Beer Summit: Cynics and Optimists

As you may have noticed, a turf war has broken out amongst the Friar Faithful. The long simmering feud between the Cynics and the Optimists has come to a boil and we here at Padres Public took matters into our own hands the only way we know how: by holding a sit-down beer summit.

Yours truly was there representing the Cynics while Geoff from Left Coast Bias spoke for the Optimists. Here’s how it went.

The Sac Bunt: So Geoff, tell me, what do Padres fan have to be optimistic about?

Left Coast Bias: Let’s start with some basics first. When I say I’m optimistic, I mean that in the overall direction of the team and not in something as specfic as, say, playoffs. Could the Padres surprise in 2013? Sure, but I’m more optimistic for the longterm future.

Now, as to your question as too why. As in 2009, the team ended last year playing above .500. They did this despite having a pitching staff decimated by injury (bad luck that isn’t likely to repeat itself). Alonso will have another full year under his belt in which I think its likely to see improvement on what was a solid rookie campaign. Maybin looked to be putting it together near the end of last year. And Chase. Even before his 2nd half explosion, was still having a solid year.

Adding to that is possibly Gyorko at 2nd. And Grandal after 50 games. So by the All Star Break, we could see a rotation of Luebke, Cashner, Kelly, Volquez and Richard, a lineup of Cam, Chase, Grandal, Alonso, and Gyorko.

That, to me, is a team that can build on the success of the end of last season. Not to mention a #6 ranked minor league system, making the future look brighter.

Now, how much Kool-Aid did I drink?

TSB: When you spell it out like that, I have to ask: How good are you expecting them to be this season?

LCB: Realistically, a .500 team. Puts them 5 games better than last year and moving in the right direction for 2014 which I think has been the plan.

A bit of luck? 86-88 wins. Puts them in LA’s range from last year and puts them in Wild Card hunt.

To me, its all about surviving the first two months. Can’t lose 32 games in 2 months again. And I don’t think they will.

What seems to be forgotten is that part of the Padres poor play to start last season was a by-product of injury. The DL list was into the high teens before you could blink an eye. Unlikely for that injury history to continue.

That was a long answer to a simple question.

TSB: Is this where I point out that the Padres will be without Grandal, Cashner and Luebke for the first two months?

LCB: I realize .500 doesn’t light the world on fire. Part of this is managing expectations. I think they will be better this year. And meaningful games in August and September. I’m expecting playoffs in 2014.

TSB: And who do you see filling out the pitching staff in 2014?

LCB: I’d hope for a more active winter next year then this past one for a veteran, innings eating arm or two but:

Maybe Erlin
Maybe Wieland
Fingers crossed Stauffer (though this seems like a long shot)

And with arms like Fried coming up behind these guys, I feel confident in the direction the team is going.

TSB: So you think that this is a 90 win team with four unproven pitchers and Luebke?

What kind of offensive production are you expecting?

LCB: I don’t think I would call them unproven by time 2014 gets here. With the exception of Erlin, those are all arms that will see substantial playing time this year. I think you supplement that rotation with a veteran who will eat innings. In the end, this is why they traded big pieces to get these arms. Because they are impact arms.

As for offense, last year the Padres scored a dismal 651 runs. But, in 2010, when they won 90 games they only scored 665 runs. And we’ve seen that teams that mash do not equate to wins necessarily. 2010 Giants won a World Series scoring 697 runs. Last year, the Reds nearly made the NLCS scoring 669.

I think, with the core players they have, this team can score around 675 or so. And I think that’s enough.

TSB: I feel like a lot of fans like to make a big deal out of our minor league system without really understanding what’s down there.

Kelly and Erlin are not reasons to not upgrade the rotation. Keith Law posted his top 100 prospects list last week and he has Kelly at 60 and Erlin not on the list. And that’s not to say that these two guys are doomed, because they’re not. In fact, I might be Robbie Erlin’s biggest fan, if you’ll believe that I can be a fan of anything to do with the Padres. But this isn’t the NL Worst anymore. “Good enough” is not good enough.

I also get the impression that Alonso’s rookie season has mislead a lot of fans. Not every prospect is going to come up and be as comfortable as quickly as Alonso was. Even with an entire season’s worth of experience, I don’t know how realistic it is to expect Erlin and Kelly to be the pitchers they’re going to be.

LCB: Not so much for Erlin, who will likely not get here until September if at all in 2013, but Kelly will have most of 2013 to acclimate to the MLB level. It also seems, though I’m basing this mostly on anecdotal evidence here, that rookie pitchers have success quicker than position players.

But this was the plan. Build up the farm system. Let that farm system feed the MLB club. By all accounts, step 1 of that plan has been accomplished. Now, onto Step 2. If these players don’t produce up to what many expect, so be it. That’s baseball. Prospects flame out all the time. So do free agents.

For the record, I agree with you that Erlin and Kelly are not reasons to not upgrade. It’s by far the biggest complaint of this past winter and it is entirely valid. Hopefully, they learn from the mistakes of this winter and don’t repeat them next winter. But, I think the rotation, at least in the 2nd half of 2013, has enough promising arms to warrant at least some confidence.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a farm system expert. So I’m left relying on the opinions of those that are. And it seems that nearly universally the Padres farm system is highly touted. And that the Padres in recent drafts and the Latos and Adams trades have been nearly universally applauded. I trust those opinions. Perhaps to my folly.

So, what do you see for 2013 and beyond?

TSB: I’m a little unclear on what you’re saying step two is. You make it sound as if the hard work has been already done and now it’ll either pay off or it won’t.

I’m not saying that the minor league system isn’t highly-touted, and I really don’t want to say anything that’ll give Jeff the chance to point out how stupid I am, but it needs to be put in context. The Padres have a minor league system that fills holes. The beauty of prospects like Gyorko or Alonso is that they keep the team from having to go out and waste money on Hudson or Hawpe. But that doesn’t mean the Padres can just promote all their prospects and then skip to step three and profit. The Padres had to go out and get Quentin to solidify the middle of the order, just like they need to lock up Headley to keep from taking a step back, and they needed to do the same in the rotation.

And yet they didn’t. They’re going into the season with Richard, Volquez and Marquis anchoring the rotation and with the last two spots basically waiting for Luebke and Cashner to come back and claim them. My big fear is that Byrnes shares your optimism and thinks that the team will be fine once Kelly and Erlin are called up. Does he really think that this is a rotation that can hang with Cain and Bumgarner or Kershaw and Greinke or even Hudson and McCarthy?

LCB: It’s not a linear equation in that you do Step 1 AND THEN Step 2. Step 1 is an on-going process. Though I would argue that building up the farm system is the hard work. If the prospects pay off, that’s more of a crapshoot.

I agree that not supplementing the rotation doesn’t fill me with a ton of confidence. But keep in mind that last year we had starts from the likes of Stults, Ohlendorf and Wells among other pitchers off the scrap heap. Richard, Volquez, and Marquis don’t light the world on fire. But they beat a rotation full of those three guys.

I do think that in 2014 the Padres rotation, assuming health etc., can matchup with San Francisco and Los Angeles. There’s no pitcher on the Padres staff as good as Cain, Kershaw or Greinke true. But, top to bottom? Yeah, I think they can. The Dodgers are going to be throwing out Becket, Capuano and Billingsley after those top 2. I think a rotation of Luebke, Kelly, Cashner, Erlin, etc. matches up decently.

But I adhere to the “you’re only as good as your worst starter” theory.

TSB: I don’t think saying that the 2013 rotation will be better than the 2012 version is saying a whole lot. That’s like saying that getting punched in the stomach is better than getting kicked in the balls. While technically true, it’s still pretty bad.

And we’ve reached our first major divergence here. Beckett, Billingsley and Ryu may not be All-Stars, and Ryu is just as much a question mark as Erlin and Kelly, but they’re still safe bets for two wins a piece. Besides Luebke, none of our young pitchers are safe bets for anything.

Then there’s Arizona, who are also waiting on young pitching to come up but their guys are top 10 and will be joining a rotation that already includes Hudson, Kennedy, McCarthy, Cahill and Miley. Like I said, this isn’t the NL Worst anymore. Good enough’s not going to cut it.

LCB: A kick in the balls that did anchor a 42-39 2nd half team. I would think that the stomach punch rotation can, at minimum, match that. And once Lubke and Cashner return, greatly improve on that. And that’s how you get to .500, which for 2013 would be a win in my book.

Your point about the NL West is well taken. At some point you take your guys and put them up against their guys and see what happens. My faith is higher in Luebke, Cashner, Erlin, and Kelly in part because of what it cost to get those guys (other than Luebke obviously). I don’t think you give up players of Adrian Gonzalez, Mat Latos, and Mike Adams caliber if you don’t feel like you are getting high quality prospects in return. By 2015 I think you’ll be hearing people saying similar things about San Diego that you are saying about Arizona. “The Padres just got so-and-so to add to a staff that already includes Luebke, Erlin, Kelly and Cashner.”

Does Edwin Jackson really take this team from beyond “good enough?”  I don’t think so. That isn’t to say that San Diego won’t add an arm or two next winter, hopefully using the lessons learned from this past winter. I think they will. To me, 2013 is the bridge to 2014 and beyond.

TSB: In the second half last year, the Padres rotation was next to last in WAR, FIP- and ERA-. The team won despite the pitching.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Kelly and Erlin aren’t quality prospects but pointing out that they came over in deals for Adrian and Adams doesn’t say much. Look at what Arizona just got for Justin Upton. Value does not correlate so cleanly.

What else you got? You say that the Padres will have an enviable rotation in 2015 but I’m not seeing much evidence. I want to be optimistic but I’m going to need more than rainbows and gumdrops.

Also, just now on Twitter, Marver (!!!) sent a comment to Dallas Latos, who had made a comment of her own in regards to Padres fans dissing Mat, that read “@DallasLatos Certainly isn’t us. What the Padres need right now is a front line arm…like Mat.” I then used that as a springboard and asked everyone who they would rather have, Latos, Rizzo and Hundley or Cashner, Alonso and Grandal (I actually said “…and Hundley” but that was a joke that takes away from my point). And without even meaning to, I think I walked into another battle between the cynics and the optimists.

The cynics among us look at the trade and they look at our meager rotation and Rizzo hitting 15 home runs in half a season and lament. The optimists, on the other hand, actually break into two camps. There’s one that genuinely believes that the Padres got the better end of the megadeal, and more power to them (I guess), but there seems to be another camp which is resistant (to put it nicely) to the idea of retrospective criticism.

Which brings me to my thesis: I do not believe in Josh Byrnes. I have no faith in him. I think he’s the Gunslinger all over again and a team like the Padres can’t succeed by making shit up as they go along. So when things start blowing up in Byrnes’ face, like the aforementioned Latos megatrade, I see it as being very pertinent to a Padres team that just spent an entire offseason unwilling to improve a rotation that they themselves acknowledged needed improving.

What good does it do to sweep something like that under the rug?

LCB: I’d hardly call what I’ve presented as rainbows and gumdrops. It depends, I suppose, on how much faith you put in young, untested arms. The tiny glimpse we saw of Cashner last year showed a lot of promise. The same goes for Kelly. I feel pretty strongly that Luebke can be a #2 in this rotation, maybe a #1 if he really takes off.

Considering the rotation held together by duct tape, despite being last in WAR, FIP- and ERA- still lead a team to an above .500 half I think gives more credence to my argument. Replace that admittedly terrible rotation with good pitchers and that team goes from an 84 win pace to a 90+ win pace.

And we’ve already shown that you don’t need a ton of offense to win in this division. Under 700 runs makes you competitive. This team, once everyone (looking at you Grandal) comes back, can do that. I don’t know how to account for the X factor of the fences yet, but no one does.

Luebke may never be as good as Cain or Kershaw. But Erlin or Kelly can be better than Zito, Vogelsong, or Harang. I’ll take 5 consistent guys vs a rotation that drops off considerably after the 2nd starter.

In the end, this was the plan. Is it completed? No. Hardly. But it’s moving in the right direction.

Every year teams make dramatic leaps. Despite adding Pujols and CJ Wilson and the emergence of Trout, the Angels were on the outside looking in while the A’s went from 74 to 94 wins. Baltimore, from 69 wins to 93 wins. In 2011 it was the Diamondbacks. 2010 San Diego. The Padres have been building toward being that breakout team in either 2013 or (more likely) 2014 since they trade Adrian Gonzalez. I think that’s about to pay dividends.

As for the Latos trade, I stand by it as much today as when it was made. The Padres gave up 1 pitcher and got the catcher and first basemen of the future. Both of which, prior to Grandal’s PED issue, have succeeded thus far. I’m not going to pretend that right now the Cashner for Rizzo trade looks great. Obviously it doesn’t. Keep in mind we are dealing with a very small sample size on both. And maybe Petco was in Rizzo’s head. I don’t know. But I don’t think the drop off from Rizzo to Alonso is so great to warrant the trade a failure.

Nor do I hold Latos in as high of esteem as others. This veers into personal preference but Latos is no Peavy. He’s a top line starter yet he faded down the stretch in 2010 (admittedly the offense was not helping him out) and of course Game 5 of the NLDS. Now, I’m not going to judge a player based on the outcome of one post-season game but let’s stop pretending that we let Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay walk out the door.

This isn’t anti-Latos sentiment it should be pointed out. I like the guy. Dig the tattoos, the bravado, the antagonizing of SF. Don’t dig the temperament on the mound. He’s been put on a pedestal and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because his wife does provide so much behind-the-scenes access via Twitter that we feel like we “know” the Latos’ more than most players.

But 15 HR’s while playing in Wrigley Field doesn’t change my mind about that trade. Nor does a PED suspension (though it dampens it, obviously).

TSB: Who’s put Latos on a pedestal? My point was that the Padres, who had the second worst pitching staff in baseball in 2012 and haven’t done a damn thing to improve it for 2013, need Latos more than they thought they did a year ago.

LCB: I think there is a relatively large section of fans that have put Latos up on a pedestal. Mind you, I’m not placing you in that group. But some fans get a bit irrational when it comes to Latos. In my experience.

Of course they need Latos more than they thought a year ago. But that’s due as much to injury as anything else. Which no one can predict. Not at the level that San Diego endured them last season.

TSB: I have to disagree with that sentiment. Besides Luebke, what injuries derailed the Padres plans? Moseley and Stauffer were warm bodies so you can throw them out and the team started Cashner out in the pen because they were afraid that he would injure himself as a starter. And they couldn’t possibly have expected that much out of Wieland, Kelly or Erlin in 2012.

Furthermore, of that group, only Luebke and Cashner really have Latos’ potential and both of them are older than Mat.

The Padres were hit by injuries last year, no doubt, but I think we have a tendency to overstate just how hard they were hit.

Now, I’d like to get back to my question about Byrnes.

You seem to have faith in him and I’d like to know why.

LCB: Well, I respectfully disagree that Stauffer was only suppose to be a warm body. Seemed the long term plan for him was much more involved if he could have stayed healthy. But, to your question.

I wouldn’t say I’m giving a full throated show of support to Byrnes. It’s not that I have faith in him. It’s that he has done nothing to make me lose faith in him thus far. Therefore I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. As I’ve already said here, the Latos trade is fine to me. Rizzo and Cashner? There’s an argument though Rizzos value was very low at that time (which is perhaps on Byrnes for rushing him).

My default is to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. These guys are in the room. I trust they know more than I do. I sense you take the opposite approach.

TSB: It’s not that I don’t give management the benefit of the doubt, it’s that Byrnes has already lost it. He started off hot, stealing Quentin from the Sox and Street from the Rockies, and I’ll even give him credit for having the balls to trade his best pitcher, but since then, what has he done?

Without even getting into the Rizzo trade, which looks terrible from multiple angles, or his bungling of the current offseason, what concerns the most about Byrnes is the way he’s handling the minor league system. He likes to talk about emulating other small market teams like the Rays or A’s but those team are very active about restocking the farm. Fans like to boast about our farm’s number six ranking but Gyorko, Kelly, Erlin and maybe Liriano are looking to graduate this season. Take those four out and then where do we stand?

Obviously I’m aware that the point of a minor league system is to produce major leaguers and not just to receive acclaim from Keith Law, but what happens if those guys can’t hack it? What happens if all those arm injuries become degenerative problems? Byrnes has put the Padres in a position where pretty much everything has to go right for them to be pretty good. Not great, mind you. Pretty good. And this is concerning because he seems fine with that.

You say that you’re one to give Byrnes the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. What would it take for you to lose faith in him?

LCB: Let me address the minor league point you made first. You named 4 guys that will likely graduate to the MLB level that the team feels will produce at a high level. I world guess most teams would kill to have that many MLB ready prospects. You’re right, that is the point. And yes, the minor league system takes a hit at first. But there are really only two ways to replenish it. Trade for prospects, which would mean essentially mean trading Headley and I think we all share the same opinion of that. Or via draft. I won’t pretend to be a draft expert but those that are seem to be impressed with the Padres last two drafts, highlighted by Max Fried.

So we can stockpile prospects forever, or, if the team is serious about contending in 2014, as I think they are, take a shot. I’d rather take a shot since this is, in the end, the sole purpose of the farm system.

What would Byrne’s have to do to lose my faith? Bungle the Headley situation. Chase Headley is the barometer by which he will and should be judged. It’s the canary in the mine.

Notice I didn’t say “trade Headley.” Scenarios exist that could manifest themselves where trading Headley makes sense. They don’t exist today however.

TSB: I think you’re underselling the team’s trade options.

Look at what the Indians and Cubs have done this offseason. Despite modest expectations for 2013, both went shopping this winter and added to their overall depth. By bringing in Jackson, Villanueva and Baker, the Cubs have not only improved their rotation but put themselves in a position where they can use their pitching depth to fill other holes. And by bringing in Bourn, the Indians are now loaded with center fielders, which gives them flexibility.

Byrnes has yet to show a penchant for this sort of outside-the-box thinking.

Now, having said what I’ve said, I will admit that I have expectations of Josh Byrnes that he has no intention of fulfilling. You talk about taking the shot now and I’m pretty positive that you and Byrnes is on the same page. As they currently are, the Padres could make a couple of Wild Card runs in the near future. But is that what we’re going for? We’re headed back to the early Petco era, where the team squeezed its way into the playoffs a couple of times and was promptly booted back out. And while I will acknowledge that anything can happen in the playoffs, Byrnes and the Padres seem to have far too much faith in crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

One thing that I’ve really taken away from this conversation is how hopeful and optimistic the Padres front office is. And despite how it may seem, I have nothing against hope and optimism. I’d just like to see a bit more cynicism from the decision makers.

LCB: Tough to argue with what the Cubs have done. Good farm system that’s been supplemented at the MLB level. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the Cubs are further from contending as of the end of 2012 then San Diego but that remains to be seen.

As for Cleveland, yes, they have depth. And that’s great. But at what cost? $104 million for Bourne and Swisher is a king’s ransom for depth if you ask me. If San Diego had signed Bourne to a similar contract I think most people, myself included, would be up in arms. I’d rather do nothing then simply burn money.

I think you are underselling how hard it is to make the playoffs in baseball. It is perhaps the hardest sport in America to make the post-season in. If the Padres can get to a place where they are consistently contending for a Wild Card then by default they would be contending for a division title as well. And at that point, the chips will fall where they may. Meaningful baseball in September that leads to post-season appearances. That should be the goal and I think they are on the precipice now.

I don’t want the front office to share my optimism. I want them to be more methodical in their approach. I’m a fan. I don’t make decisions. It is easy for me to be optimistic and be wrong and I find that it is a more enjoyable experience as a fan to be optimistic. Much of this optimism, however, comes from the front office and what they are selling. Maybe I’ve bought a bill of goods. Maybe not. I’d like to think that we didn’t give away Gonzalez, Latos and Adams for nothing.

We should probably be bringing this thing in for a landing soon so I’ll give you the last word. I’ll finish with this. Those that are optimistic about this team’s future are often told that they are relying on a hope and a prayer. I hope, if nothing else, that at minimum I have a basis for such optimism beyond simple fanboy zeal. Now, we may disagree with those reasons and that’s alright. I’d say it’s healthy. Teams need fans on both sides of the aisle to keep conversations like this one and the one that continues regarding Change The Padres going. I wish I was more pragmatic about this as you are. But it’s not in my personality. They’ve made a compelling case for optimism in my mind. And I’m buying.

TSB: One last thing before we wrap this up.

I don’t like this idea that the Padres have avoided spending for the sake of spending. I find it misleading.

Bringing in a player like Bourn may have been just that, as the Padres are more than set in the outfield and don’t need his help. But as I’ve argued, despite what the team says, the Padres do need pitching. Presumably, that’s why they targeted Haren and Jackson. But to pass on Haren because the price was too high, and then turn around and not spend the money anywhere else, is self-defeating. Same with refusing to go to that fourth year with Jackson. He;ll still only be 32 in 2016 and there’s nothing to suggest that he’s going to fall off the cliff after the 2015 season. The team’s got principles, sure, but principles don’t win ballgames.

Finally, I’d just like to say that us cynics get a bad rap. We’ve been accused of attempting to ruin Padres baseball for everyone when all we really want to do is make Padres baseball better. That’s the point of any criticism, to improve things. To identify problem areas so that the problems can be rectified. I’ve been a Padres fan my entire life and for better or worse, that’s not going to change. And with that commitment comes a sense of proprietorship. This isn’t Josh Byrnes’ team, this isn’t Tom Garfinkel’s team and despite what the courts might have to say on the matter, this isn’t Ron Fowler’s team either. This is my team, and I’m going to continue to look out for it.


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