How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Padres?

Despite being without pitchers like Luis Perdomo, the Padres are still making the most of what they have. (via Keith Allison)

Even with the addition of perennial All-Star and former World Series champion Eric Hosmer on an eight-year, $144 million deal, there was nary an observer who had much hope for the Padres fielding a competitive ballclub this year. MLB.com listed the San Diego Padres as an “under-the-radar” NL Wild Card contender during the offseason; it could honestly be described as a highlight.

After a very tough start that saw them go 10-20 from Opening Day through April 30, with a .230/.301/.369 team slash line and an astounding 309 strikeouts, a staff FIP of 3.76, and an ERA-run average of 4.46, things looked pretty bleak, and understandably so.

During that stretch, the team lost its projected No. 3 starter, Dinelson Lamet, for the season to UCL reconstruction surgery. The Padres sent their No. 4 starter, Luis Perdomo, to Triple-A El Paso due to ineffectiveness, and lost team leader Wil Myers to two separate disabled list stints—first for elbow tendonitis, then for an oblique strain, the latter of which still has him sidelined.

And the injuries didn’t stop when April turned to May. The Friars’ starting catcher, Austin Hedges, has been sidelined since May 1, also with elbow tendinitis. Phil Maton, who was thriving in the bullpen (a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings pitched, with a 2.46 FIP and 0.3 WAR), hit the DL with a lat muscle injury on May 13. Joey Lucchesi, who had been in the early conversation for NL Rookie of the Year with his 3.23 ERA, 9.13 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.85 walks per nine, and 0.4 WAR, went down with a hip issue on May 15. Franchy Cordero, of launch angle and exit velocity fame, went down with a right forearm strain on May 27 after a streaky but awfully impressive two-month stretch.

But in the face of this adversity, the Padres turned around and rattled off one of the more improbable runs of this young major league season. Behind spirited, consistent play, the Friars have gone 23-18 since the first of May.

That’s better than most observers expected them to play at any point this season. Andy Green and his coaching staff have made the most of a surprisingly efficient and effective combination of veterans, young guys and neophytes. Amid all of the underperformance, the injuries and the questions marks, the Padres find themselves just seven games under .500 and 7.5 games behind the current National League West leaders, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

They still aren’t good, mind you. Yesterday, FanGraphs has their chances of making the postseason at 0.4 percent. They’re projected to finish the year with 73 wins and a lousy -90 run differential. But they’re still sort of in a tighter-than-expected NL West. And that brings us to the interesting issue the Padres are now faced with. This is an organization with the top-ranked farm system in baseball. There are a handful of guys who are rapidly approaching major league-readiness. The future that seemed so far away feels much closer now.

Entering 2018, the decision to play for 2019 or 2020 seemed obvious. But the team’s early success, and the relatively soft NL West, have made me wonder what you do with bad teams that aren’t quite as bad as you expect them to be. What if the obvious decision is suddenly more muddled? Is there a compelling reason to go a different way? What if the Padres were to look at their meager playoff odds, their strength of schedule, and the way their team has come together over the last two months and decide to make a run at it?

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers face with similar situations. The Tigers have a mid-tier system littered with a handful of top guys (Casey Mize, Christian Stewart, Franklin Perez, Beau Burrows, and Matt Manning) but are just five games back in the AL Central behind Cleveland. The Rays, despite having a BaseRuns record that puts them about where the Mariners are, have already moved Denard Span and Alex Colome, and surely have been fielding offers for Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Adeiny Hechavarria, and a few others. They are currently 16.5 games out of first place, so their decision to sell off assets may come a bit easier.

They’re instructive examples for the Padres. The Tigers rebuild is in the early stages, as they begin to look past big contracts like Miguel Cabrera’s and think of themselves as a ball club with more traditional salary constraints; they’re in asset acquisition mode. The Rays may present a more interesting comparison. Like the Padres, their farm system is one of the better ones in baseball, and it’s fairly mature. Even with injuries to several important pitching prospects, we can envision the next good Rays team much more readily than the next good Tigers team.

And they also serve as a reminder of the value of giving your fans something compelling to cheer for, or perhaps the dangers of waiting too long to do so. The willingness to move veteran players and rely on young talent has meant the Rays often have been competitive. It also likely has contributed to poor attendance and fan engagement; their average and total attendance are the worst in the American League.

The Padres seem to have some notion of this. The Hosmer signing, controversial though it was, was made with an eye to the Padres’ future, but it had the added benefit of making the team more watchable. And that, perhaps, is the most compelling argument for standing pat. It means something to want to go to the ballpark. It’s nice to care about Padres’ baseball. To feel like this team might do something, even if we really know better.

The farm system is loaded with good prospects. The next good, or even great, Padres team isn’t so far off, but meanwhile, San Diego is getting a taste of something close to winning baseball now. It would be nice to have enthused fans ready to watch when it does arrive.

The last 10 years of baseball have been defined by teams tearing what they have down to the studs, asking fans to accept years of losing for the chance of a World Series. We often accept that choice; I’m sure Astros and Cubs fans are glad they stuck around. But what a team like this allows us to do is consider whether we might prioritize something else.

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The value some of the Padres’ players is simply too high not to at  least, test the waters. Even if they  stay in the race, which isn’t out of the question considering the Pads’ strength of schedule is in the middle of the pack (their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .503l), they face the gauntlet of their own improving division, and the playoff teams beyond. The haul of prospects they’d receive in a trade for Brad Hand or Tyson Ross from teams like the Yankees or Red Sox could push this farm system over the top. And what could be better than having the top-ranked minor league system in baseball? Adding more blue-chip prospects to an organization that has a plethora of them already, of course!

Nine San Diego are currently listed on FanGraphs’ Top 131 Prospect Rankings. Through drafting and trades (like the ones we could be seeing in the coming weeks), general manager A.J. Preller has built a system that is arguably constructed to be stronger and last longer than any the Padres have constructed in recent years–like, Core Four stuff.

Moving a few valuable pieces—in some cases, extremely valuable—at this year’s trade deadline  to further solidify the depth of the Padres’ farm system would undoubtedly be in the best interests of all parties involved. With the amount of talent that’s bubbling its way through each level of the system, making a few moves to shore things up wouldn’t exactly be prudent.

There’s enough talent on the Padres’ 25-man roster to withstand a sell-off of sorts and more than enough talent close enough to reaching their professional pinnacles to bank on the future, while waving the white flag at whatever illusions of postseason contention they might have had for 2018.

In the end, it’s the right choice. But it is still interesting to note that it is a more complicated one than it might have been on Opening Day. It isn’t that the Padres are good. It’s that they’re a little less bad and seemingly a lot closer to being good than we had thought. And that’s all it takes for many fans. It’s that little bit better—being that attainable number of games back, even if the odds are effectively the same as they were at the beginning of the season.

Teams assess these things on much longer time frames. As much as I hope the Padres care about the fan experience, I doubt the early results have done much to alter the front office’s plans significantly. But as fans, we can look at things a bit differently. We can consider an option we didn’t think we had before. We can want them to try. We have that freedom, even if ultimately all that awaits us is another run of Phil Hughes starts.

All stats are through Tuesday, June 19.


Tim is a writer at MetsMerizedOnline.com and an editor for FriarsonBase.com. You can also find his bylines at GoodFundies.com and GothamBaseball.com. He lives in Long Island, NY.
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rmoore1776
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rmoore1776

hope this is supposed to be read in the George Costanza voice “How do you solve a problem like Maria” cause thats what happened

Barney Coolio
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Barney Coolio

Eric Hosmer is not a perennial all star as he has only made one ASG, 2016.

Ryan
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Ryan

I may be biased as an A’s fan but it seems to me that we’re in an awfully similar situation as the Padres; the A’s have been getting better performance than expected by most, strong farm system talent, and a possible shot at the playoffs(most likely a second wild card slot where they’re given a 6.8% chance on FanGraphs).

Jolly Good Show
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Jolly Good Show

A lot of things can change by the time the end of July draws near. Let’s see where the Padres are then. They can always trade away players during August if July is still too soon to make a decision.

Was it the Twins for traded for a pitcher last year and then traded him away again when they realised that they weren’t going to make the play offs?

Sac Bunt Chris
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Member
I don’t see how it’s that difficult of a decision at all. Playoff odds are at .3% (!!). Baseruns shows a “true” or however you want to think of it record as 31 wins instead of the 34 they have. The Fangraphs projections show the team winning 72 games. Plus, fans of the Padres especially should know that after the 2015 season–generating fan interest not built on actual wins is hollow at best. They tried that already, the results were visible in the empty stands by the end of the 2015 season. Almost all of Padres history has been spent… Read more »
websoulsurfer
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websoulsurfer

So how do you explain the Padres signing Hosmer? Do you really expect the owners to be ok with losing until 2020 while spending $21 million on Hosmer and $100 million on team payroll?

What you should expect is for them to make a splash in the trade market in July and push to contend in 2019.

Playoff odds are meant to be beaten, they are not reality. You may want to go take a look at just how many teams that were 10 out on July 1st made the playoffs.

Johnston
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Johnston

Their playoff odds are ridiculously low. They should be selling.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Is it just me, or are the Padres on “Pitch” a much better team than they’ve been in real life at any point over the few years and perhaps even longer?

websoulsurfer
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websoulsurfer
You are missing the most obvious point. When the team spent all that money on Hosmer and others, they did so with the expectation of winning sooner rather than later. In the words of the owners. the rebuild was accelerated with the signing of Hosmer. Given the ownership’s stated desire to win sooner rather than later, what makes more sense than trading away any of the Padres most valuable players like Hand , Ross, and others is for them to trade from their glut of MLB outfielders and cache of prospects for players like Archer or Fulmer from a team… Read more »
Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

frank
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frank
Though I agree with most of the commenters that SD has little chance of making the playoffs and less chance of doing anything there, I am going to take a different tack. The Padres’ farm system is overbalanced toward pitching, and that is a recipe for disaster for a team with severely limited resources. Sure, Tatis looks great and could easily be an All-Star. But Urias is likely to be an average (at best) 2B, and none of the other Pads in the Fangraphs Top 134 are hitters. Pitching prospects are … well, TINSTAAPPL. By 2020, this team may have… Read more »