The Padres and Unrealistic Expectations

Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Padres could be getting ready to clean house. On Sunday, the Padres fired General Manager Josh Byrnes.

Ron Fowler, executive chairman of the Padres, bristled a bit Sunday when he was asked if the dismissal of Josh Byrnes as general manager was a step back for the organization.

“This is a reset,” Fowler said. “This is not a step back. We’re doing this so that we could move forward. We expect continuous improvement from the organization. We’re getting it in other areas. We are not getting it on the baseball field.”

There’s nothing controversial about this statement. At 32-44, the Padres have the third-worst record in baseball, and they’ll have to play better than .500 baseball the rest of the way just to finish with the same 76-86 record that they’ve recorded the last two years. While there are some individual success stories, this team is not any better than the mediocrity that they’ve been for several years now. But this isn’t necessarily just about not seeing improvement.

There had been rumblings and rumors locally that the team was considering changes, either up top with Byrnes or possibly manager Bud Black. Mike Dee, team president and CEO of the Padres, said the Padres will keep Black at least through the end of the season.

“This was a decision that was not made in a day or two or a week or two. The last couple months, we’ve seen a team we had high expectations for. Those expectations have not been reached,” said Dee.

It’s understandable to say that the Padres have not been good this year, and even that they’ve played worse than expected. But I guess my question would be this: if the management team had “high expectations” for this roster, isn’t that their fault? Because I can’t find anyone else who thought this team was any good.

On March 31st, our Playoff Odds projections had the Padres finishing 80-82. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections had them finishing 76-86. Clay Davenport’s forecast had the Padres finishing with 83 wins. The mathematical models all saw this as roughly a .500 team.

What about the human consensus, though? After all, the models aren’t perfect, and maybe individual observers saw something that the forecasts weren’t seeing?

Nearly 50 ESPN commentators: 1 had SD winning NL West, 2 had them making wild card.

Sports Illustrated’s five commentators: Zero predicted playoff appearances.

Yahoo’s five contributors: No higher than 81 wins or third place finish, no playoff appearances.

FanGraphs readers: 2% predicted NL West victory, 8% predicted any playoff appearance

The human consensus matches the numerical perspective. This team wasn’t supposed to be atrocious, but unless “high expectations” means that the executive team thought they would win and lose in equal proportion, it seems like this may be an issue where poor internal projections led to unrealistic expectations. This team is underperforming, but should we really be surprised that they aren’t particularly good?

Sure, you can point to guys like Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, and Will Venable, each of whom is performing far below what would have been expected based on their track record. But on the other hand, there’s Seth Smith with a .399 wOBA and Ian Kennedy posting the highest strikeout rate of his career. Things break both ways for most teams, and while more things have broken against the Padres than for them, it isn’t like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Andrew Cashner has been mostly healthy. Tyson Ross has pitched very well. Huston Street has an ERA under 1.00. This isn’t the Rays, where the entire roster has basically collapsed together.

Of course, arguing that the Padres weren’t actually very good to begin with doesn’t let Josh Byrnes off the hook, since he put this mediocre roster together. Part of a General Manager’s job is to manage ownership expectations so that they aren’t blindsided when their team turns out to not be particularly good. Perhaps, in asking for the $22 million payroll increase that the Padres instituted this year, Brynes didn’t adequately convey to the executive team that the increase was more of a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses increase than a we-are-ready-to-win-now surge. It is a bit understandable that ownership would be unhappy with the team’s performance after increasing payroll by over 30%, and it isn’t like the money was invested in the team’s long-term future.

The Padres two notable free agent signings over the winter were Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit. Johnson’s deal was only for one year, so even if it worked out — it didn’t, of course — he was only ever going to be a rental. And Benoit is an aging reliever, who while effective, isn’t exactly a core piece of the team’s future. Those two will make $14 million between them this season, contributing +1 to +2 WAR and perhaps fetching a decent prospect at the deadline when they trade Benoit away. For a team with a $90 million payroll, that’s the kind of return on investment that they can’t afford.

In this instance, the Padres probably do need a new direction. They weren’t really rebuilding, spending money and assets on older players and short-term additions, but they never got all that close to creating a roster that was a serious contender either. While some have pointed to Byrnes’ superior record during his tenure to what Jeff Luhnow has done in Houston, the Astros have a clear plan in place, and it doesn’t involve maximizing short-term wins. The Padres are bad now and not building for the future, which is the kind of thing that rightfully gets GMs fired.

But this really shouldn’t have come as some huge surprise to the Padres ownership. This team just wasn’t very good. The Padres shouldn’t have been motivated to change GMs due to disappointment in how this season was going; they should have been motivated to change GMs because this isn’t really that much of a disappointment.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

62 Responses to “The Padres and Unrealistic Expectations”

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  1. GilaMonster says:

    If anyone deserved to be fired and take the blame, it was the trainer. The front office has been quit smart and put a solid team together and have a loaded farm system. But they have suffered a ton of injuries.

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    • LHPSU says:

      Many of those players have had a history of being injury-prone, even before joining the Padres. Taking chances on these players is a two-edged sword.

      Dayton Moore can tell you a little about having a good farm system but not a good major league club.

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    • Rrr says:

      That loaded farm system was Hoyer’s doing. They’ve slid down the rankings in every year of Byrnes’ tenure.

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  2. Darren says:

    I think this makes your point stronger, but Zips had the Padres as a 76 win team preseason (not 83) and Davenport had them as 80 win team (not 83).

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  3. Jim says:

    The rumor has it that the Padres are kicking the tires on bringing Kevin Towers back. God help you Friars fans!

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    • angelo says:

      The words “Interim GM Omar Minaya” should also bring chills to their hearts.

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    • MLB Hall of Misery says:

      One idiot know-nothing San Diego sports writer said they should, which got a bunch more know-nothing idiots saying they are going to do it.

      They aren’t doing that. On the bright side though… If they do, I will burn things.

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  4. SickRick says:

    Boy, if Byrnes gets fired, how does Sandy Alderson remain in his? Connections to the commissioner’s office you say? I don’t know, but there must be something bc spending money on aging players and trying to squeeze out a few meaningless short term wins at the expense of building for the long term are all things Met fans are fretting over.

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    • Richie says:

      Byrnes was the previous owner’s hire, not Fowler’s. Fowler was set from the getgo to bring in his own guy however soon it was reasonable/excusable to pull the plug on his inherited GM.

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      • MLB Hall of Misery says:

        Atta boy Richie.

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      • Larry says:

        Correct in all but the Ron Fowler’s man part. The majority ownership went to a group that includes the O’Malley family so it’s the majority owners’ man. Ron Fowler is a minority owner and the local face of ownership, not THE owner.

        I’m surprised nobody is wondering how much of a role Peter O’Malley’s sons and nephews are playing behind the scenes, or even Peter O’Malley himself as mentor.

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      • Tanned Tom says:

        Actually Fowler was part of the previous ownership group as well as the current one. Figure that one out.

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    • stevenam says:

      Chris Young has to be on the short list of worst signings of the offseason, not because he’s been a disappointment, but because he’s really very close to exactly what many or most expected of him at the time. He’s not a major league quality player in any aspect of the game, but he’s being paid as a starter.

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  5. Alan says:

    Given the financial limitations of the ownership group (which is the Padres’ real problem but not within the GM’s control), the plan for the Padres is obviously going to rely on development of cheap, cost-controlled players.

    Therefore, the front office should be judged primarily on their ability to draft and develop young talent as well as an understanding of resource allocation at the major league level.

    It’s why Towers was fired in the first place. I know people think of him as a punch line on this site, and he seems to have gone further down the gritty/character path than he used to be, but Towers has a fantastic trade track record, and it was practically unimpeachable in San Diego. He built bullpens from nothing, stole players like Adrian Gonzalez (as a throw in to a trade where he got a superior pitcher (Chris Young) for an inferior one (Adam Eaton) and a bullpen arm (Akinori Otsuka). And Chris Young had more cost-controlled year) and repeatedly came up with scouting gems (Phil Nevin, anyone?).

    But for a myriad of reasons both in and outside his control, he could not draft/develop talent.

    The Padres need to take a page from the Astros book and steal someone high up from a strong scouting/player development organization. Or the A’s. Isn’t David Forst due a job? Someone from the Rays or Braves or Twins or Astros?

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    • AC of DC says:

      This has actually made me go back and review Towers’ record in San Diego a bit. It’s easy to attribute everything that happens on a team to a GM, the same way people blame the US President for everything that happens when he’s in office. Towers had some hits and some misses.

      For me, the trade I always recalled most vividly was when the Red Sox sent Doug Mirabelli to SD for Mark Loretta while signing Josh Bard; then it turned out Bard couldn’t catch Wakefield, so they sent him to San Diego (with Cla Meredith) for . . . Doug Mirabelli. Sure, over the season, Loretta came crashing back to earth and Bard had a career year, but at the time it just seemed that Epstein’s evil mind-control powers had made a fool of Towers, rooking him with some street-corner sleight-of-hand into trading an All-Star 2B for a backup Catcher. On such impressions are reputations established, I suppose.

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    • Rrr says:

      Does depodesta get another shot?

      Has to be better than minaya or towers.

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  6. Joe says:

    Hey Padres fans, you want KT back? Because we will just give him to you if you want.

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  7. Hurtlocker says:

    The Padres have selected exactly 6, +10 win MLB players in the draft over the last 20 years, not a great track record for building from within.

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    • Eric R says:

      How do we know if it is good or not without the context of other teams picks?

      Mets (9) have: Daniel Murphy, Scott Kazmir, David Wright, Angel Pagan, David DeJesus, Jeremy Guthrie, AJ Burnett, Aaron Rowand and Jay Payton 1994-2013.

      Astros (9) have Julio Lugo, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Lance Berkman, Eric Byrnes, Morgan Ensburg, Michael Bourn, Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence.

      A’s (14) have Trevor Cahill, Kurt Suzuki, Huston Street, Andre Ethier, Nick Swisher, Jonathon Papelbon, Brad Ziegler, Rich Harden, Barry Zito, Ryan Ludwick, Mark Mulder, Eric Byrnes, Tim Hudson, Eric Chavez

      A’s 14
      Mets 9
      Astros 9
      Padres 6

      … now we just need someone to fill in the other 26 teams :)

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      • Eric R says:

        Blue Jays Halladay, Lilly, Hudson, Casey Blake, Vernon Wells, Michael Young, Alex Rios, Reed Johnson, Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum…

        Blue Jays 10

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      • Eric R says:

        Dodgers: 16
        A’s: 14
        Blue Jays: 10
        Astros: 9
        Mets: 9
        Reds: 9
        Yankees: 9
        Royals: 8
        Padres: 6

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        • Max says:

          Tigers 9 — that includes Mark Mulder as an unsigned high school first baseman 19 years ago, however.

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      • Kyle says:

        Angels, 1994-present: Troy Glaus, Jered Weaver, Darin Erstad, Mike Trout, John Lackey, Jarrod Washburn, Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli, Scot Shields, Aaron Hill (didn’t sign), Buster Posey (didn’t sign), David Murphy (didn’t sign)

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      • LaLoosh says:

        Jeremy Guthrie was drafted by the Indians in 2002. Was drafted out of HS by the Mets in 97 but didn’t sign.

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  8. jayman4 says:

    The scenario that led the idea the Padres could compete was built on having a very good starting rotation, very good relief, good team defense and a respectable offense.

    Their rotation has been pretty good despite losing Luebke and Johnson for the season without throwing a regular season pitch and losing Cashner and Erlin for extended periods. Their relievers have been excellent.

    Their defense is still quite good.

    Their offense, specifically the entire starting infield, hit materially below all projections.

    And it is not just that they are not that good, they are awful. If you like BP’s third order win percentage, the Padres are the worst team in baseball by almost a full standard deviation below the next worst team in baseball.

    I think with that many pieces in place, trying to compete rather than rebuilding makes sense. And I get deeply frustrated by the way people toss around the “rebuild” tonic, as though there are good odds for success for small market teams following sustained “rebuilding” (aka, sucking). The odds in many cases are improved but still bad.

    Until baseball decides to transform their economics with closer parity of inputs (money), there are going to be a lot of times markets the size of San Diego are going to witness similar failure.

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  9. PhilliesFan says:

    “The Padres are bad now and not building for the future, which is the kind of thing that rightfully gets GMs fired”

    Unless you’re RAJ who must be an elusive ninja

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  10. ms says:

    Is Josh Byrnes the guy who made the call to start Rivera over Grandal? I appreciate the value of defense, but it seems like a better call to at least assess what you have from an ostensibly very talented player who is finally healthy.

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    • Drakos says:

      Rivera has been playing more than expected but Grandal has been in more games and has more PAs.

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    • jayman4 says:

      And Rivera has outhit Grandal. More of how bad Grandal is hitting than how good Rivera is, though he is hitting very well against his historical baseline.

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      • ms says:

        Last 30 days (since around the time of the Hundley trade) I have Rivera at 57 AB’s and Grandal at 39. I agree that Grandal hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire, but he was one of the 2 big pieces you got for Latos…he should be playing as much as he is physically able to. Rivera is a known commodity. Grandal could be more. I would want a larger body of evidence against Grandal before I play an almost 31 year old catcher with a career .4 WAR over him. Grandal had 2.4 in a half season in 2012. I am not a Padres fan, perhaps there is something I’m missing.

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        • evil kevin towers says:

          grandal is coming off of a torn ACL. he is pretty much catching as much as he can physically handle.

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  11. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I appreciate where you’re coming from that SD was a crap team to begin with, but you had to somewhat give Byrnes the chance to fall on his face which he has. He’d asked for more payroll and payroll has risen sharply over the last three years, so this was his culmination. And now that his experiment is failed, I’d guess mgmt wanted to bring in someone with an appetite to rebuild in advance of the trade deadline vs someone still working on a failed vision.

    Looking back I think its pretty easy to point out where Byrnes failed; Signing Quentin, Trading Latos for guys with PEDs issues (with multiple years of control), Maybin’s extension, and not moving Headley (with Gyorko coming up). Its easy to see how 1-2 things could have gone differently so I won’t say its a slam dunk, but there were more than a couple head-scratching moves in his tenure.

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  12. Max G says:

    Last week I happened to be on the West Coast and attended the King Felix vs. Cashner game at Petco. Helluva nice park. I’ve been to about a dozen big league parks, and this one was by far the easiest to get in and out of, and find my seats. It took no time at all, and is situated right in the heart of downtown San Diego. Great fans and eternally decent weather. It would be awesome to see them do well and it would be great for West Coast baseball.

    When most of your team is hitting .200 or below, wholesale changes to the current roster are warranted, but this is a team with a decent farm system, the fans were not expecting the team to go to the playoffs this year, and Byrnes hasn’t been at the helm long enough to be fully evaluated. A GM’s performance assessment should be based on 5 years worth of data, not 2. I think Byrnes’ dismissal is a reactionary PR move. It will take years to determine if the next GM is good or bad, and that means the Padres just added more unwanted time to their rebuilding process.

    Sure, signing Josh Johnson was a tad knuckle-headed, and most GMs in their right mind would not sign Quentin to a long-term deal, with his injury history. That said, Maybin stole 40 bags in 2011 and reminded some of Devon White (but has been hit hard by injuries since), Yasmani Grandal looked like a fantastic switch-hitting young catcher as recently as 2012 (and he’s still only 25), and Cashner has been pitching well this season and is just entering his prime (which could still turn out to be a good deal, despite Rizzo’s progress). This is not a totally inept roster.

    Basically, Byrnes got burned by all the talented players that collectively have forgotten their own abilities, i.e., Maybin, Headley (juiced in 2012?), Cabrera, Quentin, Venable (.561 OPS??? Seriously?), etc.

    This is a team that did have some promise as recently as last year. Not great promise, but some. That a bunch of the players suddenly stunk in the same season should not be reason enough to fire a GM after just 2 1/2 years.

    …and I still think that signing Gyorko to a long-term deal will prove to be the right move. He hit well in the minors, had a great rookie year, and has played injured this season, hence hitting a buck-sixty-two.

    I’m not a Friars fan, but out of respect to Tony Gwynn, I’m rooting for them that whoever the new GM is can somehow turn things around.

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  13. PackBob says:

    Preseason projections always have big error bars and key players not performing will almost certainly drive a team to the negative end. The Padres are probably right where they should be with their offense not performing.

    Failure to meet unrealistic expectations is a weird judgment.

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    • cable fixer says:

      The team has a .274 OBP. No unmet expectations–unrealistic or realistic–can excuse that.

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  14. randplaty says:

    Dave you can’t sell the Padres hitting as anything but a blindside collapse.

    The Padres hitting is historically bad and it seriously came out of nowhere. That’s the expectations that Fowler was talking about. If you followed the Padres at all, you’d know that. It’s not about the overall record.

    You mentioned Gyorko, Headley and Venable being below expectations. How about FAR below expectations? What about Grandal, Cabrera, and Alonso also being FAR below expectations. The entire team on the hitting side has collapsed. That cannot have been expected.

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    • James says:

      Absolutely true. That combined with SSmith coming over and leading in almost every offensive category means, it ain’t the park! Many times I hear or read about how its the park, move the fences in, etc., etc. Poor excuses. A Gonzalez did not have those problems, now Smith even with a dip back to the norm for him. Every team that comes in seems to have a below .500 pitcher with 5+ ERA who is Cy Young against this offense. Hope should be not only draft, but develop the prospects.

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      • Larry says:

        You’re right. The hitting coaches are talking swing mechanics, but the hitting strategy in at bats is non-existent, or what you see at low A level. They’re taking fastballs down the middle and swinging at borderline off-speed pitches, and getting set up by pitchers for double play grounders.

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  15. OnlyPadresFanEver says:


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  16. Jamie says:

    So how many minutes until Byrnes is hired by the Cubs?

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    • mailman says:

      Seems like a good place for him to land–one without any decision-making capacity where he can just be another voice.

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  17. James says:

    “Those two will make $14 million between them this season, contributing +1 to +2 WAR and perhaps fetching a decent prospect at the deadline when they trade Benoit away.”

    First time ever I’ve read or heard anything about Benoit being shipped. Its always, always been Street with Benoit taking the closer role. That being said, don’t see Street doing well in an AL park as he does not have the swing and miss to succeed so actually, shipping Benoit would seem to make even more sense as he’s older. Interesting, indeed.

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  18. Mr Punch says:

    Surely ownership’s “expectations” were based on the GM’s assurances that the team was a couple of players away from improvement?

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  19. SDFan35 says:

    My perspectives as a devoted Padre fan:

    – at a certain point, some changes need to be made. While you can recognize the limitations of our market, a legitimate perception of complacency and no accountability is incredibly frustrating as a fan.

    – the Latos trade completely backfired – poor returns and forced getting rid of Rizzo. Surely Latos could have been dealt to another team that did not return a 1st base prospect and create that “QB controversy”.

    – for a limited budget, the roster construction is horrible. Biggest salaries allocated to relief (Street, Benoit) and Carlos Quentin.

    – handling of Chase Headley – it has been pretty clear that Padres were never going to retain him with the inflation of salaries. Failed to get any return when his value was much higher. A compensation pick is not much solace for one of our rare “savior” prospects. (small credit I guess for not extending him to some crazy contract that we would never pay or afford).

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    • M W says:

      If I’m the Padres I don’t even offer Headley a Qualifying Offer if he finishes the year like he’s started it. So you wouldn’t even get a comp pick.

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      • SDFan35 says:

        Good point. That he probably doesn’t deserve a qualifying offer shows how far he has fallen.

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  20. Long suffering Padres Fan says:

    While the team’s offense has been historically bad I think that Byrnes’ lack of an apparent organizational plan or philosophy was what really doomed him.

    As someone who lives in San Diego and follows the team I really don’t know what the Padres are trying to do. On one hand they sign Gyorko and Maybin to long term deals. On the other hand they sign Josh Johnson and extend Quentin. So, you have money going to unproven youngsters and injury prone veterans. Not a smart use of limited resources.

    The farm is full of decent prospects but no stars and their draft didn’t seem to address that.

    It’s ok to be bad as long as there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s no light for this team.

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  21. Johnston says:

    Are the Padres likely to ever be anything beyond mediocre?

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    • Long suffering Padres Fan says:

      With the right person in charge and a huge helping of luck I can see them having hope (a la the Astros) in 5 years.

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  22. Not Ed Wade says:

    I have no doubt that Josh Byrnes is a smart baseball guy. A nice guy too. One that I suspect I agree with a great deal when it comes to the role of analytics in the sport. But, I’m sorry, the question isn’t (the laughable) whether he managed ownership expectations properly this past offseason, but rather: where did he cock this team up–in conception or execution?

    The Rizzo deal is symptomatic of the basic conceptual failing, IMO. Which isn’t that it’s a bad bit of talent evaluation…but you have a ballpark that makes Aaron Harang look worthy of a multi-year deal. Why deal a young promising offensive player for any arm, even a potentially good one?

    The execution failing is evidenced by the OBP. He has assembled a team that, through too many games, has a historically awful OBP. Even adjusting for the park with wRC+…the hitters he’s picked have been bad.

    There is no sugar-coating it. This team is not only poorly conceived, it’s built poorly as well.

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  23. Mk says:

    I agree with the premise of the article, but I think in a parellel universe this article could have been about the Brewers. Even now they’re projected below .500 ROS.

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  24. Grumpy Old Kirk Gibson says:

    So I hear the Padres are interested in hiring my old buddy KT as their new GM. I hope to god they don’t! KT is the only reason why I’m still employed. Besides, KT is not a good fit for San Diego. They are not well suited for the gritty hard nosed style of baseball that we have here in Phoenix. Also KT probably isn’t the best guy for the job because the Padres’ owner is actually interested in having a winning team. Me and KT aren’t so interested in winning if there is no grit involved. As I always say: “Grit above all else!”

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  25. Ted Brogan says:

    Given how the Padres are playing since Byrnes was canned, maybe they should fire GMs more often.

    Seriously, though, I wonder how much Randy Smith has to do with the Padres’ poor track record of finding and developing prospects? He’s been involved with the organization since 1993-1997, and then 2003 on as a special assistant to the GM.

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