Here we go again.
Another year without a World Series title. Another bad baseball team with good baseball nowhere near the horizon. Another misdiagnosed arm injury turned Tommy John surgery. Another new uniform. Another bad front office.
At the conclusion of the 2016 season, a full decade will have passed since the Padres reached the playoffs: an October 8th, 2006 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals was the disappointing end. That same day, Philip Rivers made his fourth career start as a San Diego Charger. Twitter, where most Padres dialogue currently takes place, was only three months old. Barack Obama was a nobody outside of Illinois.
It’s incredible to think of everything that has happened to the Padres since that date. A small sample, in no particular order:
- Chase Headley’s entire Major League career
- The Moorad era
- Trading Jake Peavy
- Trading Adrian Gonzalez
- Trading Anthony Rizzo
- Trading Mat Latos
- Trading Yasmani Grandal
- This entire list of 1st round picks: Nick Schmidt, Allan Dykstra, Jaff Decker, Donavan Tate, Karsten Whitson, Cory Spangenberg, Joe Ross, Max Fried, Hunter Renfroe, and Trea Turner
- Drafting Jedd Gyorko, promoting Jedd Gyorko, extending Jedd Gyorko, trading Jedd Gyorko
- Kevin Towers, Jed Hoyer, Josh Byrnes, and now A.J. Preller
- Trevor Hoffman retiring
- The passing of the franchise’s two largest legends: Tony Gwynn and Jerry Coleman
Not to mention the truly embarrassing: three no-hitters suffered at the hands of the rival San Francisco Giants…one for each World Series title under former Padres manager Bruce Bochy.
Conspicuously absent from the past ten seasons is anything resembling a coherent, committed plan to winning a World Series. That may be the franchise’s defining brand characteristic, alongside losing. And it’s a characteristic that Mike Dee has haphazardly continued.
Publicly, Dee has espoused three very different approaches during his tenure: going forward with Byrnes’ “solid foundation”, going for broke with A.J., and now a tenuous “building” plan.
Plan one was evident on day one. At his introductory press conference, Mike Dee stated:
Josh Byrnes has done an outstanding job of building a solid foundation and putting this franchise in a position to move forward and add the pieces we’re going to need to compete.
Except the Padres never added significant pieces to that core. Their bell-cow “final piece” that offseason was Seth Smith – a piece they gave up a good bullpen piece to acquire. The core candidates from that team were Chase Headley, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Everth Cabrera, Jedd Gyorko, Yonder Alonso, Nick Hundley, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Cashner, and Huston Street. Only Gyorko, Alonso, and Cashner were around when the team actually added players.
After winning exactly 76 games for what felt like a boring eternity, Byrnes was fired. The Padres, with no long term solution figured out, proceeded to let an interim general manager deal their best player and an effective closer on a favorable contract at the ensuing trade deadline.
Enter “plan” number two: screw the numbers, analytics, pundits, and future, and just get me a competitive roster immediately. A plan centered around building a roster in one offseason by mortgaging future assets and relieving teams of their bad ones in order to strengthen the return.
There’s no question the Padres thought they were going to compete in 2015. Mike Dee stated so, explicitly, on many occasions. The team’s moves, trumpeted by Dee all over the radio, certainly supported those words – rare for a Padres executive – as the Padres went bat-shit insane wheeling and dealing most of the roster … and a significant portion of the minor league system.
Throughout his 2015 offseason victory speech interviews, Dee routinely remarked that one of the chief reasons they hired A.J. was to do just that: attempt to win in 2015. Some may posit that this was Fowler’s plan. I’m not so sure (although there may have been pressure to compete ASAP, given Fowler’s rumored resignation in the not-so-distant future). Mainly, recall that ownership was sold on another candidate before Mike Dee had a vision in his sleep (presumably) and, based on Pedro Gomez’s interview with Darren Smith, it appears that Preller was the only candidate who didn’t believe a full teardown was necessary. Dee chose that one candidate, so the plan falls squarely on his shoulders. And even if it was Fowler’s plan, failing to convince Ron otherwise would also fall squarely on Dee’s shoulders.
Ultimately, either you’re in charge of baseball operations and responsible for its failure, or you shouldn’t be in charge of baseball operations.
Obviously, the 2015 plan – however exciting for a few months – was a huge baseball failure. The Padres ultimately dug their hole even deeper. Granted, A.J. has been able to spin some of the moves into something constructive – getting four legitimate prospects for Kimbrel, for example – and Wil Myers’ untapped potential could still tilt the trade balance closer to neutral. But acquiring such a large swathe of potential dead weight in Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton, and James Shields has damaged franchise flexibility until at least 2018. Especially since Dee’s Padres have been eager to over-hedge every risk, witnessed when absorbing large portions of the Gyorko and Shields contractual risk with little value received. Nevermind that hanging on to Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner for their ill-fated 2015 attempt cost the franchise valuable assets.
After the miserable 2015 failure, the front office has been quick to sidestep towards a new third plan: tenuous “building”. (Chalk up the “building” terminology to Dee’s inability to convince ownership to call a spade a spade. Fear of the term “Fire Sale” is ill conceived given that the current Padres don’t have anything resembling Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff on their roster. Not to mention that fans would support the plan, if the team put forth a transparent attempt to show the money is fungible. We’re smart enough to differentiate between a Fire Sale and a Fire Exchange; the “building” charade is insulting.)
The Padres, in particular Dee and Preller, maintain that this “building” is more of a logical plan B extension to plan A, rather than a tangential approach to the overarching 2015 plan. I’m not buying it. Too many contradictory questions abound. If Mike Dee’s plan all along was to rebuild through the draft and international free agents, why wait until now and why did they feverishly deal most of their valuable prospects just one offseason ago? If the excuse is that the general manager didn’t value our prospects, perhaps don’t hire that guy to begin with. And why forfeit a high first round pick for James Shields? And why the hell did they not trade Tyson Ross this last offseason?
As if those question marks weren’t enough, there’s already evidence to suggest that the Padres’ “building” jargon is itself tenuous. Just last Wednesday, Mike Dee’s interview on the Dan Sileo Show left listeners puzzled. In a matter of minutes, Dee stated that the team was better than its record and that he liked the team’s core. Maybe sit the next few plays out, Mike. Or, preferably, all of them.
I can only conclude one thing: the Padres don’t have any committed plan. In reality, Mike Dee’s three different approaches amount to zero legitimate approaches. If you try to bake a cake by cracking an egg, putting an empty bowl in the oven, and then planting some barley for flour you can use in future cakes … YOU HAVE ZERO FUCKING CAKES. And, like in the baseball corollary, you should be fired from the bakery.
The thing is, Mike Dee failures have transcended the playing field. Bud Selig Plaza and the recent monetization of what lone Padres history exists prove Dee does not have a keen sense of team awareness. Season ticket packages have been devalued. Basic fan retention/loyalty mechanisms, like Compadres Club, are poorly designed. The team wasted a draft pick on a bad publicity stunt. Small everyday things like National Anthems and radio interviews become league-wide controversies.
Mike Dee has even managed to make the All-Star Game unenjoyable. In no uncertain terms, Mike Dee bribed MLB to host the game, insulting the fan base throughout the process. The game is going to be played as a road game, replete with a designated hitter. The team barely has any deserving candidates. And they even screwed with some season ticket holders by failing to guarantee tickets if they didn’t upgrade to an even larger season ticket package. There’s a reason the Padres are going to be the first team in modern history to have overall attendance decline in the season in which they host the All-Star Game.
And no, Mike Dee doesn’t deserve credit for ballpark improvements: they are required, explicitly, by the law that the voters of San Diego put in place when they approved the construction of Petco Park. Specifically, the agreement guarantees that the Padres must keep Petco Park as a first class stadium. So only the taxpayers deserve credit.
Taken collectively, the conclusion is clear: Mike Dee should be relieved of his duties – all of them – as team president.
What makes this particular juncture interesting is that Padres fans universally agree that Dee should be fired. Just take a look at all the Padres blogs today. That wasn’t the case with Alderson and that certainly wasn’t the case with Garfinkel.
Simply put, Padres fans collectively find no redeeming quality with retaining Mike Dee as the President of the Padres. Some qualities – for example, hiring critical front office personnel on a whim – are beyond troubling. The good that may come – robust international spending – were obvious decisions, ones which the worst executives could still make. Hell, even Ruben Amaro made some not awful moves.
Hindsight is always 20:20, but Mike Dee’s job is to have the foresight so that we don’t play these hindsight games. If plan three had been plan one, we’d have some 19 and 20 year old international free agents already knocking on the door. With Renfroe, Turner, Joe Ross, Spangenberg, Wisler, Mallex, Forsythe, what would have been the 13th pick last year, and so on, plus all the future value they could have gotten for the 2013 “core” Dee gushed about, we’d pretty much be there already. Or at least the Padres could give an adequate answer to “are we there yet?”.
So to Ron Fowler, the Seidlers, the O’Malleys and Senor Helu, I offer the following conclusion:
Ultimately, the Padres are your toy. If you want to let Mike Dee take it in the sandbox, draw on it with blue and sunshine yellow crayons, and press karate chop a trillion times, then enjoy watching it further deteriorate. You can do that if you want. But if it were me, I’d take a good hard look at finding a new steward eager enough to restore it, but patient enough to get it completely right. Sometimes those things look best in its original box on your wall. And for the hell of it, let’s pretend that box is brown.