For all he has done, AJ Preller hasn’t executed the one action that most new GMs do when they take over a team: he hasn’t fired Bud Black and replaced him with his guy. There are different ways to look at this. He might be curious how good Bud Black can be with a real team. Or maybe Preller sees it as beneficial to have Black coach the first year of this project so if it fails he can blame him and fire him at the end of the year. However, it might be simpler than that. It’s very possible AJ respects Bud Black’s baseball mind and doesn’t see anybody else more qualified for the job. A baseball skipper’s legacy is most often impacted by the way they use their bullpen in important games. The most dependable strength of Bud Black’s Padres in recent years has come from the relievers, a group that has changed some since the beginning of last season.
Alex Torres is a solid left handed option. He has a history of being sporadic, but knows how to get dangerous left handed hitters out, making him a valuable asset in the NL West. Dale Thayer has been a work horse over the last three seasons, posting a 3.36 ERA with the Padres. Brandon Maurer, acquired from Seattle in the Seth Smith trade, has electric stuff. He could ultimately end up in the starting rotation or stay in the bullpen and be groomed to take over as closer someday. Second year 8th inning guy, Kevin Quackenbush should only get better in his role. He will never be the glaring talent of a Brandon Maurer, but he gets people out and he doesn’t seem to fear difficult situations.
The closer position is very dear to San Diego. The fan base will always be shaped by the body of work Trevor Hoffman provided. His consistency and demeanor were blended perfectly with his success. If ACDC’s Hells Bells started up when the game was on the line, everyone knew what it meant. But he was Bruce Bochy’s guy. Bud Black has had Heath Bell and Huston Street; both All Stars in their own right, but not Trevor. On July 18th last year, Street was traded away and Joaquin Benoit took over. The 37 year old had great success, even though the Padres weren’t division contenders. In 14 appearances, the big veteran right hander racked up 18 strikeouts, one win, and ten saves, while only giving up one measly unearned run to close out the year. He was masterful and if the Padres plan to emerge as a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, they need him to continue this performance when the spot light becomes brighter.
I often find myself walking around my neighborhood obsessively searching through my iTunes for the perfect bullpen walkout song. I channel Trevor and pretend I am the one being looked upon to put an end to the opposition. Saving the Padres is something I can’t do. Other people need to save them for me. Since this offseason full of moves, I’ve been landing on Everything In Its Right Place, the first track on Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A. As a college educated white guy born in 1980, I realize I’m a walking Intro to Sociology case study at Mesa College. I’ll wear it. Thinking about Radiohead is what I do. It’s my favorite song on my favorite album of theirs, and while I think it’s the clearest sonic representation of the end of the 90s, it also would be a perfect fit to increase the drama in the 9th inning for these 2015 Padres. When I hear Thom Yorke – the rock and roll equivalent of AJ Preller- sing, “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon,” I think about how embarrassing it felt to watch Heath Bell slide into the back of the mound at the All Star game. When Yorke follows that with, “There are two colors in my head,” I think about the debate over the two general color schemes the Padres have used. In my fantasy save opportunity, that would be the point in the song when a person wearing the brown could give a guilt trip to a person standing next to them in the blue. It’s all there. That song sounds like anything can happen and the Padres are in the same spot. The table is set for Bud Black to show us what he can do. He has the offense and starting rotation to get him to where he can really shine. This is the right place, and everything is now in it. It’s time to close.
Follow on Twitter: @Nicholas_McCann