The Padres have given their fans something to talk about. Which is badly needed in San Diego.

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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.

 

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”