Every season has fans wondering if the early performance, whether bad or good, is indicative of the team, or just a small sample size anomaly. With the Padres currently sitting at 18-19 six weeks into the season, it is difficult to say if the team is a .500 team or if the pitching will “regress to the mean” and improve to what was projected. In most cases, the team would let things play out creating a larger sample size to evaluate the team’s performance. Conservatively, I think you’d give the team until the All Star break to really see what you’ve got. In reality, they may not have that much time. The Padres face a particularly rough schedule through the beginning of June, after which, it eases up a bit. The hope is that the team can stay around .500 through the tough stretch and then start picking up wins against weaker competition. This pretty much takes us through the All Star break where management can sit down and look at the team.
Unfortunately, in the Padres case, there are major decisions that need to get made in mid to late July that hinge on whether the team is a real contender or not. Justin Upton was acquired as a one year rental. The assumption was that he’d either help this team make the playoffs, or if the AJ Preller grand experiment failed, the team could trade him at the deadline and recoup some of what they gave up in trade for him. Similarly, the team kept Ian Kennedy after his great 2014 season with the knowledge that they could likely find a buyer for him at the deadline if the 2015 season fizzled. Both of these potential moves allow the team to extract value from players going into free agency. Upton, moreso than Kennedy (especially with the way Ian is pitching so far), could get a big return as one of the few real impact bats potentially available. Of course, the Padres won’t walk away empty handed if Upton and Kennedy leave, as they’ll likely be tendered offers that will be declined, giving the Padres draft pick compensation. But in Upton’s case, the potential return from a trade would likely be far greater than the draft pick compensation. With the minor league cupboard bare, a replenishing of the system via an Upton trade would be a welcome addition.
Of course the Plan A is for the team to be in real playoff contention by mid-July, so that trade talk isn’t even a real possibility. But every Plan A needs a Plan B. While we’d like to say “Let’s just wait and see where we are in September for the playoff push”, arguably the more important evaluation will come in July when the team decides if it can win enough to make the playoffs, or whether they move Upton to recoup some of his cost. If this decision needs to be made, it’s one that would be critical to the Padres’ future.