even though Byrnes reportedly is signed through ‘17.

Byrnes mostly has traded well since becoming GM in Dec. 2010. But his free-agent signings and especially his contract extensions often have gone awry.

Ron Fowler, the team’s executive chairman, told FOX Sports a week ago, “We are terribly disappointed in the team’s offense this year and staying the course (waiting for a turnaround) is becoming less appealing as the ugly losses continue.”

Fowler’s comments followed a radio interview in which team president Mike Dee told the Mighty 1090 radio station in San Diego that the club’s performance was “unacceptable.”

“Stay tuned, if it doesn’t turn around, we’ll have to make some changes,” Dee said. “… This thing has to be fixed and it will.”

The remarks by Fowler and Dee seemed to hint at dissatisfaction with hitting coach Phil Plantier and possibly manager Bud Black. But Byrnes is under the most scrutiny, industry sources say.

A shakeup seemed inevitable as the team went 1-7 on a recent road trip. But Gwynn’s death the day before the trip ended may have altered the team’s plans.

The Padres, predicted by some to be a surprise team this season, entered Friday night 31-42, fourth in the NL West. Their .216 team batting average was by far the worst in the majors, and would be the lowest by any major-league club since the 1910 White Sox hit .211.

Injuries have contributed to the Padres’ difficulties — the team currently has nine players on the disabled list, tied with the Diamondbacks for the most in the NL. But the club’s offensive ineptitude has been a major issue all season. Pitching isn’t the problem; the Padres rank eighth in the majors with a 3.47 ERA.

The team’s most obvious trade candidates are veterans such as third baseman Chase Headley, outfielder Carlos Quentin, right-hander Ian Kennedy and closer Huston Street; Quentin may be willing to waive his no-trade clause, according to CBSSports.com.

Non-contending teams, however, generally explore the values of all of their players. A trade of Cashner — who sources say has rejected the club’s overtures for a long-term extension — would yield the biggest return.

Cashner, 27, is under club control for 2½ more seasons, or one more season than the most coveted pitchers on the trade market, Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija and Rays lefty David Price.

By one measure, Cashner is even better than Samardzija and Price; his 2.06 ERA since last Aug. 1 is the lowest in the majors, according to STATS LLC. While Cashner recently missed three weeks with right elbow soreness, he has pitched well in three starts since coming off the disabled list.

Byrnes did not fare well the last time he traded a top-of-the-rotation starter, moving right-hander Mat Latos in December 2011 at an even earlier stage of that pitcher’s career. Initially, though, many believed that the Reds overpaid for Latos by parting with right-hander Edinson Volquez, first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and right-hander Brad Boxberger.

Byrnes later made a number of more successful deals, getting Quentin, Kennedy, right-hander Tyson Ross and outfielder Seth Smith, among others (Byrnes’ acquisition of Cashner from the Cubs for first baseman Anthony Rizzo proved beneficial to both clubs).

Still, the Padres likely are headed for their fourth straight losing season under Byrnes. The GM’s awarding of extensions to Quentin, left-hander Corey Luebke and outfielder Cameron Maybin proved ill-fated, and second baseman Jedd Gyorko regressed markedly after agreeing to a six-year, $35.5 million deal in April, though the move was widely praised at the time.

The owners can justify keeping Byrnes, citing the team’s poor luck with injuries and an offensive collapse that no one saw coming. They can justify firing him, citing his spotty record and the fact that he isn’t their guy.

Either way, they need to make up their minds.