“[William] McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.” — Teddy Roosevelt
Sometimes one comes across an insult that is so perfect that one will use that insult with reckless delight. Admittedly, I thought this insult was coined by comedian John Mulaney’s father, it has roots in Teddy Roosevelt as shown above.
Frankly, there is one single team that has shown the backbone of a chocolate eclair in 2023: the Sham, er San Diego Padres.
The most eye-popping statistic I have ever seen is right here: the Padres’ run differential was +104 runs, which was better than every team in the National League apart from Atlanta (+231) and the Dodgers (+207).
Accordingly, based on the Pythagorean winning percentage one would reasonably expect the Padres to have a win-loss record in the vicinity of 92-70. The Padres did not finish at 92-70 or 87-75. The Padres were a shocking 82-80, needing a three-game sweep to finish over .500. Before the season’s final weekend, the Padres hadn’t even reached .500 since May 11.
Sham Diego indeed.
Most of us blew it
Practically everyone, except the most diehard of Dodger fans, picked the Padres to win the NL West in 2023. I was quite adamant in my prediction back in April, but I did leave myself an out:
...while the Padres have assembled an impressive assortment of talent, I do not see a cohesive team...yet.
I see three shortstops in Bogaerts, Kim, and Tatis (once his suspension ends) and no true centerfielder. I question the wisdom of paying players big money into their early 40s. What happens the first time the Padres have a skid in the season, i.e. they have their own 5-15 stretch, and they have to deal with the expectation of how good their roster should be?
Plus, if I were being uncharitable, I could point out instances where the Padres collapsed like a poorly made soufflé when they had a semblance of expectation in 2015 and 2021. ... Everything is impossible until it is actually done.
The answer to that bolded question above? The Padres collapsed as if their collective backbones were made of pastry.
A deep dive into how this team folded in on itself is pretty ugly to see.
- 9-23 (.281) in one-run games
- 2-12 (.143) in extra-inning games (both wins came in the final five games)
- 12 walk-off losses (in contrast, the Dodgers had 6)
- 2 walk-off wins (in contrast, the Dodgers have 7)
- 11 times shutout (in contrast, the Dodgers were shut out 4 times)
The statistics continue in this way. While the Giants sacked Gabe Kapler (for all the good that will do), even mediocre play from the Padres in these situations likely would have meant that the Padres would have snuck into the playoffs like a burglar in the night.
But if I had wheels, I would be a Transformer or so the saying goes.
While manager Bob Melvin certainly deserves some blame for these poor results, he cannot bear all of the blame. Melvin did not assemble this hodgepodge of an expensive roster. In fact, Melvin’s relationship with the person who is primarily to blame has deteriorated to the point where if Melvin had been sacked in the next week, one could have hardly been surprised.
I am not prone to mince words, but let’s face it.
If you or I screwed up as thoroughly or as spectacularly or as repeatedly in our respective day jobs as Padres General Manager AJ Preller has done in his tenure, we would be fired — with cathartic prejudice.
We would likely be held out as examples for future employees going forward to not be so bad at our jobs. Instead, it’s Groundhog Day except Bill Murray is nowhere to be seen, and apparently, the Ouroboros-like cycle of ineptitude is not complete yet.
If we had one massive screwup like Preller?
You would figure you would be reprimanded or at least talked to about it because sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. But after the disastrous 2015 offseason (some highlights: trading for aging Matt Kemp, giving up Yasmani Grandal, trading away baby Trea Turner, trading for Craig Kimbrel, and so on and so on), after a screwup of that magnitude, some oversight would be put into place so that the disaster does not repeat itself.
Instead, to his credit, Preller dug the Padres out of the massive hole he created for them by embracing the art of the
tank rebuild. In 2019, the Padres signed Manny Machado and in the COVID Cup year of 2020, the Padres were actually relevant...before getting brushed aside by the Dodgers.
Then the 2021 offseason happened. If you had a strong sense of deja vu, a flurry of moves, a bevy of hype, and the Padres imploding on themselves faster than fly-by-night construction, you would not be alone. At least this time, we got some mildly amusing cringe raps about it. One could make the argument that injuries not poor roster construction were the culprit for 2021 though.
But somehow the implosion in 2021 was not as total as in 2015, and the Padres stormed back in 2022. They beat The One-Win Team. Last year, after the Dodgers were dispatched, a deep playoff run was right there for the taking.
While the Padres were quickly dispatched in the NLCS, the future looked bright.
Everything finally looked to be in alignment. And that alignment turned out to head right into a ditch. Every time, it is the same scenario of coaches and players being blamed while the same leadership team in the front office remains in place. At this point, you can remove the dates from the stories that are coming out in reporting and the sheer repetitiveness of it is astounding.
The themes are the same: a toxic culture with players underachieving and management not getting on the same page, a toxic culture where fringe managers (a hitting coach here, a pitching coach there) are the culprits for the downturn, in spite of the General Manager’s penchant for micromanaging everyone, while contradictory instructions abound.
Recently, we covered how the Giants have been irrelevant. I pointed out how blaming the manager or the general manager would likely not fix the situation if the overall plan was faulty.
Here, if Melvin is let go the Padres will be on their sixth manager in ten years — all under Preller. In fact, since 2015, 29 coaches and managers have left the major league staff.
At some point, owner Peter Seidler will realize that these boomlet collapses have two constants: himself and Preller. Considering the Padres are actually selling out Petco Park on a fairly frequent basis now, ranking second in the National League in attendance, I cannot envision Seidler selling any time soon.
So I were in Preller’s position and I had any sense of self-awareness, I would be updating my resume and potentially waiting for the other shoe to drop because this year was supposed to be the year that the Dodgers took a step back. The division was for the taking, another chance at a playoff run was right there. And again, nothing.
On October 2, almost as if on cue, Peter Seidler released the following statement.
Official statement from Padres Chairman Peter Seidler: pic.twitter.com/WSVtGUkn7u— San Diego Padres (@Padres) October 2, 2023
Sometimes the punchlines write themselves.
It gets worse. It gets so much worse
At this point, the Padres have committed a sizable portion of their payroll to aging players and some of their best players (likely Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Josh Hader) are about to hit free agency. Per Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic, there is no clear player leader on the club, with Machado being seen as “too temperamental” in his behavior to lead the team.
In that same essay, the Padres were described as “all superstars and no role players” with clear deficiencies in situational baseball (failure to hit with runners in scoring position, etc.) present.
The expectation is that the Padres’ payroll will be cut in the coming year. Trading away Juan Soto, a move thought to be unthinkable just 18 months ago, is a genuine possibility. Per the Commissioner, the Padres are going to revenue-sharing payors for the first time in the coming offseason.
The team would be one year older with around $129 million committed to the payroll in 2024, even before arbitration. At some point, the Padres will need to retrench and either scale back on gutting their farm system or continue their all-in push. But considering how foundational the problems seem within this organization, the Padres have lost their benefit of the doubt as to future plans.