There’s an art to being the San Diego Padres, a franchise bound by turnover of general managers, team presidents, owners and therefore directions, which helps to explain the club’s current run of, let’s say, mediocrity.
Most years, they hang this piece of, let’s say, art, stand back a ways, and set to adjusting the corners. This side is too high. Then this side is too low. And now this side is too high again. And, sigh, wouldn’t you know, maybe the damned wall is crooked instead, and all the swaying palm trees and cooling marine layers in the world aren’t going to help.
So, what the heck, somebody’s eventually gonna have to put down the level and throw a freakin’ sledgehammer, which brings us to rookie general manager A.J. Preller and the last couple of weeks.
Preller arrived from Texas four months ago with a reputation for untiring competitiveness, that coming from his work in Latin America for the Rangers and, perhaps somewhat, a spidery frame that suggested he more than once chose the job over lunch. In the process of identifying a successor to Josh Byrnes, Preller was dubbed the maverick candidate, the dude who, if necessary, would machete a path to organizational relevance.
So far, that’s sledgehammers and machetes, if you’re counting imageries.
Well, here we are, Christmas still days away, and the Padres have been pounded and slashed into something that is at the very least eye-catching, at the very best a contender in the NL West, and in any case a perfect representation of a maverick’s spirit.
The Padres are no longer boring.
Wielding primarily the spoils of a farm system built by predecessors Josh Byrnes, Jed Hoyer and their people, and momentarily stepping away from the adage that life in a small market means the long, slow trudge of draft-and-develop construction, Preller, by some counts, traded away nine of the club’s top 21 prospects. In so doing, and by lumping in the likes of his starting catcher and a pitcher who started 12 games last season, Preller came away with, among other things, one of the more intriguing outfields/lineups/storylines in the game.
That’d be Wil Myers in left field, Matt Kemp in center field and Justin Upton in right field. Unless, of course, they decide, like the Los Angeles Dodgers did, that Kemp is ill suited for center field, so Myers plays center field, and maybe that’s best for manager Bud Black to sort out.
In a ballpark long considered a graveyard for fly-ball and home-run hitters, Preller is willing to take that shot. He’s also betting that Myers’ disappointing 2014 was purely a reflection of a broken wrist, that Kemp’s recent injury history is history, and that a single season of Upton (he’s in his walk year) is better than none at all.
They are talented, charismatic ballplayers. And there are reasons the Padres could have them at a price. Same for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, the 26-year-old Preller got from the Boston Red Sox who is looking less and less like a big-league hitter. They also added catcher Derek Norris, which meant that at the end of a wild few days the Padres had brought in three catchers (Norris, Ryan Hanigan, Tim Federowicz), traded away three (Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera and Hanigan) and Friday afternoon were rumored to be interested in veteran David Ross, who eventually agreed with the Cubs.
Preller, in the time it took the rest of us to string our holiday lights, had swung four trades that moved 19 players around five teams. He’d left his ball club with, potentially, seven new opening day position-player starters, the holdover being Jed Gyorko. He still needs to offload a couple of outfielders. He could upgrade at first base. Clint Barmes, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson are coming. And, he still had time left over to bid on Pablo Sandoval, bid on Yasmani Tomas and pester the Dodgers over Kemp’s arthritic hips.
So, yeah, they aren’t the same old Padres anymore. They aren’t boring. They aren’t predictable. They’ll score a run or two. Maybe they’ll be great. Maybe, but probably not, it’ll be a catastrophe. Either way, we can all agree on one thing: they look a lot better on the other end of a sledgehammer.