What this team needs is some leadership.
Let me be more specific. What the Padres need are productive veteran players who have been on winning teams in the past. The team needs some players who have been integral parts of teams that have been through pennant races, and who have experienced success in the postseason.
It needs players who know how to win over the course of a season.
This week, I’ve been thinking about good teams that I’ve rooted for in the past. The mid-80s Mets. The late 80s Red Sox. The late 90s Padres. All of these teams had veteran leadership. The Mets had Gary Carter, Ray Knight, and Keith Hernandez. The Sox had Dewey Evans, Wade Boggs and Tony Pena. The Padres had Ken Caminiti, Rickey Henderson, and Wally Joyner, and of course, Tony Gwynn. These weren’t just any veteran players. These were veteran players who were either great players, or who were very good players who had prior experience in the playoffs. In some cases (Henderson, for example), they had both.
Guys a few years past 30 who have played on winning teams are absolutely invaluable to a team. They know how good teams approach losing streaks, they know the value of playing like a team instead of a group of individuals. They know what works. And, quite likely, they know what doesn’t.
The 2014 Padres have exactly one position player who has ever had an at-bat in the postseason: Seth Smith. Smith has played in four postseasons, in 2007 and 2009 with the Rockies, and 2012 and 2013 with Oakland. His postseason numbers include a .262 BA in 42 ABs with two homers and 7 RBI. He had played a total of seven games in the major leagues before he played in his first postseason game. He has been to the playoffs in four of his seven years in the majors. He has also played on teams that finished 16 games under .500.
The entire rest of the offense has never played past the 162nd game of the season. Not Carlos Quentin. Not Chase Headley or Will Venable. Not Everth Cabrera, or Chris Denorfia, Yasmani Grandal, or Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin, Alexi Amarista, Yonder Alonso, or Rene Rivera.
It’s too bad X Nady was over the hill. He has been to the postseason twice, although he only had 8 ABs in two series.
The pitching staff has more experience than the offense. But pitchers are a different breed than players who play every day. The preparation is different. It’s not an everyday job.
The front office has built a team of mediocre players with no role models who know how to win. Their reluctance to pay even medium-dollar multi-year deals almost completely prevents them from signing good veteran players with postseason experience. Imagine if the Padres had signed Michael Cuddyer, a .338 hitter in 74 postseason ABs, instead of the Rockies. Imagine if they had signed Adrian Beltre, a career .282 hitter with 381 home runs, to a 5-year, $80 million contract instead of the Rangers. Imagine a lineup that looks like this:
A lineup like that would cost $11-12 million more than the current lineup. It would rid the team of two players who the Padres have given far too many chances to in Chase Headley and Will Venable, by replacing them with experienced veterans with a track record of excellence and winning. It would give the talented younger players a lower-pressure position in the batting order, where they could work through their issues without worrying that they must be the ones to put the runs on the board.
And most importantly, it would bring the team a breadth of experience that it currently lacks. Sure, the coaching staff is fine, good teachers, good communicators. But the players hear the same basic message every year, explained by the same coaches in similar ways. Veteran players can bring new ways to think about things, new ways to explain concepts. And they can bring in something that no current player on the offense, other than Seth Smith, has. A knowledge of what it’s like to win.