AJ Preller Versus The Volcano

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.

Joe quits his job, goes on a date with the woman from his office (played by Meg Ryan), but doesn’t get laid because he tells her he has a brain cloud and that’s a real downer. The next day, he’s visited by a strange old man who knows all about him and his brain cloud (the HIPAA violation goes un-investigated), and wants to send him on an all-expense paid trip to a volcanic island, where he will be treated like a king, until he ultimately jumps in the volcano, sacrificing himself to the island’s god. Joe, with nothing to lose, agrees to this ridiculousness.

Along the way he meets two more women who are both also played by Meg Ryan, and he falls in love with the 3rd one, named Patricia, the boat captain who is taking him to the island. Again, he doesn’t get laid because he tells her about his brain cloud and that’s a real downer. Lots of stuff happens, but eventually the two of them end up on the island, get treated like royalty, and the time comes for Joe to jump in the volcano.

Patricia doesn’t want Joe to jump in. She loves him. He loves her too, but he’s committed to making this sacrifice and being brave, going out as a hero. He says “I’ve wasted my entire life and I’m gonna die. Now I have a chance to die like a man, and I’m gonna take it. I’ve gotta take it.” She decides to jump in with him. They get married by the chief of the island tribe, and they walk out to the ledge.

Patricia: Joe, nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap and we’ll see. We’ll jump and we’ll see. That’s life.

Then they jump.

This is where the Padres are right now. They’ve been on a crooked, messed up road for so long, and now they’re standing at the edge ready to either make a leap on signing Yasmany Tomas, or not, and they need to just take the leap and see what happens. That’s life.

The Padres should absolutely sign Yasmany Tomas, the 23 year old Cuban slugger who is currently a free agent and could sign any day now. They’ve scouted him extensively. New GM AJ Preller has seen him twice. Both VP of Scouting Operations Don Welke and VP of Baseball Operations Omar Minaya have seen him multiple times. He’s worked out privately for the team twice.

Now they should jump.

What happens after Joe and Patricia jump into the volcano isn’t important, and what happens after the Padres sign Yasmany Tomas isn’t important. The act of being brave is important. The changing of mindsets is important. The Padres, too afraid to spend money for so long, need to get out of this rut, and signing Tomas would be doing so in spectacular fashion, much like jumping in a volcano and hoping for the best. It’s risky, but screw it, what do they have to lose?

Even if the Padres don’t end up signing Tomas, because he’s too risky or because another team offers more money, this off-season needs to be about change, about spending money, about taking a hard look at what you have, realizing it’s not very good, making significant changes, and adding real upgrades to the roster.

Take the leap, AJ Preller. With or without Meg Ryan.

The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. Favorite Tom Hanks movies: Joe Versus The Volcano, Big, The Burbs. I know they aren’t the best movies he’s made, but they’re my favorites. I also really enjoy Hanks and Meg Ryan together, and have seen Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail dozens of times. Follow me on Twitter, where I’m finally closing in on 300 followers.

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  • Billy Lybarger

    Absolute brilliance.

  • disgruntledreader

    So, what if in all of that in-person scouting they’ve decided that Tomas is more Dayan Viciedo than Jose Abreu?
    I’m all for making a statement, but this organization has done a lot of stupid things over the last few years to make a statement that they’re “committed to winning” including the extensions to Gyorko and Smith that have been all statement and no substance.
    Any move which leads to a press conference with Mike Dee or Ron Fowler leading off with something like “we thought it was important to show our fan base that this is a new era for Padres baseball” instead of Preller leading off with “Our talent evaluation team has spent a lot of time with Tomas and we are convinced he is a long-term difference maker” is just another (albeit much more gratifying) symptom of the same bass-ackwards approach that seems to be Mike Dee’s specialty.

    • Nathan Veale

      They will make mistakes. Every team makes mistakes. The Padres made mistakes when they expanded their draft and development department, picking Donovan Tate 3rd overall and giving him over $6 million. They’ve gotten better since then. It’s important to make the change, and then keep going even if it doesn’t work out right away. The change is what’s important. The leap is the important part.

      • disgruntledreader

        Actually, Tate was drafted by the Towers/Gayton/Fuson “brain”trust before the club significantly revamped and expanded their scouting and player development departments.

        And that’s kind of a perfect example of why you shouldn’t always jump just for the sake of jumping. At least a few of the FO guys liked Mike Minor at #3, but Jeff Moorad and Fuson wanted to show this wasn’t your “business as usual” Padres administration… they were gonna dive straight in and go HS HS HS with Tate, Williams and Sampson to prove their commitment to winning.
        Oops.

      • Nathan Veale

        And to follow through, while the 2009 draft wasn’t a success, they carried that changed mindset forward, and their drafts since 2009 have been significantly better while also showing a willingness to spend for top talent (although, of course, now the slotting system is limiting).

        You can forgive mistakes if they are made for the right reasons. I’m not talking about making a splash as a marketing ploy, I’m talking about making significant moves for the sake of improving the team. That this would be a sea change is kind of insane, as it would only represent acting like a normal MLB team, but it’s a hugely important step to take.

        And with spending money comes making mistakes spending money, because you can’t be right all the time. But being afraid to be wrong all the time has gotten the franchise to where it is now, and now is the time to have the courage to try, and keep trying even if it doesn’t immediately work out.

      • disgruntledreader

        I think we generally agree. My point here is that if all the on-site scouting by Preller, Welke, Minaya, Smith, etc makes them think that Tomas isn’t really going to be an offensive force, and yet they spend the money because Dee/Fowler “want to make a statement,” the statement they’ll make will be the same one Angelos spent a decade making over and over in Baltimore: “I’m a moron.”

        Angelos finally shut up and got out of the way when MacPhail got to Baltimore. There were times their fans were annoyed that they didn’t make the splashy move. But the baseball guys made decisions based their best baseball judgments. Not all of them were right, but they were driven by trying to make good baseball decisions and the payoff is happening right now. THAT’s that I want for my Padres.

        If that means the baseball people make a much more informed decision than my uninformed gut instinct would like with Tomas, I’m okay with them not jumping in this particular volcano.

        (This isn’t to say that the club doesn’t need to give Preller a lot more resources than they’ve traditionally spent… just that they need to trust HIM to spend the money based on baseball, not statement making.)

      • Nathan Veale

        They have to do something. I think we all want them to make smart decisions and be a smart organization, and not make moves for the sake of appearances. However, part of being a smart organization is utilizing all avenues to improve the team, and a team that’s largest free agent signing is 2 years, $15.5 million isn’t utilizing all avenues. They can’t truly be a smart organization until they sign a player to a significant contract or take on a significant contract in a trade. They’ve handicapped themselves for so long by being either too cheap or too scared to spend money. It has to end.

      • Tom Waits

        I agree w/you on Gyorko, but not on your diagnosis of the 2009 draft problems. They did not pick those three kids, or anyone else, hoping to prove their commitment to winning. They went after raw elite athletic talent that was years away from the major leagues, in contrast to the Moores/Alderson/Fuson approach that all but ignored HS players in favor of high-floor, low-ceiling collegians.

        It would shock me if even 5% of the fan base paid attention to the draft. And if they did, they’d be hoping for immediate help like the NFL and NBA, not high school kids five or six years away from contributing. There are hard-core fans who follow the farm system and live and die with draft picks, but the overwhelming majority of fans don’t give a rip.

        Most evaluators thought Minor was a typical pitchability lefty. The general reaction to that pick was “overdraft.” The Braves saw something else, to their credit. But if the Padres had thought he could contribute quickly, that’s a much easier sell to the average fan than a HS kid.

    • Billy Lybarger

      It’s still very early in the Gyorko contract life to claim it has no substance. And the process is right. Let’s see what AJ Preller can do this off-season, which hopefully includes landing the best bat available on the international market.

      • disgruntledreader

        The Gyorko contract extension was stupid plain and simple – and was at the time. There is virtually no upside to the Padres in the deal. Even if you’re optimistic about his future production (I’m willing to buy in that his 2013 season is probably close to his midpoint for future performance), he wasn’t going to get a ton more in arbitration than he’s guaranteed for 2016-18.

      • Billy Lybarger

        So future savings are worthless? The possibility of him getting more in arbiration are very real, so they will save. And you left off the part about buying out a FA year, and having a reasonable option. All that adds up as well. It is low risk savings. That’s why I said it is good process. The numbers are on the high end of the salary/arbitration scale, but as Nathan said, at least they jumped in.
        I may have been jaded by Change the Padres, or persuaded by Nathan, but my point is I am a big believer in this team spending money. It is about frickin’ time. And the more the better. Should they do so smartly? Absolutely, and I think they have the FO in place to do so. So go ahead and spend.

      • Tom Waits

        Looking at typical arbitration raises, the Padres didn’t save much even if Gyorko got better every year. It seemed rushed, the sweet spot is usually after the second year, when the team has more data and can still renew the player without any fuss.

        You have to ask, even if Jedd was better in 2014 than 2013, would he still have signed the deal? I think yes, unless he tore off a 280/340/480 campaign with 30+ HR and 95+ RBI. By signing him so early we took on far more risk with much less reward. The likelihood of Gyorko playing so well in 2014 that he’d turn his nose up at the extension was remote.

      • Billy Lybarger

        This is true, and a good point, Tom. However, waiting for the opportune time to extend also leads you to the Headley situation.

      • Tom Waits

        There’s a middle ground. It’s easier to describe it than to do it, but waiting doesn’t necessarily lead to Headley any more than going early leads to Longoria.

        The ideal time to try with Headley was after 09, coming off a 326 wOBA and losing a ton of value because he was playing in LF. A good stable front office evaluates his defense at 3b (superb), looks at his total offense (above average), his components (good walks, a 305/377/426 road line), and his age, and tries to buy out a year or two of free agency, preferably via options. Might have worked after 2010 even, a 4.4 WAR but the numbers normally used by arbitrators were not impressive.

        There were complications, our front office turmoil after 2009, Headley being a Super Two after 2010, and some unknowns, like whether Chase had any interest in staying a Padre.

      • Billy Lybarger

        Good stuff, Tom. I’d like to subscribe to your news letter.

      • Tom Waits

        I’m glad that my ideas are intriguing to you.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlMwc1c0HRQ

        What about the newest Cuban (impending) free agent, Jose Fernandez? Second baseman, which slides Gyorko over to 3b.

  • vapadres

    This was a great piece. I am just glad your favorite movie wasn’t Inception because I really want the Padres to wake up from this nightmare.