I have lived my life in fear of the Padres.
It feels good to get that out in the open. Since I started following baseball heavily in the mid-'90s, the Padres have always been on the verge of something. They've had a pennant-winning team, and twice they've had what was arguably the best farm system in baseball. Years ago, my fears were stuffed with Tagg Bozieds and Jake Gautreaus, Sean Burroughs and Xavier Nadi. More recently, they had an incredible mix of hitting and pitching prospects. Everything was pointing up.
They had a GM who was supposed to be one of the smart kids. Josh Byrnes scared me. He apparently scared the Padres, too. With Byrnes fired, the Padres are in search of a new direction for the second time in three years. Jon Heyman writes that Byrnes got a raw deal. I don't disagree.
Here, then, are the five decisions that should have saved Byrnes's job, but backfired.
The Adrian Gonzalez trade
At some point, it was probably clear the Padres weren't going to pay Adrian Gonzalez his market value. This was probably in, oh, 2006 or so. As such, the only thing the Padres could do was make a trade. It might have been the most important decision Jed Hoyer and Byrnes will ever have to make in their careers -- a complete franchise-changer. Byrnes had been with the Padres for three days.
The Padres got a future All-Star first baseman (Anthony Rizzo) and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball (Casey Kelly). Kelly underwent San Diego Padre surgery last year (known as Tommy John surgery in some circles), but Rizzo eventually blossomed. Star first baseman out, star first baseman in. So neat, so perfect.
Except there was a complication. Rizzo didn't blossom with the Padres. A year later, the team acquired another young first baseman, Yonder Alonso, so Byrnes had to choose between them.
Yes, well, 20/20 hindsight and all that. Byrnes traded Rizzo for a live-armed, oft-injured pitcher who can be an ace if he stays healthy (he was just scratched from Tuesday's start), so that deal doesn't look bad yet. Still, there was something about the symmetry of first basemen passing in the night that would have made the Adrian Gonzalez trade look a lot better. Byrnes wasn't the GM who pulled the trigger on the deal, but he sure could have benefitted a lot more from it.
The Cameron Maybin extension
The Padres should have one of those dang-it deals right now, where they have a player under contract for years at below-market rates, and the deal makes players and agents alike say "dang it." Cameron Maybin's solid offensive 2011 season was masked by the fog of Petco Park, and his sterling defense made him close to a five-win player -- that's star territory. Byrnes and the Padres took advantage and signed him to a five-year deal with a team option at lefty-specialist rates. It was a coup.
Then came the injuries.
Instead of looking like the Andrew McCutchen deal, it looked like the Jose Tabata deal. The Padres have a relatively expensive outfielder who hasn't given them anything since 2012. It was a smarter deal than that, and it should have worked out better.
The Mike Adams trade
The Padres had Mike Adams, slider demon, in their bullpen, and he was one of the wonders of his time. There was a three-year stretch when opposing hitters hit .150 off him, with an on-base percentage and slugging percentage both around .215. He essentially turned every hitter he faced into Matt Cain.
It was hard to part with him, certainly, but the Padres' timing was superb. There was a mad scramble for relief at the 2011 deadline, and then-GM Hoyer was able to extract two outstanding pitching prospects, both with profiles that seemed perfect for Petco. Joe Weiland walked four and struck out 96 in 85⅔ innings in the Carolina League before the Padres acquired him; Robby Erlin walked five and struck out 62 in 54⅔ innings in the same league. Command, control, strikeout stuff ... whatever mistakes they would make as young pitchers would be minimized by the huge park. All of that for one reliever.
Then there were injuries. There always are with young pitchers, but not like with the Padres. They've dealt with a maelstrom of elbow and shoulder problems over the last three years, beyond the realm of reasonable expectations. "A lot of young pitchers get hurt" is not the same as "all young pitchers get hurt." This should have bolstered the rotation for years for the Padres, but instead, Byrnes inherited a situation where he was forced to rely on Jason Marquis, Edinson Volquez, and worse when none of the many kids worked out.
Ian Kennedy for free
The Diamondbacks had a pitcher who finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2011, but his 2012 was a disappointment, even though his component numbers (strikeouts, walks) were practically identical. Ian Kennedy was young and under contract cheaply for a couple years, and the Padres got him for a lefty specialist and a relief prospect.
Kennedy's ERA+ since then: 86, solidly below average. He's in the Tim Lincecum zone, where the strikeouts are there, but so are the runs. He just keeps throwing harder and harder, but the dingers keep coming, too.
This should have been one of the lead bullet points on Byrnes's resume. "Look at this Cy Young contender we just got for nothing!" Instead, he's been just a guy. The Padres have a lot of just a guys.
The Mat Latos trade
Yonder Alonso was the 7th-overall pick in 2008, and he was the #33 prospect in baseball when the Padres acquired him. Yasmani Grandal was the 12th-overall pick in 2010, and he was the #53 prospect in baseball when the Padres acquired him.
two years later
Yonder Alonso is now Lyle Overbay without the power. Not a young Lyle Overbay -- the actual one from 2014. Yasmani Grandal is now a mediocre defensive catcher who needs performance-enhancing drugs to outhit Jeff Mathis.
No one saw that coming. I remember folks being skeptical about Alonso's ceiling, and you never know what you're going to get with young catchers, but the Padres still got great value for Latos. They traded him at the right time, when his contract made him one of the more valuable pitchers in the game, and they got the added benefit of not having to look at or listen to him anymore.
Now, the Padres have had other problems over the years, some of which Byrnes should wear, and some of which were draped on him. The injury problems have been apocalyptic. The drafting has been generally horrible: Khalil Greene has more career WAR (8) than the Padres' next 28 first-round picks have combined for. That's not entirely fair, considering there are several first-rounders still in the Padres' system with a chance to do great things, but the sentence gives you a pretty good idea of what's gone wrong over the last decade.
Up there, though, are five things that should have gone right. They were smart baseball moves made by a GM who was supposed to be a smart baseball man. A combination of two or three working out as expected, and the Padres are fighting for the top of the NL West instead of the bottom. All of them flopped. And, apparently, the Padres felt like a change was needed.
I'm not so sure about the move, but the results weren't on Byrnes's side. He could have used a little luck, but he got absolutely none. In an alternate universe, the Padres are in the middle of their third straight competitive season.