Let Me Stay Here a While

I am of two minds when it comes to the Padres’ unexpected success in 2010. It is satisfying to know that a team that had the second lowest payroll in baseball and that was given little chance at finishing anywhere other than last in the National League West notched 90 wins (fourth most in 42 seasons of Padres baseball) and wasn’t eliminated from contention until the season’s final day. The team, despite a paucity of resources and talent, battled to the end and represented the city well enough that people in parts of the country accustomed to paying as much attention to San Diego as to Pago Pago had to take notice.

The downside is that once those people took notice, the Padres stumbled badly, recovered, and then fell just short in their bid for a miracle. And so everyone said, “Nice try, kid” or some such and then returned to the business of ignoring our fine city.

Worse, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Padres raised expectations and hopes for the future that may not be realistic in the short run. They also failed to answer questions about several young players expected to help deliver that future. When you are fighting for the right to play October baseball, you can’t afford to run Everth Cabrera out there and hope he suddenly remembers what he’s supposed to be doing on a baseball diamond.

In our season-end open thread, reader The_Slasher14 compared this year’s Padres to the 1969 Mets, which followed their improbable 100-win season with 83, 82, and 82 victories. He concludes with thoughts that I couldn’t have expressed better myself:

…this was a wonderful, wonderful year — one we should always treasure. But there is a lot of work to be done, starting now, if the Padres are to remain contenders. And in 2-3 years we won’t be seeing much of the boys who gave us this marvelous summer.

Yes, there is a lot of work to be done. And the parallels between this club and the Mets of the early ’70s should give us pause and remind us to keep expectations in check. Without knowing what moves Jed Hoyer and company will make, 80-85 wins strikes me as a reasonable baseline for 2011. The Padres played over their heads this year (possibly way over their heads) and are due for a bit of regression.

Incidentally, I’ve heard more than one person suggest that Bud Black should be fired. Right. If coaxing 90 wins out of a 75-win team isn’t immediated grounds for dismissal, then I don’t know what is. On a less facetious note, Black is not a great tactician (or even a good one), but he deserves at least some credit for getting more out of his available talent than any other manager in baseball in 2010.

If fans can recognize this past season for what I believe it was — an anomaly in the middle of a rebuilding phase — and keep hopes in check next year, they just might like what they see. My fear is that 90 wins may spoil folks. Not as much as reaching the playoffs would have, of course, although then at least we could say the team… you know, reached the playoffs.

Now all we can do is concede that everyone who said the Padres would fade were right. And instead of being happy about incremental gains made during a rebuilding year, we get to bemoan an ill-timed losing streak that buried a team that overachieved for the season’s first five months.

There is no way — believe me, I’ve tried them all — not to be frustrated by the outcome. As reader Bruce K. says:

It’s definitely disappointing. To come this far and still fall short will smart for some time. There are enough questions about the roster that need to be answered this off-season that this feels like a lost opportunity.

Reader Alan adds:

I once again was reminded of how terribly disappointing it is to be a San Diego fan. Yes, we came out of nowhere, but once we had a 6 game lead with a month left in the season, there are no excuses. It is such a shame that completely incompetent hitting took what could have been the most accomplished Padres season ever away from this team.


Meanwhile, the Padres missed out on more than just the playoffs. They missed out on the many benefits that come with a postseason appearance. And thanks to their stellar record, they missed out on a good draft position in 2011.

Attendance picked up a bit (over 2 million again after dipping below that mark in ’09 for the first time since 1995) but remains a concern. The economy is one factor; poor showings in ’08 and ’09, as well as the collective disappointment of ’07 and now ’10, probably are others. And there is the ubiquitous “nobody is from here” issue that is just as likely to go away as are those folks who came from other places and continue to root for their hometown team.

Fortunately, Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel appear to have made customer service a priority. They get that this fan base, such as it is, consists of frustrated folks who feel let down by various prior regimes (history will show that John Moores served the team and city well, although the post-1998 letdown and Moores’ failure to magically transform San Diego into a large market on moving the team downtown linger in the minds of many), most notably Tom Werner, who gutted a good team (thank goodness for Randy Smith) and then left town. Trust has been a problem, and the new ownership group is taking measures to engage with folks who feel disillusioned and, in some cases, outright cheated.

Beyond the attendance issues, numerous questions persist. Most of these, starting with Adrian Gonzalez’s future in San Diego and whatever domino effect that decision will cause, do not have easy answers.

I am proud of this year’s squad, probably moreso than I have been of any other Padres team. From a talent standpoint, this group had no business clinging to a playoff hope on the season’s final day. Nobody other than Heath Bell thought the Padres had a chance, and yet, there they were, scaring the bejeezus out of more talented clubs all year long. That is, and always will be, awesome beyond words.

I hope that fans appreciate what the Padres did this year and recognize that it was probably a one-shot deal. I hope that the fight this team showed and the commitment ownership made in procuring help at the trade deadline (even if Ryan Ludwick didn’t work as planned, there is no questioning the intent) when everyone expected them to be shedding their remaining salary will be enough to renew interest among locals. I hope it will be enough to keep folks around even when the Padres end up not being as good next year as they were in 2010.

I hope that this year’s effort, both on the field and by management/ownership, will help engender greater loyalty among the citizens of San Diego. This was a great season; they won’t all be like that. In fact, most of them won’t. But I hope one day to see people show more than a passing interest in the Padres even when they aren’t playing as well as they did this year. I know, I ask too much… I am a dreamer.

Maybe this particular dream will never amount to anything, but wouldn’t it be cool if one day San Diego embraced the Padres the way Boston embraces the Red Sox? Or the way Chicago embraces the Cubs? Or the way Los Angeles embraces the Dodgers?

It will never happen. We are too laid back, our roots too scattered. But I am a dreamer, and now, in the off-season slumber (technically games are being played, but I haven’t seen a single pitch), I imagine a brighter future. The reality of 2011 will come soon enough. Just let me stay here a while; I rather like it.

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19 Responses »

  1. I wonder how much of the playoffs the fans in Boston and Chicago and Los Angeles have been watching because I wonder how much of being a mobilized fan base comes from simply being baseball fans. It seems that the stars really have to align for San Diego to become a baseball town and maybe that’s all there is to say on the matter.

  2. It’s unfair to use the Moe Szyslak standard for judging skippers (Whatever the manager does is wrong, unless it works, and then he’s just a button pusher), but it’s not unfair to wonder if Black’s tactical deficiencies can be fixed. He had Ted Simmons as his bench coach. That’s a pretty smart, experienced resource. Or maybe not so much, if Simmons signed off on some of those decisions.

    My main complaints with Black are:

    1. Workload, best exemplified by Headley, Agon, and Gregerson. Luke didn’t throw that many more innings than Bell or Adams, but he appeared in 80 games, 10 more than Adams. That’s 10 more complete warm-up cycles. After Jerry Hairston was hurt, Black lost the flexibility to do much with Headley, but Hairston wasn’t hurt all year, and after Salazar returned from his bogus DL stay, Black had a RH bat available. Agon was nursing a bum shoulder most of the year; there weren’t more chances to get Stairs or Salazar a spot-start?

    2. Scott Hairston. Not only the decision to use him in the final SF series, but also keeping him around when Black was aware that the shoulder injury was more severe than had been reported. Putting him on the DL is probably a Hoyer decision, but Black should have been screaming for healthy bodies, not protecting Shrek’s feelings.

  3. What the public sees of managing is mostly the in-game tactics and the usage of the players, but there’s a lot more to managing than that. As they say, the manager is responsible for the clubhouse atmosphere and putting players in the best position to succeed, individually and as a team.

    Positioning the players is part of the tactics of the game that most fans don’t notice, and Adrian alluded to how good Black and/or his staff are at that. The positioning may have made Tejada’s defense look better than it actually was. The unflappability of “Mr. Freeze” is something that also impresses the players and inspires confidence. I was in the Navy, and sailors cherished a skipper who could keep his head in a crisis. Confidence in leadership is vital in baseball too.

    Bud has one attribute that will keep him manager for a long time. He’s like Norm Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation. He was a token Democrat in the Bush cabinet and topped the list of people most likely to be fired. But he stayed on into Bush’s second term until he reached 65 and decided to retire from public service, leaving on his own terms.

    Dan Walters of the Sacto Bee described Mineta as a guy who could speak to reporters for a solid hour off the cuff, without notes, on transportation issues. At the end of it, reporters noticed that he never provided a single memorable quote, but gave them the clear (and accurate) impression that he knew transportation issues inside and out. Most important, he also never said a single thing that could get his boss in any kind of trouble. Bud Black does exactly the same thing.

  4. What are the elements that go into the bottom line of an evaluation of a manager? At a high level, there’s tangible factors and intangible factors. The tangible factors are what are clearly visible to fans: the lineups and the in-game decisions. In this area, I believe Bud Black is a net negative … I feel like his decisions contribute to 2-3 extra wins, and contribute to 4-5 extra losses … for a net of about -2 wins. And therefore it’s easy for me to understand people who feel that Bud cost the 2010 Padres a spot in the playoffs. But I’m also confident that Bud’s value in the intangible factors are positive. The players seem to like him … and they certainly got more Ws than any of us expected. I give Bud a +4 here … for a net +2. These numbers don’t really mean anything … just a way to express the sense I have for Bud’s value and impact on the team’s bottom line (Ws). Better than Bochy? Eh, perhaps … perhaps not … neither feel far from average.

  5. Are people really calling for Bud Black’s head? Do you think it was luck that the Padres went into late August without losing three in a row? That’s FOCUS, and it comes from having a leader who turns the cliche about playing them one at a time into reality. Any manager will make good and bad decisions in the course of a season. What very few managers are able to do is define a way to win games — in the case of the Padres a very limited way — and get 25 guys to max out their contributions to that process. And add to that the fact that after the collapse did come, the Padres were still fighting up to the last day.

    Because Petco is the park that it is, the Padres of the future are going to have to continue to win on run prevention first and an offense which can manufacture runs second. Black has shown that he can manage such a team very, very well. Hoyer giving him an extension was a no-brainer.

  6. Besides the lack of development time that some of the youngsters needed this season due to the success of the team, it’s the draft position that’s worrisome. However, the failure to sign the first draft pick this year turned into a boon for next year’s draft for the Padres since now the organization has a top 15 draft pick in addition to the regular draft position based on this season’s record.

    Expectations for next season certainly would be higher but perhaps not that much higher than had this year’s squad ended up with about a .500 record. It’s the development time that was lagging from this season’s success. On the other hand, maybe this year’s success can motivate the players to work just that much harder to try and replicate the success sooner.

    The outfield is probably set no matter how the Ludwick situation turns out. The infield, however, is another matter with the middle up for grabs, and possibly Gonzalez being traded (either before or during the upcoming season). Bullpen is going to regress but not for lack of arms. The starting rotation, however, after Latos & Richards is going to be a bit rough. Without knowing which FA starter are coming, it’ll be quite a bit of an adjustment to the rotation that was better than expected. Being at .500 again next season isn’t a crazy notion.

  7. I wouldn’t want to see Black canned — I think Bochy may have been better tactically, but I could be remembering late Bochy more than early Bochy, and his preference for known mediocrity over unproven youngsters wouldn’t be a good fit for the future Padres. But…

    The 10-game slide and the generally blah play in September do bother me. If we’re going to give Black credit for contributing to the wins, it’s only fair to apportion him some blame for losing, and in those 6 weeks, losing 4 games to Arizona and 3 to the Cubs and looking absolutely awful in dropping 3 to the Cardinals. To put it in The Slasher’s terms, if Black helped them focus on “one game at time” for 125 games, what happened from then on? I’m sure it was a lot of things, but whatever Buddy was doing before then to help the team focus, it stopped working in a big way around game 126.

    I have no idea whether he could have done anything different that would have resulted in fewer losses, but the mirror image of “We wouldn’t have won 90 without him” is “We wouldn’t have lost 72, either.” Or, to use Larry’s example, a cool head doesn’t prevent a good skipper from going to flank speed or taking evasive action if the situation calls for it. It seems to me that Buddy steered a straight course at standard speed the whole year.

    I’m also not sure that this year proved that “the” way to win at Petco is with run prevention. In the other successful Petco years (04, 06, 07), we won 42, 43, and 47 games at home, compared to 45 this season, and our win totals were 87, 88, and 89, versus 90. You could even throw the 46 home win 2005 team in there, with maybe the worst defense and starting pitching of all. Those teams represent several styles of offense with widespread differences in defense, speed, and pitching (mostly in the starters, the pen has always been good). So 2010 shows “a” way to win in Petco, and possibly a way that makes the most financial success for a team living hand to mouth, but other ways work, too.

  8. I’m afraid Slasher’s comp isn’t the right one since the Mets, you know, won the freakin’ World Series.

    Unfortunately, this club feels a lot more like the 2008 Diamondbacks, who went into the final weekend of the season with a chance to overtake the Dodgers and claim the division. Like our beloved Friars, that team had no business being in contention and was an example of the total being greater than the sum of its parts.

    They also went on to drop 189 games over the next two seasons…

  9. Great post, Geoff! I think you have expressed what many of us are feeling: a surprisingly great season, but also very disappointing. I, too, view this year as an anomaly, not a building block.

    I would also like to thank you for a season of enjoyable reading and a job well done. It has been a pleasure to stop by here several times a week and read your insights about the team. Even in those random cases where I disagree with you strongly, I still value your work and effort very much.

    I’ll still be stopping by this off-season, but not so often.

  10. I’m a native Texan and still live in the heart of Texas and have never even been to San Diego so I can’t speak to the regional anomalies. Thanks to the miracle of technology I’ve seen 130 – 150 games a season since 2004 so I do have some feel for how the team is doing, although, maybe not as much as you guys out there. I have been a lifelong fan of the Padres since the early seventies, however, and it seems like maybe the new ownership group is on the right track. At least they tried to get help for the stretch drive even if some of their effort wasn’t successful.

    I agree with Slasher-14, Black is an excellent manager to get 90 wins out of this bunch. While the execution of fundamentals still isn’t great, they’re light years ahead of Bruce Bochy’s Pads. Also, I don’t think I ever saw Bochy remove a pitcher before the damage was already done. At least Black often gets them out before a big inning is already on the board. The players also usually run out infield grounders; Bochy’s teams rarely did. I still puke at the thought of Sean Burroughs and Phil Nevin (among others) practically walking to first on infield grounders. Maybe losing Ted Simmons will hurt on the tactical front, I don’t know; it’s possible they hire someone of similar quality.

    I definitely agree that tempered expectations are in order here. The Padres will probably experience growing pains as the young guys continue to develop with probably some turnover in the journeyman veterans and what they bring to the team. Also, don’t the Pads get draft picks if Tejada and several others are offered arbitration and elect free agency? I just hope for a .500 record again.

  11. Didi, bite your tongue! It’s way too early to be thinking of regression to .500 ball, maybe not even until the next season is well underway. If, next season, the great pitching, the tight defense, or especially, the run manufacturing aren’t there, then yes, merely .500 is possible.

    Remember, this team finished 2009 with the kids believing in themselves and it carried over to this year for 5/6 of the season. I personally didn’t want to see any mid-season moves made, just let the kids finish what they started. The danger now is the front office thinking, “Well, we’re a competitive club now so it’s time to replace some of the kids with veterans who can hit 3-run homers.”

    Fortunately (or unfortunately), the team’s financial situation is not much different. There will be some tinkering, like last offseason, but just as this season was to see if the team that ended 2009 was for real, next season will be to see if this year’s team was for real. The team really can’t afford to do much more.

    Most of the low-priced kids will be back, with the team’s philosophy intact, and maybe with something to prove – that 2010 wasn’t a fluke, and with a little more potential converted to performance, the kids can go all the way. Falling just short might have been the best lesson the kids could have gotten. I’m looking forward to seeing the team play hungry.

  12. Great discussion, guys!

    @Larry: You have hit Black’s strengths on the head. One of my favorite aspects of his style is the way he interacts with umpires. He will defend his players, but always in a diplomatic manner. I like that he talks to people rather than at them; I suspect this trait gives him ears and opportunities that another approach might not.

    @The_Slasher14: Believe it or not, I have heard a few folks call for Black’s firing. It’s a small group of people, but given how the team performed this year in light of expectations, I’m surprised it exists at all.

    @Didi: You raise an excellent point about failing to sign Karsten Whitson. Next year’s compensation pick (and the Padres’ ability to sign whomever they take with it) looms even larger now.

    @TW: I completely agree that if we give Black credit for coaxing 90 wins out of this team, we also must assign some blame for the 10-game skid. IMHO, given the talent at his disposal, the former outweighs the latter. If you’d asked anyone before the season whether the 2010 Padres were more likely to lose 10 games in a row at some point or go through a 125-game stretch in which they never lost more than 3 in a row, I’m pretty sure they all would say the same thing. That reflects well on Black.

    I also agree that there is more than one way to win at Petco. As a team operating under tight financial constraints, the Padres would be wise to explore and exploit as many of them as possible.

    @Mike: The comparison between this year’s Padres and the ’69 Mets isn’t perfect, but the main takeaway is that, just as those Mets fell a bit after that fine season, these Padres are likely to do the same. As for the ’08 D’backs, this team played better than them and I expect that to continue going forward. Next year’s Padres probably won’t be serious contenders (I’m thinking third place, behind Col and SF), but neither should they collapse. Either way, as long as the front office continues to focus on the long term, we will be okay.

    @parlo: Glad you enjoyed the ride. Thanks so much for being a part of it, and drop in when you can!

  13. Since we seem to be talking projections for 2011 here, I’ll say that unless Colorado runs away with the division, the Padres may well contend again. The Giants, pitching and Posey aside, are getting old. Their nucleus on the field this year was castoffs and not-quites, most of whom will regress (if they’re even retained). ‘Zona and the Dodgers will probably improve some but not a lot. If the Rockies play as they did this year, the NL West could be won with less than 85 victories.

    Of course, since at this point nobody really knows who the Padres will put on the field next year, it’s hard to say if they can win that many. But while some regression is inevitable, it may not necessarily knock our boys out of contention.

  14. Regarding next season’s rotation, at this point anything’s possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both CY and Garland back in our rotation next year. Garland could easily opt out, but after CY worked his way back I see no reason we wouldn’t exercise his option.

    After this season, a rotation of Latos, CY, Garland, Richard, and Stauffer doesn’t sound bad to me (admittedly an entirely different opinion than what I held before the beginning of the 2010 season :-) .

  15. @Pat

    I see 8,500,000 reasons why we wouldn’t exercise Young’s option. That’s 25% of the probable payroll. It was great that he made it back, but he’s pitched 96 innings the last 2 years combined, 198 over the last 3 years. There are too many free agents who will be attracted to Petco to pay the full option. If Young comes back, it will be at an enormous discount.

    I’d take Garland, Young, and even a third veteran from the injured/off-year/looking to rebuild value pile (Harang, Bush, Harden, Webb, and others).

  16. Really, Tom? A third veteran? After Latos, there’s Richard, who won 14 games and is a lefty, and it looks like Stauffer has an inside track at a spot in the rotation. Would you put one of those veterans in the bullpen replacing Stauffer in long relief/spot start duty? What about LeBlanc, who’d be cheaper than any veteran in that role? Should Luebke spend another year in AAA, in reserve? I’d kind of like to see more of him on the big club.

    If you bring back Garland and Torrealba, sign Young for $2-3 mil, bring back Ludwick for $7-8 mil, bring back Jerry hairston for a couple mil, keep Bell and others in arbitration, and pay Adrian his option, you’re well over $40 mil, even after losing Correia’s $4 mil, dropping Salazar and Stairs, and having Hoffpauir’s minimum replace Eckstein’s $1 mil.

    Moorad said the payroll would begin with “4″, but he said that last year, too. Attendance went up 222k, but ticket and concession prices went down, so there doesn’t seem to be much extra revenue coming in. If you’re Moorad, do you let Jed pick up options and sign veterans or tell him to keep the kids who will play for ML minimum and let the payroll just inch over the “4″? I think I know the answer to that.

  17. Absolutely, Larry. We got Young back in September this year, we had Garland, and we still needed more arms. Stauffer is no spring chicken, but his highest IP count was 168, and that was in 2004. Latos was pushed well beyond what available medical science suggests would have been ideal. Young’s September means very little for Young’s April-May-June availability, given his injury history. LeBlanc never needs to start for the Padres again; he’s a somewhat better, sinister version of Josh Geer. I also assume that most of the pitchers I listed wouldn’t be ready to start the season and would sign in the 1-2 million range. Most importantly, those vets have the potential to be more than just league-average contributors. Garland’s production was very valuable, but at the end of the season, he gave us a 106 ERA+ across 200 innings. We needed that (and will need it again), badly, but we could also use 90 innings of (potential) 115 ERA+. Basically, we’d be signing the mid-season SP reinforcement we didn’t trade for this season.

    My opening day rotation would be Latos-Richard-Garland-Stauffer-Luebke. If Young is actually healthy, he takes Luebke’e spot. The third veteran starter would be rehabbing, most likely. Everybody who isn’t hurt will eventually get a shot — the odds of going another season with such a healthy starting rotation are slim.

    I wouldn’t bring back Torrealba at his option price. His offense was radically better than it had been since 2002. That’s a decision I’d make irrespective of the starting pitching. I don’t think Ludwick gets much, if any, raise.

  18. The money/player appropriation is variable, obviously. If we can roll the money from Torrealba’s option and the proposed 3rd veteran rehab project into a starting position player like Orlando Hudson, that seems like a better idea. But I figure that no position players will be falling over themselves to play in San Diego, while we can get a discount on a lot of arms.

  19. Can we take a moment to examine the attendance issue please? According to the census website median household income for San Diego county is $63727 with a population of 2.8 million, San Francisco county is $71957 with a population of 781K, Los Angeles county median income is $55192 with a population of 9.6 million. The Padres averaged 26318 in attendance, Giants 37499 and Dodgers 43979. Now, taking into account the fact that the Giants and Dodgers basically have to share their fanbase with another team each, not to mention that there is who knows how many people across the border who can come to the Padres games and I think you can draw a singular conclusion: The Padres are horrible at marketing their team. The economy is a pisspoor excuse when a city with a quarter of the population in the same financial position as San Diego can draw over 40% more fans, and share the population with the A’s.

    The reason has more to do with a predisposed notion of “They’re the Padres, they will lose.” You can’t fix this without winning. You can’t win without putting some higher priced pieces into the mix in certain spots and keeping your homegrown superstar, for which you don’t have an in house replacement readily available. Market the team around Agon, sign him, draw the fans from Mexico, establish an identity that you don’t have yet, which is a winning identity, and be PATIENT! Winning doesn’t happen overnight, and you don’t change perceptions overnight. Much like people expect congress and the white house to fix the country overnight, it’s unrealistic. When you plant a seed, you don’t get tomatoes the next day, you have to water it, feed it and nurture it.

    There is a good core of pitching and defense in SD, the outfield with Ludwick, Venable and Denorfia/Cunningham is more than serviceable. Ludwick has a track record that suggests he will be above average in Petco, Venable has too much upside to get rid of and there is nobody available better. You need to address the anemic offense up the middle and get a new TV contract that allows you to market your team to all 2.8 million in the county, vice the pittance that gets Cox 4. Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, won a series four years later, and then waited 18 YEARS to recreate the magic, which coincidentally happened when Gene Michael and Bob Watson were allowed to build from within, and then KEEP THEM! The Twins win with the same financial constraints, and a median family income of $47K. They do it with smart financial decisions, keeping the select homegrown superstar and good drafting. It can be done, you just need to do it smartly and not hope for miracles. I went to ~20 games this year and I’m a Yankees fan, how many did the average reader here go to? Put your money where your mouth is San Diego and stop whining.