Yesterday on Grantland.com, Rany Jazayerli outlined how AJ Preller basically destroyed the Padres franchise in a matter of days. He pinpointed the trades that were made this past offseason, and how basically every single one of them hurt the Padres not only this season, but for the unforeseeable future.
He’s not wrong.
However, he wasn’t right either.
You see, I could go through and point out how his article was wrong about this or that. How it’s filled with a lot ‘what ifs’ and the actual stats we can see are at best based on a small sample size. I’ve pointed out before that suggesting Cameron Maybin or Jace Peterson would have done as well for the Padres as they’re doing this season for the Braves is foolish. Never mind the fact that Peterson not only had Gyorko in front of him, he had Spangenberg in front of him as well. Our staff didn’t like Grandal. As Molly Knight pointed out on our last podcast, she feels that that kick in the ass made the difference you’re now seeing. Seth Smith was a slightly better Will Venable, and you would take Shields over Hahn any day of the week. However, I will agree with Rany that we did give up a lot of ‘what ifs’ for our own massive ‘what if’.
So far it hasn’t worked. It might not. We may be stuck with Melvin Upton for a long time, and that is actually depressing.
There is one thing that Rany’s article didn’t touch on, however. It’s the ‘X Factor’ as they say. The thing you can’t really put into a stat machine. It’s not a player or a prospect or even a team – it’s the fans.
San Diego is not a good sports city. It’s not, and this Chargers stadium fiasco should be confirming that for you. Don’t get me wrong, when our teams are doing well we come out in droves to support. We wave the flags, and buy the gear and go all-in. When they aren’t doing well (or even doing moderately well) games are blacked out on TV, our stadiums are filled with the opposing teams fans, and a lot of people probably still think Tony Gwynn is playing right field. We are a tourist city. A beautiful, vibrant, colorful city filled with theme parks, amazing beaches, and incredible resorts. Sports have always come in second and often times in third for a lot of residents. Compare that to Pittsburgh or Kansas City, or Chicago, where professional sports are a life-blood. A multi-generational cultural event open 365 days a year. In Boston they know who’s playing right field, in Green Bay they know who the Left Tackle is. In San Diego that passion is only displayed by a few. Even those of us who care a lot about sports will lose interest from time to time given the monotony of our mediocrity. It’s sad, depressing, and the only thing that can make it worse is when we believe.
So, last December when AJ Preller went on a rampage and swept up a flurry of exciting Baseball players, all-stars, and got rid of those who had underperformed, the city came alive. We once again opened our eyes, and were given a beautiful and intriguing distraction from the Chargers. For the first time in four seasons we had players that you might actually want to buy a ticket to see. We had players other people had heard of. We had players who had won some things. We had players. Our city had been forced to root for a 37-year old Mike Piazza or a roided up Phil Nevin for years. We were told Mike Cameron could help, and that Sean Burroughs was the next great Padres hitter. We had been sold shit since 1998, and people had tuned out. Even the hardcore Padres fans started making documentaries about how awful our team, owners, and management had become. We finally got a break from that. The team was spending the money it had promised to spend since building Petco in 2004 (when Mark Loretta was on the Opening Day ticket). We finally had a reason to pay attention to Spring Training, a reason to once again talk to your Dad about what your hometown team was doing. These are things that can’t be quantified with stats or wins/losses or ‘what ifs’, and anomaly seasons.
We felt real emotion. And, that is something Rany left out of his article. Not because he doesn’t care. It’s very apparent he does care about what the Padres have done and will do. It’s refreshing to have someone of his stature and Baseball prowess take notice of our little team at the edge of America. This is coverage we would have never had if Maybin was playing in center or Joe Ross was on the mound. We would have been left out of every conversation on ESPN, Grantland, FOX, or any blog found outside county lines. We would have been briefly mentioned as a team that can contend in 2017, and then the Baseball heads would go back to dissecting Bryce Harper’s hair, or Kris Bryant’s love life.
When these trades happened back in August, no one thought this was the answer. Real baseball fans knew we weren’t going to the World Series, but what we did get was something much better – a reason to watch. Maybe stat-heads like Rany will watch any game just to see someone take a fourteen-pitch walk. But, in San Diego the continued promise of a contender built on a young and thriving farm system got real old after the first ten years. And, that’s the last thing Rany got wrong:
AJ Preller didn’t ruin this team; bad ownership and odd GM deals since 1999 ruined this team. Old Kevin Towers couldn’t trade for anything but minor league talent because the owners wouldn’t pay for top tier players. So, we built this great farm system in the hopes that that talent would one day pay off, or WHENEVER the team decided to start spending money we could trade those young players for established Major Leaguers. Then came the John Moores divorce, which really dismantled the team by opening the door for the strange ride that was Jed Hoyer and Josh Byrnes. I maintain those guys had an agenda from the start, and it’s definitely panned out for them and Anthony Rizzo. Talk about collusion. These moves, these shallow pocket decisions, and fleecing of prospects for personal gain, and professional profit have been killing the Padres and their fans for decades. Literally decades. You’d think that covering the Royals, Rany would know all about this. In fact I continue to compare what the Padres did this season to what the Royals did in 2013: Make a confusing splash, get it half wrong, fix it, and contend.
But, where’s the fun in writing about or covering a team with Will Venable starting in Right? There is none. Which is why major sports networks and outlets have ignored the San Diego Padres since 1998. And, it’s fine. It only hurts when they come out of the woodwork to crap all over the team when they actually try. Has AJ made mistakes? You better believe it. Will he learn from this? We can all hope. Is the team completely screwed for years to come? No. We still have a nice crop of talent in our minor league system. Will we move Upton and Kimbrel and Kennedy? Maybe. It’ll be interesting to see what we get in return, and that’s just it – I’m interested. Fans and national Baseball writers are interested in the San Diego Padres. AJ didn’t ruin anything, he merely tried and so far his try has failed. Which for a city that’s never won a major championship the trying actually means an awful lot.
For more expert sports stuff, and things you probably won’t care about, follow me on Twitter @dallas_mc