During an election year where the President is seeking reelection as an incumbent, the common question asked is “are you better off now than you were before?” So let’s ask that question about Mike Dee’s four year tenure in San Diego as Padres President and CEO. Are the Padres better off than they were in 2013 when Dee was hired? For many reasons, the answer is no. We’ve covered the blunders that have happened during the Dee era many, many times before, so there’s no need to go in depth into them, but here are the highlights:
- The Padres are 206-234 as of this writing under Dee. That is a .468 winning percentage.
- Bud Selig Plaza
- Exacerbated the San Diego Gay Mens Chorus debacle with inaction and ineffective management, turning it into a nationally reported embarrassment
- Overcharged Padres beer customers for over a month with signage promising 24 oz. while providing 20 oz. cups, violating customers’ trust and ABC regulations. Dee passed the buck onto a contractor error. Passing the buck has been a frequent Dee management strategy.
- Forced Josh Byrnes to draft Johnny Manziel, wasting a draft pick, and forever aligning himself and the team with an alcoholic, domestic abusing, NFL washout.
- Alienated the Padres’ most loyal customers, season ticket holders, with anti-fan policies including limiting or ending ticket trading, implementing dynamic pricing into season ticket packages, and ending the practice of allowing additional tickets to be purchased at season ticket prices.
- Dee’s anti-fan ticket policies are directly resulting in a decrease in attendance in 2016 during an All Star Game. In every instance in recent history, the ASG led to a surge in attendance for the host team. Not the Dee led Padres.
- At every point possible, has monetized anything and everything in Petco Park and the broadcasts, including the moving of the retired numbers to place a large Sycuan sign on the batters eye.
- Made it a condition of employment that the General Manager, and in turn baseball operations, reports directly to him, allowing him oversight and final say on decisions. Mike Dee has no baseball operations experience.
- Filled the ranks of upper management with cronies and sycophants, creating a culture of groupthink and yes men. “Sycophants” isn’t even my descriptor, it was Kevin Acee’s of the U-T.
- Alienated media partners by pushing an agenda of “Controlling the Message”. This has led to the fracturing of their relationship with AM 1090, as well as relationships with many of the blogs that former President Tom Garfinkel had fostered for many years. As we’ve noted, Wayne Partello, Chief Marketing Officer, wouldn’t even do a podcast interview with Gwynntelligence, noting that it would be “bad for the brand”.
This list only scratches the surface. There are a number of other issues that have arisen during the Dee tenure. And it isn’t just this blog that has observed the abhorrent job Mike Dee has done running the team. In an environment where there is rarely agreement, the Padres blogosphere has united in demanding the ouster of Mike Dee. Kevin Acee of the U-T has written multiple editorials documenting Dee’s failings as President. If you wanted to isolate the Fire Dee argument to performance on the field, a .468 winning percentage is reason enough. But in the case of Dee, the off-field blunders have overshadowed even his abysmal on-the-field record.
The question to ask is why the Dee tenure been such a failure. The Padres have made a point to make “culture” a repeated talking point when discussing new manager Andy Green. Green is supposedly installing a culture that will trickle down to the players. Well, Dee has installed a culture that trickles down to the entire organization. In nearly every case, Dee has decided to lead the organization to pursue short term gains at the expense of long term investment.
The alienation of season ticketholders is a good example. Dee created a strategy based on the assumption that with the All Star Game in San Diego in 2016, that he could increase prices, cut membership benefits, and alienate customers, believing they would bend over and take it just to get All Star tickets. As we’ve seen now, Dee overshot on his assumptions. Attendance has lagged this season, down over 3% to date. The Padres are the ONLY All Star Game host in the last 10 years to not see a drastic attendance boost during their hosting year. In many cases, the season ticketholders that chose not to renew their packages (many of them 21 game fans) may never buy a package again. After all, once you realize how much more flexible and economical buying on the secondary market is, why bother with the inflexibility and frustration of the Padres season ticket packages.
The 2014-2015 offseason is another example of short term thinking. As stated above, Dee oversees baseball operations, which he made a condition of his employment, per Jeff Sanders of the U-T: “Dee, of course, had conditions. One, the general manager reported to him.” The flurry of acquisitions to get Kemp, Upton, Upton Jr., Kimbrel, Norris, Myers, etc. came at the expense of much of the Padres farm system. Many have assumed that Dee and executive chairman Ron Fowler mandated that baseball operations pursue a win now strategy. This impatience led to the shedding of blue chip prospect Trea Turner and Washington Nationals rotation mainstay Joe Ross, as well as a host of others. We can go back and forth on the merits and success of the 2014-2015 offseason, but one thing is clear: it was done primarily in an effort to realize a short term gain.
And here’s where the problem arises. Mike Dee has shown an inability to assemble a winning team. He has shown an inability to effectively manage the Padres organization on the business side. And the Padres are about to enter a critical period in their history. The rumors are that AJ Preller will spend at least $50M (including international bonus pool penalties) on international players, and the Padres had one of the largest amateur draft bonus pools this season. A lot is being gambled on this year’s amateur acquisitions. In fact, the entire franchise’s future is dependent on not only the successful acquisition of amateur talent, but effective development and deployment of that talent. On the macro level, the franchise is dependent on fostering a fanbase, both current and future, to sustain revenues well into the future. Sycuan signs during an All Star Year are a blip in the grand scheme of things if the Padres don’t foster a fanbase that will go to games, watch games on TV, and purchase merchandise. Under Mike Dee, this long term vision has been non-existent.
And it is this man that cannot be entrusted with executing the steps required to make this team a success. Mike Dee has shown no talent or ability to successfully lead the Padres organization. Regardless of how much money is spent on amateur or international talent this season, Mike Dee cannot be the man empowered to most successfully turn that raw talent into Major League success. Short term vision when dealing with 16 year old prospects can lead to a multitude of possible negative results: calling up a prospect before he’s ready to make a marketing statement, shifting minor league development budget to Major League budget for another ill-fated win-now scheme, or worse (and we’ve seen this before), the abandoning of a robust amateur talent program because of early lack of progress of the kids they sign this offseason. Or, I don’t know, using multiple top draft picks for lower ceiling college pitchers that are closer to the Majors to show results from the draft faster, a PR move when the team’s own officials don’t see it competing until after 2018, per Kevin Acee last week on 1090. After all, who wants to roll the dice on a Madison Bumgarneresque ceiling when you can declare victory after a Mike Leake or Mike Minor caliber pitcher gets to the Majors quickly to fill the #4 starter role. Or who wants to take an actual signable prospect when you can draft Trevor Hoffman’s son that’s committed to Harvard so you can send a press release out about it? Mike Dee’s track record of failure shows that he will not make the correct decisions needed to guide the organization during this critical time. Not only has he created national embarrassments from his blunders, not only has he overseen four years of terrible baseball, not only has he alienated customers and botched marketing efforts, but he also poses a grave threat to successfully executing a long term vision of acquiring and deploying top rank amateur talent.
I believe the book is still open on A.J. Preller’s term as general manager. In my opinion, the firing of Dee should not necessitate the firing of Preller. Mike Dee, a salesman by trade, should never have been granted direct oversight of Preller and his baseball operations organization. Just as Josh Byrnes had an extended audition after Dee replaced Garfinkel, I believe Preller will get a similar long term audition for a newly hired organizational leader. But keeping Dee and allowing him to continue providing direction, oversight, and influence over baseball operations, a field he is grossly underqualified to participate in, can no longer be tolerated.
For these reasons, there can be no other option than for Padres ownership to end the Mike Dee era of failure, embarrassment, complacency, and losing. Mr. Seidler and Mr. Fowler, it is time to fire Mike Dee and hire an executive that can effectively manage this team to the next level. The organization needs a leader that can balance short and long term concerns to lead this team through the long awaited rebuild. I mean build.