One Day, They Will Be Less Young and Less Awful

It is difficult to watch the Padres right now. Between Cory Luebke’s Monday night clinic on how not to field the pitcher position, Rob Johnson’s excellent Gary Bennett impersonation (hey, there’s a 2-0 slider; I’ll bet if I swing, I can pop it up to shortstop), and the team’s general offensive incompetence, there just isn’t much reason to cheer.

Did I say incompetence? This year’s Padres have been shut out 16 times through 111 games, or 14 percent of the time. Only once in 43 seasons have they been blanked more often at the same point in the season. That would be the inaugural 1969 club, which was shut out 18 times. So yeah, thank goodness Jesus Guzman cranked a solo homer with two out in the ninth against Joe Saunders last week.

The current team is bad, but we’ve seen worse in recent years… much worse:

Year  W  L  Pct  RS  RA  Dif
2002 66 96 .407 662 815 -153
2003 64 98 .395 678 831 -153
2008 63 99 .389 637 764 -137

At least this year’s run differential is only -34. Hey, the Padres should put that on a T-shirt. Or “Not As Bad As 2008.” (This is why I didn’t go into marketing.)

The good news is that when things are bad, they tend to get better. It may take a while (compare, e.g., 1981 to 1984, 1993 to 1996, or 2003 to 2006), but unless you’re the Pirates or Royals, eventually you start winning again.

Teams operating on a shoestring budget must take certain measures to facilitate the process:

  1. Draft and develop young talent – The Padres have struggled in this area, but appear to be making some progress.
  2. Make good trades – Kevin Towers was a master, and Jed Hoyer appears to be no slouch (or perhaps you miss Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica?).
  3. Avoid handing out big contracts to mediocre players – The Padres haven’t done this since the days of Wiki Gonzalez, Kevin Jarvis, and Bubba Trammell; even they weren’t as crippling as, say, Kansas City’s inexplicable signings of Jose Guillen and Gil Meche.

To that first point, the trading away of Mike Adams and Ryan Ludwick has opened up opportunities for internal advancement. Erik Hamren, a 24-year-old right-hander, came up to take Adams’ spot on the roster, while Blake Tekotte (24) and Aaron Cunningham (25) help fill the void left by Ludwick (insert “Ludwick was his own void” joke here).

Add them to a foundation of Chase Headley (27), Cameron Maybin (24), Mat Latos (23), and Luebke (26), and things don’t look so bad. I mean, they don’t look great, but baby steps.

Even guys like Ernesto Frieri (25), Josh Spence (23), and Anthony Bass (23) — who admittedly get a boost from pitching half their games at Petco Park — have been useful. Kyle Blanks (24) and Logan Forsythe (24)? Not so much, but they’ve got time to fix that.

If there aren’t many stars in this group, at least there are some players who should make the Padres more watchable in the near future. That’s something, right? It’s better than the promise of Guillen and Meche (or even Gonzalez, Jarvis, and Trammell).

Down on the farm, more prospects are making strides toward San Diego. Southpaw Robbie Erlin, acquired in the Adams trade, worked six shutout innings in his organizational debut at San Antonio. Outfielder Rymer Liriano (20) is enjoying a breakout campaign (.327/.389/.522, 48 SB) at Low-A Fort Wayne. The Padres even went way over slot to sign seventh-round pick Matt Wisler, a high school right-hander who had committed to Ohio State.

Not all of these kids will succeed. In fact, most of them won’t. As Orlando Hudson reminds us, if baseball were easy, everyone would be doing it.

But the more talent you develop, the better your chances are that some of that talent will end up contributing at the big-league level. And increasing the odds of success is the name of the game.

Well, that and winning. Baby steps…

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12 Responses »

  1. Question to all you Padres Farmland Gurus, is Vincent Belnome a legit prospect? He does seem a tad bit old for AA (23) but he has progressed nicely and has hit at every level (with a slight dip in Lake Elsinore). I have never really seen him on any prospect lists but it looks like he has a MLB level bat if he can stick at 2B. Is there any chance he would be called up in september or get a look in next years camp?

  2. Isn’t it time Crash Davis got a shot at the catching job?

  3. My best guess with Belnome is that he will get a look in Spring Training, but isn’t seen as anything more than a utility player or trade chip – yet. His age works against him as a prospect, especially with Hudson coming back next year, but if he somehow got to the big club and got some hits, Buddy would give him ABs. Bud Black looks desperate with the Padres batting, and seems like he’s juggling the players he’s got looking for one who can hit.

    That might be part of the problem, in that younger hitters need to get their feet planted in the game, and having to look at the lineup card every day to see if and where they’re playing can make younger guys press. It’s tough to hit when you’re not settled at a position and fel you have to produce to get to play tomorrow.

    Sure, Buddy played Rizzo every day, he HAD to, but I notice it took only 10 games for Bud to start platooning him. Blanks got platooned from day one, and was used a couple times as a late inning defensive upgrade at first over Guzman, who can hit but can’t field anywhere. I can’t really blame Bud for his lineup juggling, platooning ways, but some of these guys have potential and aren’t getting a solid chance to succeed, and if they can’t get that chance with a last place club, where can they get it?

  4. 3rd hand news … according to a comment at MadFriars …

    From Baseball America Chat Today w/Jim Callis:

    Dave (Santee, CA): What are the chances that San Diego is able to sign all 4 remaining high picks – Ross/Kelly/Austin/Hedges? They did just save some $$ with the Ludwick and Adams deals…

    Jim Callis: I’m hearing they’re not particularly close on Ross right now, but I still think all 33 first-round picks will sign. I think the Padres get the top three guys done but will believe Hedges signs when I see it.

  5. Glad to see Wisler sign, another HS upside pitcher. If all but Hedges sign then the Padres will have done well. They would also get a comp pick for failing to sign a 2nd rounder. The Padres have a lot of talent in AA and at AAA/ml level right now. The AAA/ml players are all young and the Padres job the rest of the season is to evaluate them to see who is in the long term plans. Now the Padres appear to be reloading the lower levels with guys like Barbato, Wisler, Ruiz, Needy, and the yet to sign HS kids. Good things brewing on the farm.

  6. For what it’s worth, an ESPN blogger thinks Hoyer did quite well with the Adams trade:

  7. I was about to post about how the Pads are about to threaten some books on 1-0 losses this year, till I did a bit of googling and see that Fergie Jenkins lost 5 1-0 games by himself one season, and in another lost nine times when the Cubbies were shut out (he threw 30 complete games and these were 9 of his 12 losses).

  8. Hedges will sign. A friend of mine is a coach at his high school, says the deal is done.

  9. The real question is when? Last year might have hurt the overall organization more than helped it since everyone got a taste of winning during a rebuilding period. It was naive, but I thought the Padres would at least compete this year.. maybe not 1st, but at least be around 2nd or 3rd place and keep things interesting. Now I wonder when the Padres can be competitive again?

  10. @Jason – I think the Padres can be competetive again next season if they can put together a quality bench and add a stud catcher.

  11. @PadresFuture – With who playing 1B, LF & RF?

  12. @Steve – Rizzo, Blanks, Guzman will have to man 1b and LF. As for RF, I would like to see the Padres upgrade that position, but if they add a big time catcher and have to go with some combination of Venable/Denorfia/Cunningham/Tekotte – that would be ok.