2016 Preview: San Diego Padres

Associated Press
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres

The Padres got a new general manager and a whole new look before the 2015 season. That . . . didn’t work out too well, so they got a whole new look once again heading into 2016. Gone are Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko among others. Coming in: Fernando Rodney, Alexei Ramirez and Jon Jay. The order of the day now is to build a bit more slowly rather than try to make a big splash. That means that you shouldn’t expect all that much more than nice weather in San Diego this summer.

New manager Andy Green will be tasked with finding some sort of offense from the likes of Cory SpangenbergWil MyersMatt KempDerek Norris, Alexei Ramirez, and Jay. Myers will hopefully play more than the 60 games he played last year. Kemp, after a very slow start, ended up putting together a fine season. Ramirez will be an upgrade over the dreck the Padres trotted out to short last year. Jay’s 2015 was an 80-game disaster, but he could bounce back. And hey, Melvin Upton Jr. is still there. We’re on at least year four of saying “he can’t be that bad, can he?” And, to be fair, he was pretty decent after coming back from an injury last June. This is no great lineup to be sure, but it could be better than last year, when they were the worst in the league in OBP.

As far as pitching goes, we used to say that Petco Park is a pitchers paradise, but that wasn’t as much the case last year. A lot of homers flew out of the joint in 2015, in large part because Padres pitchers were allowing them. James Shields was particularly bad in this department and he’ll have to bounce back. Tyson Ross was solid but Andrew Cashner was not. Each are capable of being above-average starters and a best-case scenario for the Padres is those two leading the way with Shields returning to respectability. Beyond that . . . things fall off. It’s more likely that Cashner and Ross are on the trading block come June than they are leading the Padres into respectability.

It’d be easy to say that the bullpen will be a disaster now that Craig Kimbrel and Joaqun Benoit are gone, but the pen wasn’t all that great with them. Now with Fernando Rodney closing and a lot of filler, well, filling, it will probably still be bad. Just for different reasons.

Ain’t no way to spin this: the Padres are going to be bad in 2016. They won’t be a massive failure of high expectations like they were in 2015, but it’s hard to see them winning many more than the 74 games they won last year either. And even if they do exceed those expectations a bit, their best case scenario is likely a slightly better fourth place finish than expected. They’re not catching Los Angeles, San Francisco or Arizona. They’re probably big sellers at the deadline.

Prediction: Fourth place, NL West.

La Russa steps down as White Sox manager over heart issue

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CHICAGO — Tony La Russa stepped down as manager of the Chicago White Sox on Monday because of a heart issue, ending a disappointing two-year run in the same spot where the Hall of Famer got his first job as a big league skipper.

La Russa, a three-time World Series champion who turns 78 on Tuesday, missed the final 34 games with the underachieving White Sox. He left the team on Aug. 30 and doctors ultimately told him to stay out of the dugout.

La Russa has a pacemaker implanted in February and doctors later found another heart problem that he has not detailed.

“It has become obvious that the length of the treatment and recovery process for this second health issue makes it impossible for me to be the White Sox manager in 2023,” he said in a statement. “The timing of this announcement now enables the front office to include filling the manager position with their other offseason priorities.”

Chicago began the season with World Series aspirations but was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. It was 79-80 heading into Monday night’s game against Minnesota.

“Our team’s record this season is the final reality. It is an unacceptable disappointment. There were some pluses, but too many minuses,” La Russa said. “I was hired to provide positive, difference-making leadership and support. Our record is proof. I did not do my job.”

Bench coach Miguel Cairo took over after La Russa stepped away. The White Sox showed a spark right after the change, winning 10 of 14. But they dropped eight straight in late September, dashing their playoff hopes.

La Russa, who is close friends with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, was a surprise hire in October 2020, and he directed the team to the AL Central title last year.

But the White Sox sputtered throughout much of 2022, and there were chants of “Fire Tony! Fire Tony!” at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“At no time have I been disappointed or upset with White Sox fans, including those who at times chanted `Fire Tony,”‘ La Russa said. “They come to games with passion for our team and a strong desire to win. Loud and excited when we win, they rightly are upset when we play poorly.”

All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson and sluggers Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert missed significant time because of injuries. Catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Yoan Moncada also had health issues, and they underperformed when they were on the field.

There were embarrassing breakdowns, too, like when the White Sox ran themselves into the first 8-5 triple play in major league history during a loss to Minnesota on July 4.

La Russa continued to be a lightning rod for fans who weren’t thrilled with his hiring in the first place. His lineups came under question as did his decisions in games.

Some fans chanted for La Russa’s dismissal following a strange call for an intentional walk to to the Dodgers’ Trea Turner despite a 1-2 count on June 9. Bennett Sousa had just bounced an 0-2 slider, allowing the runner to advance from first to second.

With the base open, La Russa chose to walk Turner even though there were two strikes. It backfired when Max Muncy smacked a three-run homer, propelling Los Angeles to an 11-9 victory.

Another moment that raised eyebrows happened early in the 2021 season.

During a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati, La Russa was unaware of a rule that would have allowed him to use Jose Abreu as the automatic runner at second base rather than closer Liam Hendriks in the 10th inning.

With a 2,900-2,514 record over 35 years with Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis, La Russa trails only Connie Mack on baseball’s career wins list. He moved past John McGraw last season.

But there were big questions about whether La Russa was the right person for the job when the White Sox hired him to replace Rick Renteria. He hadn’t filled out a lineup card since 2011, when St. Louis beat Texas in the World Series. There were doubts about how someone known more for his scowl than smile would mesh with a fun-loving team that had just delivered the White Sox’s first playoff appearance since 2008.

Then, shortly after his hiring, news surfaced of an arrest on misdemeanor DUI charges.

La Russa blew out a tire on the Lexus he was driving in a collision with a curb that February in Arizona, after going to dinner with friends. The case was filed on Oct. 28, one day before the White Sox announced La Russa’s hiring.

He ended up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving and was sentenced to one day of home detention, a fine of nearly $1,400 and 20 hours of community service.

La Russa also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Florida in 2007 after police found him asleep and smelling of alcohol inside his running sport-utility vehicle at a stoplight.

La Russa captured championships with Oakland in 1989 and the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. The former big league infielder and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win the World Series in the American and National leagues.

He got his first major league managing job at age 34 when the White Sox promoted him from Triple-A to replace the fired Don Kessinger during the 1979 season. He took over that August and led them to a 522-510 record over parts of eight seasons.

The 1983 team won 99 games on the way to the AL West championship – Chicago’s first playoff appearance since the 1959 Go-Go White Sox won the pennant. But La Russa was fired in 1986 by then-general manager Ken Harrelson after the White Sox got off to a 26-38 start, a move Reinsdorf long regretted.