It’s no secret that the last week has been a tumultuous one in Padres history. The firing of Josh Byrnes resets so many things as far as team strategy, player development, and the way forward. I don’t want to get too into the reasons for the firings as pretty much every national baseball writer has written about it, almost universally against the Padres management team/ownership and pro Josh Byrnes. I think this shows the level of respect that Byrnes has in the baseball community, which was also no secret. In short, I am in support of the firing but thought Byrnes was doing an OK job. Good at trades, able to find some useful pieces off the scrap heap, the drafting was OK especially if Hunter Renfroe keeps it up through the season and into next. I also think this team needed a fresh start. It made sense that a new ownership group would want to install “their guy” as GM. I don’t think it was politically possible to do this last season without making ownership look bad for blowing up a GM team that had put together a team with potential. They needed the Padres to tank to give them political cover to fire him and get their guy in there. Byrnes was always a dead man walking. There was no bigger Moorad guy than Byrnes, which as we saw with Garfinkel, is a big no-no with this ownership group. Anyways, the point of this isn’t to rehash what has been covered so well by Jonah Keri, Scott Miller, Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci and pretty much every other writer on the entire Earth. With this much coverage of the Padres, which is so rare and so awesome in a way, you get a lot of interesting nuggets that get overlooked by the larger narrative. I wanted to examine some of these that I’ve picked up on.
1. Future Payroll: In an interview with Darren Smith last week, Mike Dee had a brief mention of payroll in relation to what the ownership’s expectations were. As we’ve heard Mike Dee say, ownership invested more money in this year’s payroll and expected to see an incremental improvement in the team. And yes, payroll is up and has the Padres at 21st highest in MLB at the start of the season. Mike Dee said that the target is to be in the “middle” of MLB payrolls and that they are “knocking on the door of this”. While the average person would view that goal as being around 15th in payroll which would put the Padres above the all important $100 mil level of payroll, I don’t think this is what he’s promising. By saying they are knocking on the door of this [they’re not], it leads me to believe that Dee is promising to be in the middle third of payrolls, i.e. ranked 11-20. So, with another $1-2 million in payroll and Dee can start preaching that the team is now in the middle of MLB payrolls. With another $3 million, he can say they are up to 17th in payroll. Call me cynical, but I’ve found it valuable to really analyze what a slick marketing guy like Dee says. I do not see this team adding much more payroll. I’m not a payroll equals winning guy, and Rick from RJ’s Fro wrote a great discussion of how team’s that increased payroll by the highest percentage are not on the whole, doing that great. Some of this is because the teams with very low payrolls get a higher percentage increase when they add payroll (math) than a team that is starting at $150 mil, so bad teams to start with make incremental increases to payroll percentage-wise but are still lower total payrolls. But some of it is also that smart spending beats more spending.
2. Competitive Team: Mike Dee has repeatedly stated in interviews that his expectation is for this team to compete year in and year out. By compete, he of course means be somewhat competitive in the Wild Card standings by the end of the season. Regardless, I think that his insistence on continually “competitive” teams, which is what has been promised to us for years, locks this team in on chasing mediocrity. I think many of us have reached a consensus that the team needs to be blown up, a la the Astros, and have a competent GM rebuild this club from nothing. Dee’s a marketing guy first, interested in keeping the seats filled. The team has had some success selling tickets with improved concessions and a team that is JUST competitive enough to incite some hope in the fans. This rarely leads to a playoff or WS contending team, but it does lead to hope in the offseason and spring training, which sells tickets.
3. Johnny Manziel: Peter Gammons put on the record what we all suspected, Mike Dee and his marketing folks forced Josh Byrnes to waste a draft pick on Johnny Manziel. Gammons reported, “‘These are the people who showed disrespect and contempt for their scouts and entire baseball operations people by forcing Josh to draft Johnny Manziel,’ said one NL General Manager.” Back when the draft pick was made, Byrnes was a good soldier and covered for upper management, saying it was “fun”.
4. CEO-like GM: Scott Kaplan reported yesterday that his “inside sources” at the Padres said that upper management saw Josh Byrnes more as a #2 guy. That he would have been appropriate in the role that AJ Hinch is in. They saw him as more of a great scouting guy, but not the “CEO” type of manager Dee is looking for. Obviously, many of the potential GM candidates being reported cut their teeth as great scouts. Not sure what this means for who they’d hire, but I’d assume great scouting and draft records is not going to be enough. Dee is looking for a certain panache and corporate style of management to pair with good baseball ops experience.
5. Minaya/Hinch/Towers: My totally unresearched guess is that Minaya/Hinch/possibly Towers may get interviews, but the team isn’t that interested in hiring them as GM. Courtesy interviews if you will. I also wouldn’t be at all surprised for the team to keep Minaya on in his role as Vice President. Towers’ name is being thrown out there, but I can’t possibly see ownership actually hiring him. It sounds like media fodder to me.
As uninspiring as this team is, it has been a little exciting to see some new names like Goebbert and Despaigne take the field. In all truth, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Jeff Francoeur or Brooks Conrad get called up once Chase Headley gets shipped out for a C level prospect. Let’s not forget that I was right on top of what a franchise killer it would have been had the Padres signed Headley long term.