At this point the Padres have to ask themselves: what are we doing? What sort of team would we like to be moving forward? Justin Upton answered that question pretty loudly right after the break, when he made it very clear he’d like to stay in San Diego. Sure, it could’ve been just a smart PR move, but he also could have been completely serious. Earlier in the season when the Padres started to struggle James Shields famously put up a sign in the locker room that read, “If you don’t like it, play better.” In fact James Shields chose San Diego over the Cubs in large part because of the moves AJ Preller had made. He felt like he was signing on to a team that could win this season. That could contend immediately, and for the next few seasons as well. Will Myers was also excited to be coming to San Diego, and Matt Kemp went from being a controversial all-star in a huge baseball market, to a bonafide superstar in a city begging for one. We had players; unlike any we’d seen since 1998, on our team and ready win.
As fans we misunderstood that being excited about a team didn’t mean the team was going to actually be good. Just because all involved wanted to win, guarantees could never be made to support that. In fact when teams spend a lot of money and put together a bunch of free agents, and talent, it doesn’t usually work. The reason it often falls apart is because of something called ‘chemistry’. Just because the talent plays well, the talent won’t necessarily play well together. One guy could be a diva. One guy could bring the entire clubhouse up or down. One guy could only be out for himself. Who knows? We don’t, and neither does anyone else involved until it happens. Since May people started to see the decline in the Padres on field play, and started to bring up that fateful word ‘chemistry’ as a reason. They started saying the team wasn’t coming together. They hadn’t found their rhythm. No true leader had emerged in the clubhouse, and no one seemed that fired up one-way or another. These comments and observations marked the beginning of the end for Bud Black. As a manager he was very even-keeled, a calming presence that rarely ruffled feathers and excelled in towing the company line. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It only appears to be a bad thing when, in the case of the month of May, no true leader had yet taken control. These things get blamed on the manager first. It did, and Black was gone. The worst part was that the team that hadn’t yet “come together” actually started playing better before they fired Black, and appeared to be on the upswing.
Enter Pat Murphy. Different style, different manager, different expectations. Put slight pressure on the reset button, but don’t totally push it down yet. Of course things seemed to get worse immediately under Murphy, because once again this ‘chemistry’ thing was thrown out of whack. It takes time to learn what your manager expects of you, and what you expect of him. It takes a couple months to find out how those relationships co-exist. However, sometimes the answers to these questions can get jumpstarted.
Enter Rany and the Grantland article. The Padres suddenly had a ‘catalyst’. A boost to lift their collective depression, and give them a common enemy. It’s basically the plot of Major League, and Major League is a great freaking movie. The team now had a singular reason to play better, as a team, so they could prove a “stat-head” and the yet-to-turn-a-profit website he contributes to wrong. They came out of the gates swinging, and the loud cries of “SECOND HALF KEMP!” filled the warm San Diego air. We’ve gone 5-3 since the break, and not only has Kemp’s power come alive, the starting pitching has returned to form, and our role players have, well…played their roles. Except for two games against the Giants, this team has been as fun to watch as they were in April. Now, its trade deadline time and the Padres are forced to decide if they’re buyers or sellers. Forced to ask themselves what kind of team they’d like to be going forward. The improbability of a playoff run at this point would make them candidates to sell, but Ron Fowler has said as recently as yesterday that that decision has yet to be made.
I for one am glad. I’m glad that they’re still seeing what they have and how this team reacts to the second half, how they’ve come together so far or fallen apart. Media people and guys who think BABIP is the key code to a happy life are begging for the Padres to be sellers. “The plan didn’t work!” “AJ ruined the team, now fix it!” “Just rebuild!” Well, they’re all wrong. You see, the bad numbers, the slumps, and the apparent apathy coupled with frustration are all indicators of one thing – lack of chemistry. This Padres squad was put together, and given a month to figure out who was gonna play where, who was gonna hit where, and who was gonna lead this team into contention. Well, it doesn’t totally work like that. Any “dynasty” in sports these days starts with a core of talented players. That core needs to grow together for at least one season, and while they’re growing management can assess the situation. They can see who in the core doesn’t care about being in the core. They can see what players need to be around the core, to help the core shine and come together. They find the holes, and the issues, and hiccups. Then, once the assessment is done they make their moves. In Baseball, half a season is not enough time to figure out finalities for an entire organization. It’s barely enough time for me to figure out if I should keep Ryan Braun on my fantasy team or trade him for Tanaka. Baseball is the grand ‘ol game because it allows us time to take it all in, and that’s why it hurts so much when what you’re taking in is losses.
I can understand why people think we should trade Justin Upton to fill an actual hole on our team, which is obviously shortstop. I can see why people would want to trade Kimbrel or Benoit, but I don’t understand why you’d trade them both. And, I definitely don’t understand why you’d want to trade James Shields. He’s a great pitcher who isn’t that expensive. Let’s just assume for a second we can keep our core together and make a playoff run next season – Shields is the exact pitcher we’d go out and try to acquire at the deadline! Of course I can understand wanting to move him for a shortstop or another infielder, but it’s not a move we NEED to make. And, if it’s not a move we NEED to make, then why would we make it?
So, what would you have the team do, Dallas? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’d have them do nothing. Last winter things were different. No one in San Diego cared much about the Padres and the decade long rebuilding plan was churning out questionable results. The new ownership group saw an opportunity to claim the spotlight from a floundering Chargers organization, and brought in a whiz GM to help. They made a splash, grabbed headlines, and gave the city a reason to go watch the Padres again. Now, it’s different. Making moves to just make moves or help replenish the farm system isn’t the mandate anymore. The new mandate is to win, and winning takes time. Assessment is a process, but for the first time in a long time we now know that we have an ownership group willing to spend money to help in that process. And, that is enormous. So, why not see what this team could do the rest of the season with a healthy Will Myers, and a fiery Pat Murphy? What do we have to lose? Sure, some of these guys value might not be what it is now, but with David Price and Cespedes, and Cole Hamels being touted around, their value might have already reached plan C levels. So, don’t do a thing. Let them play together, hang out together, take their lumps together, and try to build up that silly word, which means so much – chemistry. As fans, let’s just enjoy what might be a really exciting second half. Statistically we don’t have a shot, but what happens if the Giants start losing, or all the Dodgers die in a clown car accident? I mean, anything can happen, and I for one am still hopeful that we’ll have a good core of players here for a few more seasons. To use a quote from a formidable Baseball mind, “Sometimes the hardest thing to do in sports is nothing.” Well, let’s take the hard road, guys. We’ve never won anything anyway, so why start now?
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