If you’ve been trawling the Internet for the past several days, you’ll find no shortage of blame for why the Padres are in this mess – the worst offense in baseball, 11 games under .500, 12.5 games back in the division, and currently sitting on the 5th overall pick in the 2015 draft. And if Padres fans have learned anything over the past several years, it’s that front office personnel come and go – but dysfunction remains the same. With that in mind, it’s easy to conclude that Sunday’s firing of Josh Byrnes was both inevitable and far from the root of their issues.
I won’t bore you with a detailed history of recent ownership failings, as I feel Padres Public and the local media has this topic covered. Once Grantland’s Jonah Keri went scorched earth with Wednesday’s aptly titled “What’s Wrong With the Padres?” (spoiler alert: a lot), I considered the microphone dropped.*
Similarly, it’s no surprise that Byrnes has been accused – both by the national sports media and President/CEO, Mike Dee – of being ill-prepared to compete with the full stable of talent he had inherited. While not every move Byrnes made was a stinker and the jury is still out on his draft classes, there were numerous questions about player development, contract extensions, and free agent signings that called into question he and his baseball operations team’s ability to lead the Padres to greatness both now and in the future. Byrnes isn’t wrong to place at least partial blame on ownership for failing to open their wallets, but it was no secret that ownership planned to slowly escalate spending until they reached mid-market.
So, how well did Josh Byrnes do with the resources provided to him? Looking at it strictly from the Major League side, Byrnes presided over a team with a .461 W% and only seemed to get worse the more he was given. In a results-based business, this wasn’t enough for an ownership group that, realistically or not, expected more.
As I mentioned before, Byrnes does deserve some credit for building something out of nothing. He stole Tyson Ross away from the Oakland A’s; he acquired a workhorse in Ian Kennedy for a LOOGY and a future bullpen piece; Jesse Hahn cost the Padres a utility guy and fringy arms down on the farm; and the Seth Smith-for-Luke Gregerson deal is working out better than they ever could have expected. Even Andrew Cashner has performed better than many had expected; which, I suppose also speaks to how little people thought of the deal to begin it.
As for returns through trade, Byrnes has been able to gain more than he’s given up – but not by a whole heap of a lot (value listed by fWAR):
Keep in mind that this excludes what Quentin and Street have done since receiving their contract extensions, and only tallies player value for the team Byrnes originally dealt them to.
Obviously, evaluating a trade is much more complex than looking at immediate, on-field contributions – especially when prospects are involved. With a small- to mid-market team like the Padres, there are controllable years, inherited salary, and even future trade value to consider. However, when a general manager inherits a great farm system that’s built primarily on depth, as Byrnes did, one has to consider the general philosophy behind each move relative to his understanding of the system.
The two biggest chips Byrnes inherited were dealt within a three week period just after he took the job; that being, of course, Mat Latos and Anthony Rizzo. While those trades have been discussed to death, the important takeaway from each is that Byrnes dealt the two biggest contributors he had at the Major League and Minor League levels. Byrnes may have stolen a couple pieces by moving minor characters, but Latos (7.7 fWAR) and Rizzo (6.1 fWAR) run circles around any of the top pieces he received via trade.
Byrnes made both moves intending to get fill positions of need and, on a whole, could be considered as quantity over quality. When your system is built on prospect depth, dealing two top talents is going to have you playing catch-up. We’ll never fully know what decisions were driven by payroll, driven by ownership demands, or how strongly either party believed that this team, this roster, would be a competitor.
The fact remains that Josh Byrnes fielded a Major League roster that struggled to win games, a farm system that has lost its luster, player development issues that continue to haunt the organization, and a trade history that has thus far only proven to slightly favor the home team. Ownership is far from blameless for this debacle, but they’ve made it clear they won’t accept a general manager content with treading water.
Hope remains that their next hire shoots a bit higher.
* If you scan to the bottom of Keri’s article, you’ll even see my name mentioned. That’s because I emailed Keri a list of grievances, and you can read those here.