It’s possible that a team has made more moves in a shorter period of time than the Padres have in the past few days, but I sure as heck can’t remember it. Indeed, since the Winter Meetings ended a little over a week ago, the Padres have embarked on a roster overhaul the likes of which — particularly, the quickness of which — we haven’t seen in some time. I’ve seen it described as a “reverse fire sale,” and I think that comes closer to it than anything else. Instead of an urgent, frantic selling-off of talent, it as been an urgent, frantic shopping spree.
To summarize, in the past few days the Padres have:
That’s a lot of work done.
Of course, the Padres needed a lot of work. They’ve finished below .500 for four straight years. Their old general manager, Josh Byrnes, was fired during the season after failing to see eye-to-eye with ownership and A.J. Preller was hired away from the Rangers to take his place. His main task: to fix a perpetually awful offense and, of course, get the Padres to win more ballgames.
But just as important a task was to make the Padres relevant again. And that he has.
To be sure, such considerations are often subjective and, in a lot of cases, “relevance” is defined by how many games a team wins, rendering it the same job as improving the team from a baseball perspective. But I feel like perception is more important for the Padres than it is for a lot of teams. Because the Padres have a fan base that is about as bored and uninspired as it gets.
I experienced this first hand when I was at the Winter Meetings last week. One evening I joined several Padres bloggers for drinks. It’s worth noting that team bloggers, generally speaking, tend to be the most motivated and inspired fans in any team’s fan base. The die-hardest of the die-hards. When the rest of the fans have checked out, team bloggers are still obsessing and thinking about the team all the time. Which made what I encountered with some of the Padres team bloggers rather surprising: resignation. A feeling that nothing exciting was ever going to happen with the Padres. That, despite the rumors of the team being interested in this or that player, nothing interesting would ever happen. “I’ll believe it when I see it” was said more than once.
This reflects a general apathy that has begun to set in among Padres fans. My brother lives in San Diego. While he wasn’t born a Padres fan, he has more or less adopted them over the past 20 years he has lived there, and his enthusiasm is pretty low. I visit him a couple of times a year and hang out with his friends. When the talk comes around to baseball, the less said about the recent-vintage Padres the better. They want to talk about Ken Caminiti and Tony Gwynn and, if they’re old enough, Rich Gossage. They acknowledge that the Padres have been fielding teams in the past few years, and they realize that there are many teams who have performed worse than the Padres have, but they are anything but enthused.
To be fair, how can they be when, in a given year, their team’s most exhilarating pickups are Seth Smith or Joaquin Benoit? Fine players, but yawn city. At least if the Padres were truly bad they’d be interesting. They’d at least inspire mockery instead of the somnambulism that seems to characterize the current discourse about the Padres. And there would be a sense that something new and bold had to happen with the franchise as opposed to the half-measures and general meandering the team’s bosses tend to tolerate.
That certainly changes now. In the space of days, A.J. Preller has gotten the biggest star from the Dodgers (a team that, based on my own first-hand experience, electrifies Petco Park more than the Padres do). They’ve picked up one of the best outfield bats available in Justin Upton. In Wil Myers they get a prospect who, while coming off a bad year, has promise. They’ve picked up multiple role players who both fit the Padres needs and who will push out some of the dead wood that has lead to that aforementioned somnambulism. Good travels, Carlos Quentin, we wish you well. Padres fans have a lot to talk about now, and have some reason to be excited for the rest of the winter.
Of course, excitement is one thing, and actual winning is another. Will the Padres win with this overhauled roster?
They should certainly win more. The Giants aren’t doing anything this winter and could easily be worse in 2015. The Dodgers are retrenching to some degree and have not gotten significantly better themselves, if at all. The Dbacks are rebuilding. The less said about the Rockies the better. It only took 88 wins to make the playoffs in the National League last season. The boring and bad Padres won 77 with some good pitching and no offense to speak of. Now they have some offense. Some right-handed offense, which plays better in Petco Park than anything. None of the recent moves guarantee the Padres anything, but there is reason to think that the Padres can compete now, and that’s more than a lot of people figured they’d do in 2015 based on the past offseasons they’ve had.
But even if true competition doesn’t truly come to pass, the Padres have inserted themselves into the conversation in a major way in the past few days. They have at least raised the question of their being truly competitive and have given their fans something to talk about. And while talk may, generally speaking, be cheap, it has been a scarce resource in San Diego indeed, and scarcity translates into value.
Way to give ’em something to talk about, A.J. Preller.