Since we last discussed the San Diego Padres catcher situation, a lot has happened:

  • Yasmani Grandal turned in an up-and-down campaign in 2014 after rushing a return from ACL surgery, showing signs of offensive brilliance while also failing to build on his sensational 2012 debut. On the defensive side of the ball, he had some trouble with blocking pitches and only threw out 13 percent of would-be base thieves, but he remained one of the game’s best pitch framers.
  • Rene Rivera somehow emerged as an offensive force, hitting .252/.319/.432 in 329 plate appearances, finishing third on the team in home runs (11) despite the limited playing time. Rivera also excelled behind the dish, seemingly becoming everyone’s favorite guy to throw to along with posting gaudy defensive stats.
  • Rivera’s emergence as Defense-First Catcher, Now With Capable Bat left Nick Hundley as the odd-man out. Despite much improved framing numbers after apparently devoting more time to the craft, another slow start with the bat made it easy for the Padres to deal Hundley to Baltimore in May for Troy Patton.
  • And Austin Hedges, rated as high as the 18th best prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus last offseason, completely flopped offensively in his first full-season attempt at Double-A. Hedges hit .225/.268/.321 in 457 PAs in San Antonio, with 23 walks compared to 89 strikeouts. The defense — even though some say it took a slight step back in 2014 — is still all-world, but the bat becomes more of a pressing question heading forward. The 22-year-old Hedges has plenty of time to turn it around in the minor leagues, but another trip through Double-A is likely. With Grandal and Rivera in the majors, there’s no rush.

With Hundley out of the picture and Hedges on hold, we’re left with Grandal and Rivera as the current catching combo on the big league roster. When you have an embarrassment of riches at one position and glaring holes at others, there tends to be some discussion about moving players around. First base is one of those holes, as Yonder Alonso has failed to live up to the line-drive, high on-base percentage hype that accompanied him when the Padres acquired him back in late-2011 and Tommy Medica, despite occasional flashes, has yet to show that he possesses enough consistency for an everyday role. Alonso’s batting average hasn’t approached .300 in San Diego and his OBP dipped to .285 last year which is, even before you consider his powerless approach, unacceptable at first base. Medica blasted nine home runs in just 259 major league PAs last year, but he also walked just 14 times while striking out 75.

So, maybe the simple solution is to move Grandal to first base full-time and then let Rivera take over as the everyday catcher. It’s a move that makes so much sense that the Padres tried it plenty of times last year, giving Grandal 33 starts at first base throughout the season, with 18 of them coming in September. There are a few reasons why, in this humble author’s opinion anyway, Grandal shouldn’t trade in the catcher’s mitt for a first basemen’s glove just yet:

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The San Diego Padres mid-season firing of general manager Josh Byrnes seems to have triggered front office upheaval in the rest of the National League West.* Since then, the Arizona Diamondbacks fired Kevin Towers and hired Dave Stewart/ De Jon Watson (which we discussed last month), the Colorado Rockies promoted from within with Jeff Bridich replacing the departing Dan O’Dowd, and now the Los Angeles Dodgers have shifted longtime GM Ned Colletti to a senior advisor role and plucked Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays to be their president of baseball operations.

*The Giants, who just punched their biennial ticket to the World Series, likely won’t be making any major front office changes anytime soon. 

The reaction to that last bit of news — the part about the Dodgers hiring Friedman — was a resounding “Oh, shit!” to NL West fans that don’t root for LA. If you haven’t followed Friedman closely, the biggest thing to know is, well, that he helped transform the Rays from a perennial laughing stock to a perennial contender, and he did it all on a shoe-string budget. Tampa Bay’s short existence as a franchise allows us to neatly separate its history into two periods:

Pre-Andrew Friedman Era (1998-2005) Andrew Friedman Era (2006-2014)
65-97 average record 84-78 average record

Friedman led the Rays to their first division title, their first playoff appearance, and their first American League pennant all in 2008. The Rays have reeled off five 90-plus win seasons, two division titles, and four playoff appearances since Friedman took the reins as general manager, and they’ve done it in the ultra competitive American League East with the high-rolling Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

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Sometimes it’s fun to revisit places we’ve been. It’s good to see how the world has changed, how we have changed. Every so often here at Son of a Duck, we’ll grab an old Ducksnorts article out of the vault and mark it up with red pen. Enjoy!

[Original article posted 7/11/99]

Last month the all stars from two Class-A leagues clashed at the Lake Elsinore Diamond to display their talents and bring victory to their league. My wife and I left work early and drove the hour or so up I-15 to the check out the game.

We parked in a dirt lot (overflow parking for the big crowd) adjacent to the stadium, and as we made our way into the state-of-the-art facility, the home run hitting contest was just getting underway. After the obligatory stop at the gift shop to pick up a Lake Elsinore Storm cap, we stood in the concourse and watched Chin-Feng Chen, of the San Bernardino Stampede (Dodgers), knock a ball out of the park. Visalia Oaks (Athletics) first baseman Todd Mensik ended up winning the contest.

The lot has since been paved, and there are now houses behind it. I’ve had so many Storm caps over the years, I can’t remember which one this was. I’m thinking red and black, the one my late pug Toby ate. This was the year I saw the Angels’ Ramon Ortiz make a rehab start for the Storm, pitching against Padres prospect Mike Bynum.

And I’m still baffled at Chen. Dude was a big-time prospect (Baseball America had him ranked no. 17 before the 2000 season) who never made it, never even got a chance, logging a total of 25 plate appearances over four cups of coffee with the Dodgers before returning to his native Taiwan. He played in the 2007 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Olympics, and now plays for the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Lamigo Monkeys. (I can’t find stats, but here’s video of Chen drawing a walk against his former Dodgers teammate Hong-Chih Kuo in September. Also, that crowd is seriously into the ballgame.)

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The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBBA) was founded in 2009 with the purpose of encouraging collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The Alliance also votes on various awards at different times in the year, including end of season awards.  

A pitcher hasn’t won the National League MVP award since 1968 when Bob Gibson won it during the “Year of the Pitcher.” Bob Gibson’s numbers that year are so eye-popping they are almost hard to believe.

ERA: 1.12 (Live Ball Era Record)

IP: 304.2

BA Against: .184

SO: 268

HRs: 11 (11!)

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I call it a “Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage”

It’s been a while since I wrote anything that wasn’t a While You Were Drinking or a news item.  And let’s be honest.  There’s only so many ways someone can say “this team sucks” and not come off as a total prick.  But make no mistake, this Padres team definitely sucked this year.

Yeah, sure, they finished with more wins than any of the previous three seasons.  By one.  One win.  I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you how the Padres have exceeded expectations after their horrific offensive start.  Sorry if you think I will.

Despite what some people may think they know about my opinions of other Padres’ fans, I believe the majority of fans are smarter than given credit for.  And that you all deserve straight talk, not bulls**t.

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of this over the course of the last couple weeks.  It’s very stream of consciousness, so it’s all over the place.  I don’t even know if it’s readable for anyone who’s not me.  But, there you go.  You’ve been warned.

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The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBBA) was founded in 2009 with the purpose of encouraging collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The Alliance also votes on various awards at different times in the year, including end of season awards.

Award season.  That time-honored tradition of someone deciding who or what should get something for their performance.  Movies have the Academy Awards.  TV has the Emmy’s.  Baseball has the ESPY’s Baseball Writers Association of America‘s end of season awards.

None of the folks in the BBBA are likely members of the BBWAA.  At least I don’t think so.  I do know that no one in the San Diego chapter is.  So we get to make up our own awards.  Which is nice.

Last week, Padres Trail gave you the first category, Manager of the Year.  Today, I get the chance to show you who we selected for Reliever of the Year and Pitcher of the Year.

There are no Padres pitchers on our collective ballots for the Reliever of the Year or Pitcher of the Year, despite Padres Trail’s blatant attempts at homerism by putting Tyson Ross on his ballot.  Sorry.  That’s life.

This is my first year in the BBBA, which means that these are the first awards I’ve ever voted on.  And no, I don’t count the McRib Awards from last year.  No one should count those.  Ever.

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If there’s one thing that the San Diego Padres have become synonymous with in recent years, it’s not the acquisition of high-priced free agents. In fact, when the Padres doled out a combined three years and $23.5 million to pitchers Joaquin Benoit and Josh Johnson last offseason – a paltry sum in today’s market – it represented a relative spending outburst in San Diego, at least compared to previous offseasons that were highlighted by low(er)-budget pickups like Jason Marquis, Mark Kotsay, and Micah Owings.

So when you heard that the Padres might have some interest in the latest Cuban phenom Yasmany Tomas, you probably didn’t get too excited. Sure, newly crowned general manager AJ Preller is renowned for his work in foreign markets, but a serious run at Tomas – a likely very expensive Tomas, with rumors that his payday could easily exceed the $72.5 million deal fellow countrymen Rusney Castillo signed with the Boston Red Sox in August – seemed unlikely. Then, on October 4th, it was reported that the Padres held a private workout for Tomas. Hmm, intriguing. October 8th brought news that the Padres held another private workout for Tomas in the Dominican Republic from Baseball America‘s Ben Badler, vaulting the Padres from fringe players into serious suitors in the Tomas sweepstakes.

Badler’s report noted that AJ Preller — the working GM — was in attendance for the workout:

Padres general manager A.J. Preller attended Tomas’ workout yesterday and was also among the Padres officials who were at his open showcase at the Giants’ Dominican complex on Sept. 21. In between, the Padres also held another private workout for Tomas, so they have seen him three times within the last three weeks. Padres vice president of scouting operations Don Welke and vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya have also scouted Tomas in the Dominican Republic.

Since then, no major news has broke regarding the Padres and Tomas, but the buzz of excitement in Padresland at the prospect of landing a major free agent has at least reached the decibel level of an Odrisamer Despaigne fastball. Vocal Minority Nate used the movie Joe Versus the Volcano to say that the Padres should take the leap and ink Tomas to a deal. At the Union-Tribune, Matt Calkins has similar views, telling San Diego that, “If Tomas checks out, you need to adopt that famous swoosh-making mantra and just… freakin’… do it.” And other local blogs like Friars on Base, Friarhood, and Gaslamp Ball feel largely the same way.

There’s something different about going after a big-time free agent, something that adds an additional dose or three of intrigue to the usual offseason proceedings. And that’s a something that Padres fans haven’t felt in a long time. The interest is only magnified when you consider that Tomas is an unknown quantity with scouting reports that allow the mind to wonder … is he the next Yoenis Cespedes? The next Jose Abreu? The next Yasiel Puig? Is Yasmany Tomas the next Babe Ruth?

It’s all a bit overwhelming, really, when usually we’re left arguing whether the biggest offseason acquisition is Jon Garland or Jerry Hairston Jr.

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Joe Versus The Volcano is my favorite movie. I know it’s not a great movie, and I know that in terms of Tom Hanks’ career, it’s considered a bit of a joke and a disappointment, but I love it.  The San Diego Padres are my favorite baseball team. I know that in terms of  Major League Baseball teams, they are considered a bit of a joke and are always disappointing, but I love them.

The movie is now 24 years old, and if you haven’t seen it you should stop everything and watch it (a former girlfriend bought me the DVD 12 years ago, so I watch it a lot), or you should just realize that explaining the plot and even the ending of things in print doesn’t really spoil the experience of watching things. I guess this is a spoiler alert, but whatever.

In the movie, Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks, is stuck in a rut. He was once a brave firefighter, but a traumatic experience caused him to quit and get a desk job at a gross factory, which he’s worked at for 8 years, and where he’s developed depression and hypochondria and been forced to work for a hilariously bad boss played by the brilliant Dan Hedaya. On his lunch break, he sees a specialist because he doesn’t feel good, and the specialist explains to him that he has a “brain cloud,” a fatal condition that has no symptoms, but will kill him in 6 months.

Other than the brain cloud, that sounds a lot to me like the Padres, who once made the playoffs 2 years in a row and had a winning record 4 years in a row, but that was 7 years ago, and a ton of depressing shit has happened since then, without the benefit of Dan Hedaya for comic relief. Read More…

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBBA) was founded in 2009 with the purpose of encouraging collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The Alliance also votes on various awards at different times in the year, including end of season awards.  

The Manager of the Year award is subjective.  Well, OK, all awards are subjective, but Manager of the Year is more so than the rest.  To determine the best pitcher in the league, look at the numbers.  Best hitter? Look at the numbers.  Best Manager?  Can’t really look at the numbers.  How much impact does the Manager have on his team’s performance?  Much more difficult to quantify.  It’s the fuzziest of the awards.

Manager of the Year tends to go to the skipper who’s team over-achieved.  Over-achieved based on what?  Usually, it’s based on the preseason expectations of the media.  No baseball team enters the season expecting to lose 100 games.  Teams do recognize if they have fewer talented players on the roster than, say, the Dodgers or Yankees, but everyone thinks starts April thinking this is THEIR YEAR.  Based on that, how does one fairly select the Manager of the Year?

You do the best you can with the experience you’ve gained.  You can’t avoid being subjective.

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Geoff Miller is the author of Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game – In Baseball and in Life. He has worked with the Pirates and Nationals, and is currently the mental skills coach for the Atlanta Braves. A San Diego resident, Miller will be at Barnes & Noble in Grossmont Center on Sunday, October 12, at 2 p.m. to discuss his book. Find him online at WinningMind.com or on Twitter at @WinningMindGEM.

Recently I had the chance to ask Miller a few questions via the magic of email. Here they are, along with his informative responses:

Son of a Duck: When people see “mental skills coach,” they may think you’re a psychologist, but that’s not quite right. What exactly does your job entail?

Geoff Miller: Yes, there is a difference between being a psychologist and employing methods of sport psychology. I prefer the term “mental skills coach,” as it’s important for me to make a distinction between the two fields. I work exclusively with athletes on understanding how to perform under pressure and learning what it takes to use all of their physical talents on a consistent basis in their sports. I don’t do any work involving clinical issues like depression, drug or alcohol addiction, relationship issues, or general mental health counseling. My role is educational and strategic rather than medical in nature and, in fact, a good deal of the work we do at my company is executive coaching. Mental skills coaching could be seen as “executive coaching” for athletes. There’s a big misconception that my work is usually about helping athletes when they have “problems,” but even if that misconception is about helping athletes when they are slumping, much more of my work is helping athletes understand how to be their best and teaching them ways to get to the top or stay at the top of their professions.

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