Amongst Padres fans, 2014, as a calendar year, was not one that any of us will likely want to remember. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with painful memories, it is also a year we are unlikely to ever forget.
Five days into the new year, mere hours after the Chargers had gone on the road to Cincinnati to win a playoff game, news came out of the passing of Jerry Coleman. At 89, the voice of the Padres for as long as anyone reading this can remember, had left us. Coleman’s death was a crushing blow to a team and a fanbase. What was unknown at the time was that it was merely a harbinger of things to come.
The on field product wasn’t much better. A 12-16 April began a season in which the Padres posted near historic offensive futility. Further injuries continued to mount. Casey Kelly returned to the 60 DL, Cashner hit the DL, Maybin, Gyorko, Alonso and so on and so on. And then came June 16th, 2014. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre, had succumbed to cancer. That he is no longer with us is a fact that I still find hard to believe.
A flurry of poor PR moves dotted the 2014 landscape for the Padres. Announcer tryouts, #BSPlaza, and so on. And then there was the firing of Josh Byrnes. This came only 6 days after Tony Gwynn’s passing, and came roughly one month away from the trade deadline in which the Padres were likely to be major players. This move meant the Padres best positional asset at the Major League level, Chase Headley, would be dealt by people who were not in charge and were not going to be in charge going forward.
But out of all of this, the poor season, the devastating losses off the field, and the seemingly irreparable harm done by ownership, the Padres hired A.J.Preller. A highly regarded front office mind from the Texas Rangers who would be tasked with the impossible situation of salvaging this team from the depths of the irrelevant.
And that’s exactly what he’s done.
In the span of one winter, A.J. has added Kemp, Upton, Myers, Middlebrooks, Norris, Morrow and now Shields. He’s done this despite hanging onto the top prospects in the Padres system and by raising the payroll by only, roughly, $10 million. (NOTE: A bit of an asterisk by that as many of these deals are back-loaded thus keeping the 2015 payroll manageable)
A.J. has accomplished what perhaps was the toughest of the two tasks he was asked to do. He has made the Padres relevant. The next step is somewhat out of his hands.
Has he made them good?
I don’t know. He’s made them better, of this I’m sure. But has he made them “good”? And what is “good”?
Cliche though no less true, winning the off-season means nothing come April. The 2012 Blue Jays can tell you that.
Projections, depending on where you look, have the Padres in the hunt for a Wild Card. The postseason, even if it’s a one game playoff, is a place the Padres have not been in 9 years. And even then, they made it thanks in large part to a sub-optimal division that was theres for the taking. That is not the case now. The Dodgers remain the Dodgers. The Giants just won a World Series. Last year, it took 88 wins to win the Wild Card in the National League. 94 to win the West. The sledding is tough though at least this time the Padres actually have a sled.
So how will we look back on 2015? What will constitute success for this overhaul that A.J. has done? For me, it is the same barometer I use every year. Playing relevant games in mid to late September. You can’t plan for the unpredictable nature of a handful of games. Bad bounces, losing on balks, the overall weirdness of the sport that makes it poetry, can’t be accounted for. One need only look as far back as last year’s AL Wild Card game to see the how unpredictable one game can be.
Thus, I don’t put the “playoffs or bust” pressure on this or any team. Too many variables exists. But relevant, important games in late September? That you can build for. That you can plan. So that’s how I judge success. If in September I’m scoreboard watching, and looking at pitching matchups days in advance. And wondering if the rotation will lineup for Shields to pitch in a Wild Card game if needed.
But no matter what happens. Whether this grand experiment propels the Padres to the post-season or tumbles like a house of cards, it will be a hell of a lot better than what we went through in 2014. So, in that way, perhaps it is already a success.
My intent is always to post on Friday. But, you know, laziness and what have you. What do you judge as a successful 2015 season? Leave a comment or you can always tweet at me @LeftCoastBias.