Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Baseball under water

My 15 years as a Padres beat reporter put me close to a variety of Padres teams, so it's only natural that people ask me where things now stand.

Here is where this franchise now stands: on the bottom of the ocean floor.

This is the worst Padres team I've been around.

It gives me no joy to write these words, but were these Padres in the American League East, they would lose 120 games.

Worse, the team is as flat as the floor of Death Valley.

Players who have yet to do anything in the major leagues appear overly comfortable. Such as the rookie who lounged in the clubhouse while the rest of the team's hitters met in a separate room. Such as the players who chatted on cellphones 25 minutes before a game. Or hobnobbed with friends in a clubhouse tunnel 30 minutes before first pitch.

None of this is surprising.

The message from owner John Moores many months ago was that this season does not matter. The past several months have been about cutting costs, shedding payroll, shopping any player who is eligible for arbitration or close to hitting his performing bonuses.

Performance is taking a back seat to dollar imperatives. Like when Brian Giles flat-lined well below .200 for more than two months, yet the Padres refused to bench him. The front office was desperate to unload Giles' $9 million salary and believed the only way to do it was to play Giles and hope he got hot. He never did.

Resilient organizations can weather lean times by producing young talent that outperforms its low salaries. Once again, however, the Padres are getting negative returns from their farm system. A team of lesser financial means such as the Marlins, with a majors-low payroll of $37 million, is reminding the Padres what can be done with excellent scouting, strong player development and a coherent front office (a front office, I might add, far less top-heavy than San Diego's).

So far, based strictly on what we've seen in the major leagues from homegrown Padres, the farm system that Moores hired Sandy Alderson to construct has been a bust. So far, this team's most exciting young position players are a Rule V draftee (Everth Cabrera) taken from Colorado's low Single-A club last December and an outfielder (Tony Gwynn) plucked from talent-rich Milwuakee in a salary dump two months ago. On the pitching side, homegrown starters such as Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos -- all taken fairly high in the draft -- have yet to show they can become anything more than No. 5 candidates, at best.

The front office that insisted that hitting coach Wally Joyner was a problem last summer and replaced him with Jim Lefebvre has discovered maybe Joyner wasn't a problem. Some hitters -- not all -- have tuned out Lefebvre. Some never tuned in, because they associated him with Alderson and Fuson.

Sure, the Padres have been hit hard by injuries.

The club badly misses the know-how and fire of players now injured, such as David Eckstein, Chris Young and Jake Peavy.

Were you surprised when those players were injured? I was not, despite knowing that each of them trains quite hard.

It had to be demoralizing for Padres players to see a productive, good teammate such as Scott Hairston get traded for three minor leaguers this month.

What's more, frequent losing and the long summer will make any team look flat. In April, the Padres looked perky and resourceful.

But this year, the Padres are plumbing new depths. One should hope this is the bottom. I doubt that it is.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this.
    I have often felt that the UT sort of "plays the game" and doesn't say what they really think.
    I am surprised you find this team worse than the firesale team, or was that before you arrived?
    Anyway, thanks again.
    There is a great deal of frustration amongst fans, but I often feel there is confusion about where to direct that frustration. I tend to blame the front office.

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  2. Who is overly comfortable? Who is lounging in the clubhouse? If specific players are acting like they don't care, point them out.

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  3. Tom;

    An excellent analysis of an unfortunate situation, thank you.

    It's nice to see an independent voice publicly observing the futility with a strong understanding of the subject. I look forward to future entries!

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  4. Kras, Thanks for fighting the good fight. Of all the sports writers for the UT, you should have been the last one standing. I can't believe they kept Canepa.

    I had mention on another Padre forum today before I read your blog that this is the worse Padre team I have seen in 29 years of following them closely. No one in this organization is taking any responsibility. The players are just going, no hustle or minds into the games. Gaudin doesn't even know how many outs there are last night. Guys are missing signs and Black and staff are not firing about up. I have seen plenty of bad Padre teams but this goes way beyond that.
    If I were Jeff Moorad I would be furious.

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  5. This season is for sure the worst that I've seen of the pads for as along as I been a fan. Those kids don't realize how big of an opportunity they're getting by being able to play in the majors. No other team(Maybe the nats)will provide them with this kind of opportunity to this so-called "talented" rookies, if they got any talent as many scouts say, then they better start showing it and make the best of it because they should know that they still got lots and lots to prove on this level. Somebody needs to chew their ears off and ask more of these players, and I don't see buddy with that type of character.

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  6. I don't want to forget the 3 year run of competitive/play-off teams we had just 18 short months ago, but the attitude and performance of this team screams for a major shake up of the "top heavy" front office.

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  7. the three years of production of playoff runs this team had were an accident. The teams in the NL worst were just not good...at all...that made the padres winner of the division by default. They haven't been a threat outside the division since 1998. John Moores money grab has been great for the downtown community and that area is forever changed for the better, I just wished he had hired people who cared more about the product and not the bottom line to run the team. Then at least you would be scouting without a dollar sign next to the name...at least the scouting would be correct. Plus they wouldn't be leaving all those businesses around the ballpark hoping for good attendance at the games for their bottom line hanging.

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  8. @Graham: I was about to argue that the 2006 title wasn't because of a "Bad" division, ( the NL west had the wild card) but on closer inspection our record was inflated by how bad the central division was that year.

    vs E 16-18
    vs C 26-12
    vs W 39-36

    I guess you are right, but you have to remember that anybody can win the playoffs if they get hot at the right time (SL won the world series in 2006 with one of the worst regular season records in baseball)


    I still think that it is unfair to compare the teams from the last half of the season + this season to the 2004-2007 vintage. Those teams, while unspectacular, were competitive. The "youth movement" has changed the team for the worst so far.

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  9. AYEg123,
    Last year was not a youth movement. It was a team that collapsed.
    In fact I don't consider this year a youth movement either. It is more of a team cleaning house. It is not as if the minors were stocked with players ready to come in and fill the ranks, and replacing the aging vets.

    Salary has dictated this roster, ....not age.

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