I've watched a lot of Padres games in my life. Literally hundreds of Padres games. You don't know anyone in the physical world who can claim this. I am a specimen to study, a freak of nature. I have watched hundreds of Padres games in my life. AMA.
Except, there are people who have watched even more. There are people who might have watched more Padres games just last year. They're called Padres fans. Those are the people you want to study. They're hardy, hardy specimens. They've dealt with in-season heartbreak and postseason heartbreak. The follow a franchise that leads the world in historically disappointing trades, a franchise that's retired the number of both Randy Jones and Steve Garvey, a franchise that has never had a no-hitter or a player hit for the cycle. Adrian Gonzalez was just about to break the Padres franchise record for career home runs when he was traded away. The franchise leader is still Nate Colbert.
I know these things because I've had to watch hundreds of Padres games, and I'm sick of them. In my other life, I'm an unprofessional, irrational Giants blogger, and I enjoy needling the Padres. As much as I pull for the underdog around baseball -- Orioles, Royals, Pirates, doesn't matter, bring me your underdogs -- the Padres are always an exception. There might not be a bigger underdog in the expansion era than the Padres. Doesn't matter. Divisional rivalries run deep, sure, but it's more that I had to watch them so danged much. It's just too much Padres. The kidneys can't filter it.
This offseason, though. This incredible, maniacal, unexpected offseason. I'm not sure I agree with every move the Padres have made and are planning to make. But this Padres team is a presence on the offseason. They're affecting everything. They're bidding up free agents and making wild trades. The old Padres were Charlie Brown, forever losing and mumbling "I can't stand it" with their heads down. The new Padres still might get their Sopwith Camel shot up, but at least they're tangling with the Red Baron.
At least they're tangling with the Red Baron. Or maybe the cat next door. Either way, it's something. Here's a list of players the Padres acquired last offseason, in order:
- Ben Paullus
- Devin Jones
- Alex Dickerson
- Jason Lane
- Alberto Gonzalez
- Seth Smith
- Patrick Schuster
- Ryan Jackson
- Brandon Wood
- Joaquin Benoit
- Zack Braddock
- Brooks Conrad
- Blaine Boyer
- Travis Buck
- Jesse Hahn
- Alex Torres
- Xavier Nady
- Tony Sipp
Don't get me wrong, there are good players on that list. Smith is still a player other teams will want. Benoit is the closer. Hahn just netted them a valuable young catcher. But that's a very typical offseason for the Padres. It might be one of the most exciting offseason for the Padres in recent memory. It just wasn't a grab-you-by-the-jowls offseason, which meant it was the 17th consecutive offseason that didn't qualify for grab-you-by-the-jowls status, dating back to the Kevin Brown trade that sent them to the World Series.
Here, then, are four players the Padres acquired this offseason:
- Justin Upton
- Matt Kemp
- Wil Myers
- Derek Norris
They're probably not done. They have outfielders to trade and a shortstop to procure. But, goodness, that's a fascinating offseason already. I'm not sold on all of the players involved, but it's a very, very different Padres approach. It's uncomfortably aggressive, an idea in search of a team, instead of a team in search of an idea.
The Padres are relevant again. The Padres fancy themselves contenders. Everyone stop what you're doing and take them seriously. They were pitching and nothing else. Now they're a completely rebuilt, rejiggered team.
I can play devil's advocate against all four players, like any cynical baseball writer, of course:
Matt Kemp has a wonky shoulder. He has knees made out of Nilla Wafers and gold leaf. The Padres knew this, but they still traded for him. When the physical came back, it turned out that he has arthritic hips, too. I've made fun of his defense plenty, saying Kemp looked like a player who was 10 years older than he was. It's not so funny, now. He's so far removed from the player he was in 2011, so far removed.
His defensive stats are historically awful, but Zachary Levine makes a great point:
... would you rather have ...
Player A, who has a 50 percent chance to be a 4-win player and a 50 percent chance to be a 3-win player
Player B, who has a 50 percent chance to be a 6-win player and a 50 percent chance to be a 1-win player
Specifically, the Padres should want Player B, the Dodgers should want Player A
As in, the Dodgers should be the ones looking for nice, safe upgrades. The Padres should be looking for a fastball in one spot, one speed, and swinging like they promised a sick kid they would. That's Kemp. Marc Normandin, biased Padres fan, likens him to a latter-day Manny Ramirez. The one that the Dodgers enjoyed. If the Padres can get that, my goodness. That's exactly what they're looking for.
More on Kemp
Levine wrote that about Kemp, but Justin Upton is a rare creature -- someone with a 50-percent chance to be a 6-win player and someone with a 50-percent chance to be a 2-win player. Unless he's in the middle. Or better. Whatever, you get the point, which is that you're likely guaranteed some value with Upton. He isn't the perennial MVP candidate that he looked like in his early 20s, but the power is a delight. This is another risk/reward that a team like the Padres, with their pitching, should be taking.
Except -- he's a free agent after just this year. I get that the Padres have shifted to win-now mode, and that they're comfortable moving prospects, but this seems extraordinarily aggressive, even by those standards. And now that he's in San Diego, what's the outfield permutation?
The Cubs are not the mystery Justin Upton team. If it's the Padres: SD determined weeks ago it's OK to play Kemp in CF, if necessary.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 19, 2014
It is more likely for Carlos Delgado to come back and play 150 games at catcher for the Padres than it is for Kemp to play more than emergency innings in center field. That means someone is moving. Would Kemp play first? Seems like a move that would have already happened in a different situation. Myers played some first, so maybe he's on the move.
Wil Myers has a strikeout problem. So did Ryan Howard. When he was older than Myers. In Triple-A. Howard still won the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in consecutive seasons. A bloated strikeout rate isn't a death sentence, not until the reflexes slow in the mid- or late-30s. Like, oh, Ryan Howard.
For now, though, he has what the Padres need: legitimate power that isn't confined by ballpark dimensions. You didn't need a park-effects decoder ring to know how good Adrian Gonzalez was back in his Padres prime. That's because his power, that bat, would have played anywhere. Even in the neo-open-air Astrodome of Petco Park. Myers is supposed to have that power. He's already been a franchise cornerstone for a couple teams already.
Like most of you, my lasting memory of Derek Norris is watching the Royals run wild on him in the AL Wild Card Game. The A's kept him out of the lineup on purpose, because he couldn't stop the running game, and events conspired to expose that facet of his game. He's an imperfect defensive catcher. He does, however, do almost everything else well. He's a slightly below-average framer, but not by much, and a sound defender otherwise. He has that raw power we were just talking about, like Myers, and he's shown it in the vast acreage of Oakland. There's less of a mystery as to how he'll react when he gets to Petco.
Norris is a really, really good player. The Padres had to give up Jesse Hahn to get him -- also a good player -- but where the Padres had one or two halfway decent hitters if you squinted last year, now they have at least four, all newly acquired. They don't need to count on someone like Jedd Gyorko having a renaissance season. They can just hope for it to add to their newfound embarrassment of riches.
SB Nation's Gift Guide
SB Nation's Gift Guide
Those are the players and the reasons to be skeptical. But add them all together, and you have an incredible mesh of contingency plans and eggs in different baskets. Now you get why the Padres were after Pablo Sandoval. They were not messing around, and I had to go into the HTML to put the verb "messing" in the place of the verb my computer kept auto-publishing. The computer knows the score.
The Padres were all those things at the top of the article. The Padres couldn't show their home games on television for most of the 2013 season. The Padres weren't drawing well, and there was a general sense of apathy surrounding them and their fanbase. There was new management, but there's always been new management. The Padres were going to be boring, again, because they always are. As long as we're talking about verbs, note the use of "were" in this paragraph. They were all of those things.
Instead, here's the team of the offseason. The Dodgers and Padres are having a transaction-off, and the Padres might be winning. The Giants are hanging back and re-signing their own guys, as usual, the Diamondbacks are clearly in rebuilding mode, and the Rockies are somewhere cold with their metaphorical hand literally stuck in a mailbox. You might not think that last one makes sense, except: Rockies. The Padres saw an open window. They rappelled through it and yelled "Come with me if you want to live!"
I'm coming. I'm in. You've sold me. This is the offseason that we weren't expecting, and it's the offseason that Padres fans have deserved for decades. Hot damn, Padres. Hot damn, what an offseason.