Watching and rooting for the Padres from a relatively safe distance of two time zones away provides a unique perspective. Think of it as gaining an appreciation for details best examined from afar while suppressing or even muting the anguish associated with the less geographically challenged Padres fan. Trade the level of emotional investment for additional clarity.
Granted, I’m a lifelong Cardinals fan, so one might consider the emotional investment on my part to be slightly hedged. Maybe it is. Maybe putting the vast majority of one’s eggs in a completely different basket has its advantages. I can often take solace in a place where most Padres fans cannot. Temporary immunity from visceral reactions has certain privileges.
That’s not to say that I don’t find myself envisioning Bud Black being bludgeoned by baseball bats when the lineup is announced. I can neither confirm nor deny that, but hearing the collective cries of the more vocal portions of the fan base (bloggers) keeps me honest. When they suffer, I find myself thinking “There but for the grace of the baseball gods go I.”
Identifying with the Padres faithful may seem a stretch for many, but please indulge me for a few minutes and allow me to make my case. The Padres are neither the pastime’s elite nor the true underdog. They are the middle child of a lower-middle class family that can afford a reasonable mortgage in the suburbs. They take the occasional vacation in years that one of the kids doesn’t need major orthodontic work.
Few see their triumphs as storybook tales or their failures as epic derps writ large. They embody the eternally faceless “middle”. They win the occasional battle all the while having little doubt about the war’s outcome. They get credit for the grind without the bonus of getting the “bump”.
Small doses of disappointment get tempered by low expectations. The usual kvetching and hand-wringing always accompanied by a growing sense of acceptance inevitably gives way to Padres Seasonal Affective Disorder. One then expects to see the Padres make the top plays of the night….in highlights for the other team. The Padres play the Washington Generals to everyone else’s Harlem Globetrotters – more punching bag than heel. Maybe something will change.
At first glance from the aforementioned distance of space and time, the 2014 Padres look exactly like dozens of teams before them. To that end, they resemble greatly the 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions – decidedly more noise than signal. After 45+ years of near-misses interspersed with mediocrity and abject failure, the Padres continue to look exactly like most people expect. They continue to rely on oft-injured potential stars, semi-talented players that have shown flashes of brilliance, and high mileage rentals. A roster built around such players needs to catch lightning in a rather unsteady bottle. That rarely happens. Promise and potential provide a façade of hope that slowly deteriorates.
More so than any other group, Padres fans meet the practical definition of “insanity”. That is they repeat behaviors while expecting a different outcome. In many ways, that may be the most beautiful and simultaneously terrifying type of insanity. It’s like Groundhog Day for 162 games a year plus a few extra games in more torturous years involving the playoffs. Somehow they stick around. They manage to top 2 million annually at Petco to watch a team play under .500. That’s some staying power of the Kama Sutra variety.
Maybe that staying power will provide the ownership with the nerve to go where few teams have gone before. Maybe they will willingly and openly write off the rest of this season and possibly the next to build what the fans deserve – an exciting team customized for the home park with a window of opportunity to win. Then again, maybe pigs will develop winged appendages, and the team in Chavez Ravine will officially change its name to the “Dogers”.
But hear me out….
Is watching inspired but low quality baseball for a couple years too high a price to pay for an enticingly more promising future? There is no blueprint for success. There are several blueprints, and none are accompanied by a guarantee. However, the Padres would need a rather devastating set of perfect storms to hit the other four NL West teams in order to even win the division. Why wait for an astronomical alignment when you can take a shot at creating your own?
Stop for a moment and leave emotion at the doorstep of pure logic. Based on the roster composition, player ages, and salary expectations, the Padres basically have little to no window of opportunity. Despite making a huge leap forward from 2013 to 2014 ($22.3MM), the Padres still started 2014 with the lowest payroll in the NL West. Barring a miracle or even multiple miracles, the Padres won’t be in the neighborhood of the Giants ($149,089,474) anytime soon. They couldn’t even get past the guards to reach the gated neighborhood inhabited by the Dodgers ($229,335,934 on Opening Day).
Baseball history shows that financial largesse does not guarantee on-field success. On the other hand, it rarely hurts, and teams with more to spend simply have the ability to make more mistakes and be more flexible. Since the Padres cannot outspend most teams they might as well try to outthink them. On that note, maybe Josh Byrnes isn’t the smartest man in the room (perhaps more a wet match in a dark cave). However, the sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days, so let it all ride. Pick a core group of guys who can last through the great Padres Depression. Put a price tag on everybody else. Here is the unsolicited checklist….
- Bring together a speedy set of outfielders that can deny opposing teams the gaps. Never again pencil in Alexi Amarista in the 7, 8, or 9 positions.
- Build a pitching staff around Cashner. He’s a legit ace when healthy, and he’s the only one you have. He’s also not likely to be prohibitively expensive for several years.
- Don’t be afraid of a trade that could turn into one of “Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton proportions”. A wise GM once said “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And hasn’t there already been enough of that?
- Turn Petco into a haven for speed and warning track drives for the opposition. Those fences can be moved back *cough* *cough*.
This all sounds easy enough, and it looks fine on paper, right? Pfft. If the Astros can do it, then anybody can do it (even Josh Byrnes). The Astros started this season with a payroll of just over $50MM and nearly all of their position players are under 30 years of age. Only two of their players make more than $5MM this season. They don’t look like a dynasty, but they aren’t exactly pushovers either. The Padres can overcome the current state of inertia and do this.
Find ways to make home field an actual advantage. Make Petco the one place on the west coast swing that teams want to skip. Give the Vedder Cup a permanent home. Stay the course, be the ball, and by 2015 teams will be wondering about how to go about Catching Friars.