If you listened to the Josh Byrnes and Mike Dee interviews on yesterday’s Darren Smith show (and if you didn’t you probably should), the sticking point boiled down to expectations. So let’s talk about expectations.
Josh claimed he never oversold this team’s ability to ownership. To paraphrase, based on the projections he saw (the same ones we have access to, by the way) he figured the team could win between 71 (if everything broke wrong) and 91 (if everything went right) games this season. I think fantasizing this group could win 91 games was exactly that – a fantasy – but I have 3 months of mediocre play coloring my view of the past.
Including a margin for error in any projection is sound practice, so the problem perhaps wasn’t in his forecasting. But there was a disconnect in the way Byrnes went about building this team, and it’s in some of the things he said as well as what he did. When you publicly proclaim Seth Smith could be ‘the final piece’ – as Josh did way back in December – people latch on to that. I’m sure ownership latched onto it. Statements like that cause people to get excited, and expectations to rise. Hey – he’s the final piece! We’re going to contend!
Teams don’t spend $15M on a set-up man if they don’t think they’re right there for a playoff spot. Teams don’t keep and extend players on a 76-win roster if they don’t think those players are playoff-caliber already, and minor improvements will put them over the top.
It also seems everyone’s conveniently forgotten what many thought heading into spring training. There was widespread belief the Padres would be a dark horse contender for the playoffs this season. Buster Olney even sent a tweet naming San Diego as his pick for one Wild Card slot. That optimism was based on the Smith trade, the belief that Josh Johnson would front this rotation, that Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin had put their injury-plagued 2013 behind them, and that the rest of the roster would be at least average offensively. I’m sure Josh believed it. I’m sure he talked about it. I’m sure his optimism resonated with and excited ownership.
Things didn’t work out that way. As we all know now, Seth was not the final piece. He has been very good in 2014, but his prowess at the plate has been drowned by the absolute dearth of offensive production at every infield position. Johnson didn’t survive Peoria. Quentin remains a fixture on the trainer’s table. Will Venable turned back into Will Venable. Yonder Alonso has mostly forgotten how to drive the ball. The list of players not meeting expectations goes on and on. And that’s before we list all the other injured players.
So when Mike Dee says (paraphrasing again) this team hasn’t lived up to expectations he has a point. Whether the preseason prognostication was unrealistic or not, this team has underachieved. The injuries mounted, as was inevitable given some of these player’s injury histories. The Padres field an offense that would struggle in the Dead Ball Era. San Diego is forced to promote some players before they’re ready, and those guys are struggling at the Major League Level. It’s easy to see why ownership would be pissed off and decide on a change. All that anger and frustration falls on Josh, who put this roster together.
Byrnes will no doubt learn from this experience and put it into his tool-box. I’m sure he’ll land on his feet, with another position in another baseball front office. However it’s highly doubtful he’ll ever be a General Manager again.