Playing Pepper 2017: San Diego Padres

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

San Diego Padres
68-94, fifth in NL West
Last year’s Pepper

It’s been a rough recent road in San Diego.  No matter what path they take, they tend to wind up as a sub-.500 club.  In eight of the last nine years, the Friars have wound up with more losses than wins, plus there’s been some off-the-field drama as well.  Whether it’s starting to name a plaza after Bud Selig (before changing their mind) or some questionable ethics when it comes to medical records, it feels like nothing goes right for the boys in brown.  (Wait, they aren’t even in brown anymore!)

To see if the club is on the upward swing, we’ve got three great Padres bloggers to go over the Pepper Six.  Some great content with these guys so check them out!

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Scott Dunsmore Ghost of Ray Kroc GhostofRAK
Richard Dorsha East Village Times outsidepaint
Geoff Hancock Left Coast Bias LeftCoastBias

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

GRK: Depends on how you define good. A.J. Preller seems to have a plan that ownership has gotten on board with. I know it’s going to be a few years before this team has a chance to be competitive, but I’ve seen others who are not so understanding. Some fans are confused and wondering why they haven’t signed a big-time free agent pitcher or something.

I think the Padres haven’t done a good job of explaining to the average fan what their plan is. Especially after they “won” the 2014-15 offseason by trading for Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, & Justin Upton and signing James Shields as a free-agent. They then turned around and sent all of those players packing — with the exception of Myers — for prospects. I know what they were trying to do and what they’re trying to get to, but I’m not sure the average fan gets it.

The Myers extension was a good thing this offseason, but otherwise, they just filled roster spots with lukewarm bodies. Jhoulys Chacin isn’t my idea of upgrading anything, especially a pitching rotation. We have a few years before some of these prospects might be ready for the Majors, and it’s going to be a lot of roster filling in the meantime.

The one thing that I wish the Padres did would be to sign Jake Peavy. He’s only 9 wins from breaking Eric Show’s Padres career record of 100 [insert laugh track]. The reason given, allegedly, was that Peavy wouldn’t sell tickets. Really? And Jered Weaver will? Okay.

EVT: If you consider the offseason as starting when the team gave up on 2016, then… absolutely! Padres fans know the team spent 2016 ridding itself of payroll to create capital to invest during the international signing period and the draft.

Now, if you’re referencing the true offseason then the answer is still yes. The team is not trying to contend in 2017. It will tread water until all the kids are ready. So, this past offseason the team picked up a bunch of reclamation projects hoping at least some of them stick. If/when the cast-offs perform the team will flip them for prospects. If/when they fizzle out the team will let them go and think nothing of it.

I wish they would have signed Jake Peavy, but that is only for sentimental value. They did exactly what I wanted: save resources so they can make a run at contending in a year or two.

LCB: All three of these questions are somewhat dependent on what the goal of the 2017 season is. I, for one, am all in on playing for the future and thus have little expectation for the 2017 season. To that end, this offseason was a good one in that the long term plan was not derailed for short term gain, or rather, perceived gain. The most notable offseason move was the extension of Wil Myers, a move I wholeheartedly agree with. Myers is (knocking on every piece of wood I can find) the cornerstone of this team and will be the catalyst when they are competitive again (2019? Fingers crossed). Myers was locked up through 3 arbitration years and 3 free agency years. He’s still only 26 and I think (hope) that 2016 was more of the Wil Myers that people saw when he was a prospect with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I for one am a believer. So, did they do what needed to be done? They did, by locking up Myers and not spending money otherwise. For 2017, that’s fine by me. 

A quick aside as to a move I wish they had made. I would have said signing Jake Peavy as that seemed a very realistic chance considering both sides 2017 outlook. Jake Peavy is on my Padres Mt. Rushmore and I would have loved to hear some Sweet Home Alabama pumping through Petco Park. Sadly, Peavy’s personal life has taken a pretty rough turn and baseball is not, and can not, be his priority now. I wish him the best and look forward to rooting for him when and if he comes back to baseball.

C70: Will the fact that the Padres are now the only professional game in town, as it were, be a good thing or a bad thing for the club?

GRK: At first glance, you would think it would be a good thing. You would assume fans of the Team Formerly Known as the Local NFL Team* would then refocus their fandom on the Padres. But I’ve found that NFL fans are a cut from a different cloth than baseball fans. Yeah, there’s a lot who are fans of both, but I’m not concerned with them.

*I refused to call them by their real name, even before they left. I haven’t been a fan since the Spanos family bought the team in the late 1980’s.

Kyle Glaser of Baseball America wrote a piece in February in which he quoted the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, David Carter:

“There’s a potentially very important business development part of this. Now that (the Padres) have the market to themselves, it will really help them with gaining advertisers and sponsors trying to reach sports fans and consumers. An NFL fan is not exactly the same as a baseball fan, but any time you have fewer competitors in the marketplace, the better opportunity for you to move the needle in terms of advertising or sponsorship, whether that’s radio or selling suites and signage in venue.

“That, and they now have the ability to capture some of that disposable income fans were spending on the Chargers and divert some of that through some great marketing and other campaigns. Even if it’s just a little bit, it can be a boon for the Padres.”

However, with the Padres now being the “only game in town” (we do have San Diego State football and basketball, the AHL Gulls, and Sockers, which is at least an option), the fans can’t help but have a little piece of our brains whispering, “Now they don’t have a reason to do anything for the fans.” A great example of this possibility is the promotional schedule, which is underwhelming and — like the 2017 uniforms — boring and uninspired. Padres’ chairman Ron Fowler talked about this in the Union-Tribune in January:

“We’re probably not going to be as edgy or creative,” he said, “because we want ones that people said they liked and the ones that demonstrated significant attendance regardless of which team we were playing that night.”

Those of us who follow such things as promotions and giveaways just shook our heads after we looked at that promotional schedule and then Fowler’s comments. There’s a real fear that, now that they have no real competition for fans’ dollars, they don’t even have to try anymore. Granted, the promotions were probably decided upon before the NFL bolted,** but it definitely isn’t a good look.

**I had to. Sorry.

Don’t get me started on the Padres stubbornness on bringing back the brown, because I want to keep this at a reasonable length, and I’ve nearly gone off the rails as it is.

Then again, the Padres organized and hosted the Celebrate San Diego rally — in which pretty much every team left in San Diego, professional and college was represented — and it drew more than 10,000 people. It was deemed so successful that there are calls to make it an annual event.

In summary, beats me. Only time will tell.

EVT: It probably won’t matter very much. The football fans and baseball fans in this town are different groups of people with very little bleed-over. The Padres might be able to grab a few extra corporate sponsors who can’t advertise at football games any longer, but fans won’t really notice. Some football fans may try out Petco Park but they won’t measurably affect the team’s bottom line.

LCB: That really depends on how they leverage this new spotlight. The Padres management has been pretty hit and miss when it comes to fan interaction. While I’m not a die hard Bring Back the Brown person, it doesn’t take a focus group to see what the majority of fans are wearing to games, and what sells better. It’s a rough patch to try and gain new fans as I anticipate some lean years ahead so, timing wise, it’s not ideal. I guess I’d say, the jury is still out on whether this is a good or bad thing. 

C70: What’s the strength of this team going to be?

GRK: Outfield defense? Austin Hedges’ defense? Wil Myers’ overall game? The bullpen?

That’s a really tough question to answer, given how this team looks on paper. We know the starting pitching is going to be serviceable, at best. Unwatchable, at worst. Fowler keeps referring to the 2010 season and how everyone had the Padres stinking. But then he follows it up with not believing in lightning in a bottle, which is what that 2010 team was.

EVT: Team defense. The team rid itself of the lumbering oafs in the outfield and one behind the plate. There are some studs in their place. Austin Hedges has a chance to be Yadier Molina good behind the plate. Manny Margot can be elite in centerfield, Hunter Renfroe has a cannon in right and a natural center fielder, Travis Jankowski, will spend most of the time in left. The Padres outfield will be where extra-base hits go to die. Wil Myers is also better than most people know at first base. Yangervis Solarte is pretty good at third. The only questions are up the middle, mostly because I have no clue who will get the lion’s share of innings at those positions.  

LCB: There are a ton of young players that are unproven that, while maybe not a strength, at least will be entertaining. With young players comes a lot of unknowns but they will be names that Padres fans have heard a lot about. Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, Travis Jankowski, these guys have had cups of coffee but now they get real playing time. I think they are still a few years away, but with a lot of well regarded, yet unproven, talent, you just never know. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

GRK: Unheralded? You might have to clarify. Nearly the entire roster qualifies, if that’s the one requirement.

I want to say Hunter Renfroe, but that’s probably too much pressure to put on a rookie. I’m instead going to say Cory Spangenberg, who missed the entire 2016 season to injury and effectively lost his starting 2B job to Schimpf. If he can win the 2B job back this spring, that is.

EVT: If he can even be average with the bat, Austin Hedges will post one of the best WAR numbers in the National League based on the defense alone. Granted, the bat is a mad-sized “if”, but no one outside of San Diego knows how good this guy is defensively. He is a big reason why Yazmani Grandal is in Los Angeles. I’m encouraged by his season in AAA last year, but it remains to be seen if he can duplicate his offensive production at the next level. If he can, he is going to turn heads and will be a Gold Glove candidate in year one.  

LCB: LOL, I feel like the entire team is unheralded. I’ll say Yangervis Solarte has been a pleasant surprise since coming over in the Headley trade and I think he has the potential to continue to grow as a player. Plus, the prospect of Christian Bethancourt attempting to pitch could be really fun. I wouldn’t call Austin Hedges unheralded, but if he has figured out how to hit big league pitching, he could be REALLY fun to watch this year. 

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

GRK: Oh, dead last. And I’m perfectly okay with this. Preferably dead last in the Major Leagues. Gotta crack some eggs to make an omelette. Granted, the Padres history with top-5 overall draft picks is shady, at best. But I believe they finally have a baseball operations staff that can reverse that trend.

At least, I sure hope so.

EVT: The Padres will not lose 100 games, as many are saying. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is a team full of question marks. I’ve read the over/under anywhere from 64 up to 70 and most pundits say it will be under those already small numbers. I’ll probably sound like the world’s biggest homer for my team but I will certainly take the over on the 64 and I might even take the over on the 70 number. The Padres have at least 8 legitimate contenders for the starting rotation. A few of them will be pretty good because that always happens. The Padres always seem to find gold in someone else’s garbage. The team will play great defense, the team has speed through-out the roster and the line-up can’t be much worse than some of the dreck it rolled out last year. If I had to pick a win total, 70-75 sounds pretty good.

LCB: I’ll say 70-92 and 4th place is looking about right. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Padre and why?

GRK: Tony Gwynn. Duh. Any self-respecting Padres fan is answering with that. And that’s a boring read, because it’s almost always the same no matter who you talk to. Yeah, sure, you might have that rebel who throws out Randy Jones or Trevor Hoffman as an answer. But we all know their favorite is Tony, as it should be.

Rather, let me tell you about my 2nd favorite player, Mark Loretta, and why that is.

Back when I used to play fantasy baseball (I stopped a few years ago because it stopped being fun to me), for a couple of years I picked up Loretta because he was playing ¾ of the infield spots and he was putting up good numbers doing it. Next thing I know, I’m winning in all of leagues that I had Loretta in. This was all while he still a Milwaukee Brewer.

Cut to a couple of years later, and Loretta is the starting 2B for the Padres. And he’s still qualified at multiple spots and putting up good numbers. It could be argued he was the best player on those early-Petco Park Padres teams. You know, back when they actually were doing things like winning the division (and getting swept out of the Divisional Series by the Cardinals. But, uh… [clears throat]).

EVT: It is a total cliche, but there really isn’t another answer other than Tony Gwynn. Padre fans do not adore the guy for his greatness. 8 batting titles speak for themselves. Padre fans love Tony because he was not the best baseball player, at first. He worked for everything he achieved. He had a terrible arm, but he ended up playing right field. Tony’s solution wasn’t to demand a change to left. Tony got to the field early, every day, and threw over and over again to make himself better. Tony wasn’t the best hitter coming out of college. He literally got better in the big leagues because he worked harder than everyone else, whether it was batting practice or watching video. Other fans may not know that Tony was sort of a pioneer when it comes to video swing analysis. He requested the Padres organization invest in the equipment he needed to watch himself on video. This was during the mid-1980’s when video equipment required VHS tapes.

In addition to the work ethic, I loved Tony’s smile, his laugh, his accessibility. He was always on Padres pre and post game TV and radio broadcasts. Put it in perspective: in a year and a half, Matt Kemp did the radio post-game show twice. Tony did that each and every week. The team sucked and he never complained. I watch old Tony Gwynn interviews and videos on Youtube at least a few times a month. It was obvious he loved baseball, he appreciated his fans and he loved the city of San Diego. I should also add he took a lower salary here than he could have collected somewhere else.
I’m probably writing too much but I could fill page after page writing about Tony. I still miss him.

LCB: I cannot imagine anyone answering this question any other way than to say Tony Gwynn. Nor can I think of a better player for a kid in Oceanside and Tucson, AZ to look up to in the 90’s. He was quiet, he was a professional, he studied and practiced and didn’t just rely on natural talent and he did so with such grace and humility. I’m still in shock he’s no longer with us. 

My thanks to Scott, Richard, and Geoff for their time and efforts in letting us get a little smarter about the Padres.  They might be an interesting team to watch on after some Cardinal games this season!

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