Month: February 2015

Faces Out There

It’s important to have a face for your franchise. He doesn’t have to be your best or most exciting player, but the sight of him needs to immediately remind you of where your team is and where it could possibly go. Without question Matt Kemp is the face of the 2015 San Diego Padres, even though he has yet to play a single game. He was the first major move AJ Preller made as the general manager and it started the most exciting offseason in Padres history. When asked about his new GM back in December during the swirl of improvements happening around him, Matt Kemp replied, “This is unbelievable. He’s a rock star right now.” The two of them will always have a special relationship. They both view each other as rock stars. In a perfect world, someday Matt Kemp will hit a World Series winning home run and look up to Preller in his box. They will salute each other and then Preller will walk to the train station and never be seen again. The Cactus League is about to start. Putting our faith in beautiful cinematic scenarios is all we have.

With spring training under way for the Friars there are two outfields to look at. Everyone involved is saying the correct professional things, but the line is clear. The old group of Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin and Will Venable are the ones who are still here. They do not rock. Maybin just came off a poor hitting season where he got popped for doing speed instead of getting on base and displaying it. Carlos is the guy who is always hurt and has only really excelled at shattering Zack Greinke’s collarbone. Will Venable, the senior Padre in this outfield group, is the lasting thread from John Moores owning the team, into the Moorad group, back to Moores, and on to this current regime. Like Kemp, Will has a great smile. For years the Padres have sold baseball as a fun thing to do Downtown. It was baseball for the sake of baseball. Venable’s smile represents that ideology and he is the poster child for the skin we need to shed. If Bud Selig can get a plaza for the work he’s done, Will Venable deserves at least a kiosk someday that offers a free Padres towel if you sign up for a credit card.

In the spirit of the inherent freshness AJ Preller has provided, Matt Kemp, Will Myers, and Justin Upton are the starting outfield everyone wants to see on opening day. Justin Upton is in an interesting position going into 2015. He’s coming up on what should be the last big contract of his career. Always a revered talent waiting to break out, he hasn’t quite been what people thought he would be. However, going into the season he doesn’t have big shoes to fill. Upton doesn’t have to be the face of anything, and in left field, he doesn’t have a lot to live up to. There’s already been talk of Carlos Quentin trying his hand at first base. Hopefully that works out, but if it doesn’t, Quentin should just be the DH for interleague play and get the start in left when little blonde pricks come to town and need to be corrected.

Center field should be Will Myers’ job. Cameron Maybin has said that he is going to try everything in his power to be the starter out there, and if that happens, it’s a good problem to have. The Padres signed Maybin to a nice deal on potential and he hasn’t delivered. Myers was the 2013 American League rookie of the year, but he is still young and coming off a season where a wrist injury slowed him down. He didn’t need surgery and all things point to him securing the job.

Matt Kemp has agreed to play right field, something he wasn’t excited about when he wore Dodger blue. He will play in Tony Gwynn’s spot, and at this point in Kemp’s career, nobody expects him to somehow match Gwynn’s unique level of production. The important thing is that he stays healthy. If he doesn’t (A) the Will Venable show starts up again and (B) Dodgers fans will be more unbearable than ever before. They need Kemps’ questionable hips to fail him. They want him to run into a wall. They need him to run into a wall.

Disaster could easily happen, but I choose to look at the picture above. Matt Kemp’s face always looks like he either just got laid or he’s on his way to getting laid. He’s a 30-year-old professional baseball player worth well over nine figures, he isn’t married, and he’s living in America’s finest city. He is a rock star who joined forces with a rock star. Whenever he’s crushing it at a club with his boys in the Gaslamp and Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira comes on somebody (hopefully me) will undoubtedly ask him if that’s true. All he will have to do is smile because he’s the face of the franchise. He knows where we are and where we could possibly go.

Follow on Twitter: @Nicholas_McCann

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Chargers Go Home!

by Dallas McLaughlin

I’m done. I’m legitimately sick of it, and I’m done. I don’t care one bit if the Chargers stay or if they go, which under current ownership is looking like the latter. The Chargers have been threatening to leave San Diego since they got to San Diego, and you know what? San Diego doesn’t care. They’ve been pushing for a new stadium for over a decade. San Diego doesn’t care. They even paid off the NFL brass years ago to publicly tell us just how bad Qualcomm is, and that we’ll never get another Super Bowl until we get a new stadium. San Diego doesn’t care. Sure, one or two crazy flags-waving-from-the-window fans care a lot, and don’t want their beloved Bolts to pack up, but it’s too late. The majority of San Diego now feels the way I do, and in a few years, those flag-waving flip-flop wearing dads will also feel like I do. Sure there’ll be the politicians and city leaders who will continue to push for the Chargers to stay, but this will only be for one purpose: Revenue. That’s all an NFL team actually means to most cities anymore. On game day, cities make a lot more revenue. From land usage all the way down to your local grocery store selling out of Ruffles. Kevin Faulconer only cares about keeping the Chargers for two reasons:

1) He doesn’t want to be the Mayor who lost the team.

2) Revenue.

He might be a fan, but I guarantee his job and life will be a lot easier once this team finally leaves. He is still publicly committed to working out a new stadium deal, but privately he wants it to be done. He has been and continues to be played by billionaires who just want more billions. It sucks for him, and it sucks for us ‘cause we’re all suckers. But, we have a chance to save ourselves. We have a chance to not be suckers, and here’s why: The Chargers brass made three fatal flaws in negotiating this mess, and we need to hold them accountable:

1) They overestimated just how much San Diego cares about the Chargers. I honestly feel like they were assuming the city would rally to the cause, and beat down the Mayor’s door. They just forgot that this is San Diego. We rarely sell out home games, we have a lot of other things to do, and there just isn’t this “rich Charger tradition” they’ve tried to sell for years. Unless of course that tradition is being mediocre.

2) They forgot to win BEFORE they burned us with a new stadium proposal. See, we’ve been down this road before with the Padres. The biggest difference however was that the Padres knew to get the city excited about a winning at the same time they asked us to vote on a new stadium. We all came off the heels of the amazing 1996-98 seasons, including the ‘98 World Series. Of course we wanted more Padres. We voted yes, they gutted the team the next year, and only in the last few months (over a decade after PETCO opened) has the team started to spend anywhere near what they promised a new stadium would allow them to spend. We already went through this, so if you’re going to lie to us, at least butter us up with a few playoff wins first. You can’t threaten to leave after your team started Brandon Oliver for four games.

3) The Spanos family has never cared about the fans, and everyone knows it. The simplest example I can give is the powder blues. Every fan loves the powder blue jerseys. ESPN, FOX Sports, and dozens of other pundits have lined up saying the powder blues are one of the best looking jerseys in the history of the game, and for twenty years the Spanos family refused to let the team wear them. Why? Because Dean didn’t like them. That’s it. That’s all. He didn’t like them. Sure, it’s his team, but we are…you know…kinda the reason he gets to have one.

These huge missteps have all led to where we are today. And now, the Chargers ownership is actually blaming the citizens of San Diego for all the problems, and issues with this stadium nonsense. WHAT?! Yep. Just read all the dribble spewed by Mark Fabiani. You can’t blame the citizens of one of the most expensive cities in America for not wanting to pay more taxes to watch Philip Rivers hobble around in a new location. Especially when Spanos could pay for a new stadium with his tax return.

And here’s the worst part: Our city is falling for it. Two nights ago Faulconer was booed at opening night for The Gulls (a franchise with an actual winning history)! Booed! Why? Because he’s doing everything he can to save a team that lied to him for months, and started negotiating with another city almost a year ago? Is that why our Mayor is the bad guy? Remember when your girlfriend broke up with you, and although she wasn’t the “one” you were still upset that it didn’t end on your terms, so you tried and tried to get back with her, and then when you finally got her to go out with you again, you find out right before the date that she’s been sleeping with Trevor? Remember how pissed you were that not only did you just waste months chasing a girl who wasn’t that great, and who didn’t want you anyway, but that she spent so long just lying to you about everything only confirming she was pretty lame from the start? Remember that? Well, you should CAUSE IT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?!

Our Mayor is doing everything he can to keep a team who left us months ago. A franchise that was never ours to begin with, and a franchise that we never really bought into all the way. Sure, we had great times together, and a few wonderful memories, but nothing you won’t forget about in a couple years. The Clippers, anyone? The Rockets? Hello? Anyone?

When the social media climate exists like it currently does, we need to be smarter, more responsible, and better fans.

If this whole thing ends with the city publicly funding a stadium that Spanos is willing to pay for himself in Carson (the City of Dreams) then we have failed as fans. We have lost. We live in one the greatest cities in America. Teams should be begging to play here, but the one we have is begging to leave. So, let them. Last I heard the Padres are looking pretty sweet, The Gulls are back, and SDSU basketball is ranked in the top 25. Hell, I even heard the Rams might look to San Diego if their own LA plans don’t work, and I’m all for it. I’ll change my yellow to gold, and I’ll blindly believe Sam Bradford is the answer.

Honestly, as fans, we just don’t deserve this. The only way things could get worse is if the Chargers forced us all to move to Carson and pretend we’re “okay” with Raiders fans. In fact, now that I think about it that’s exactly what should happen to the Spanos family. They should be forced to drive to Carson everyday, rolling past the hoards of unemployed Raiders fans, living out the rest of their days watching the Chargers consistently come up short.

Let them go. Let us go.

Behind The Plate

When AJ Preller was hired by the San Diego Padres, he was touted as an up and comer in the Texas Rangers organization whose strength was international player evaluation. During his time there, he was handed down a month long suspension from MLB for negotiating with a player in the Dominican Republic who had violated an age/ID discrepancy rule. It was a slap on the wrist to Preller, but didn’t stop his rise to becoming a general manager. If anything, the misstep granted him more positive buzz than negative. After all, before being hired by the Rangers, he had worked under hall of famer Frank Robinson on disciplinary matters at the same MLB office that reprimanded him. Within the context of front office activity, there is no upside to being a complete Boy Scout when it comes to dealing with Latin America. AJ understood this and tried to beat the system. People took notice.

Since December, Preller has added a new layer of interest when it comes to following the Padres. For about a two-week stretch right before Christmas it felt like Julian Assange was running the team. He wasn’t just signing players to reshape the roster and win baseball games; he was creating a new form of communication with baseball fans in this city. With every move he dominated the San Diego sports conversation. Even when the Chargers were fighting for their playoff lives, the volume of his actions made it feel like a direct message was being sent: If you like this new feeling, buy tickets. If you buy tickets, the guys with the money will give me more autonomy to maintain this feeling. Also, the Matrix is real. Let me unplug you.

Not since Billy Beane has a front office person captured the imagination of the baseball community. Beane’s early 2000s Oakland Athletics grabbed attention after an historic winning streak, focusing on solid defense and on-base percentage, while using players on cheap contracts. Beane was solidified as one of the great baseball visionaries when New York Times columnist Michael Lewis took interest and wrote his bestseller Moneyball, which was then followed by the movie adaption starring Brad Pitt. AJ Preller has positioned himself as the logical next leap in the evolution of the modern GM. He hasn’t gotten results yet, but the timing of his moves, compounded with the accelerated approach to pulling them off, has allowed for a market changing wave of anticipation.

This offseason, on the heels of the Padres trading Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Joe Wieland to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp and backup catcher Todd Federowicz, Preller and Billy Beane made a deal. The Padres filled the hole behind the plate with starting catcher Derek Norris, along with getting right-hander Seth Streich and an international signing slot from the A’s for right-handers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. It wasn’t much, but it added to the surge of activity AJ had already aggressively put together. By the time of the deal, local and national media had already become accustomed to calling Preller “The Rock Star GM”. In my mind, the post-trade small talk between Billy Beane and AJ was over Skype and went something like this:

Billy: So you’re the hot new thing on the block.

AJ: I’m just trying to stand on your shoulders, sir.

Billy: Call me when they make a movie about you.

AJ: I’ve been approached by Aaron Sorkin.

Billy: Really?

AJ: Sure, nothing interests me more than giving up all my secrets and never winning a ring.

Billy: What did you say, punk?

AJ: Easy with the hostility, Brad. You’re the pits.

Building up the combative genius personality of AJ Preller that I choose to believe exists is a lot of fun. It beats the narratives going into last season: What are the Padres going to do with Chase Headley? Who is going to be the next PA announcer? Should the Pads start Nick Hundley, the poor hitting, but morally pure catcher over the more talented, but flawed Yasmani Grandal? None of that matters now. It’s Derek Norris’ job and with pitchers and catchers reporting this week, it’s his time to make his presence felt. If he can be a decent bat and develop a great relationship with the pitching staff, things will work out well for the Padres in this department. He hit .246 with 26 home runs in three seasons at Oakland in a platoon situation. Last year he posted career highs, batting .270, with a .361 OBP and 10 home runs.

Prize of the Padres organization, catcher Austin Hedges isn’t ready, but it looks like his ceiling in the next few years will land somewhere near where Derek Norris is right now. If that comes to pass, Preller can move Norris and plug Hedges in for less money. It was a smart baseball move, but it also helps to rid the fan base of confronting the problems with Yasmani Grandal, who led the Padres with 15 homers last season while hitting .225. He was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone and then tore up his right knee in a collision at the plate that July. That isn’t fun, but more importantly, that isn’t Preller.

“I was just trying to figure out what a Padre was,” Norris said, smiling during his first press conference with three of his new teammates. It was an innocent and playful statement, but that is something we are all looking at. Are the Padres setting themselves up as a year-in and year-out contender in the National League West? Do they just want to be good for a few years so they can host the All Star game with a nice presence of talent participating in the weekend’s big event? Will AJ Preller leave the team to run for president and fix this country of ours? I don’t know. I do know that we have a new catcher and a new season to figure out what we are.

Follow on Twitter: @Nicholas_McCann

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