Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Diego Padres general manager Josh Byrnes speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
On Sunday, the Padres fired GM Josh Byrnes.
It was only three months ago, that baseball pundits Peter Gammons and Buster Olney decided they liked the team that Byrnes had put together, and picked the Padres as a dark-horse playoff team.
It’s amazing what a few injuries combined with 12 weeks of some of the worst hitting in baseball history can do to perception.
Clearly management had to do something, right? When you field your most expensive team ever, and the expectations include the postseason, and then 75 games into the season the team is more than a dozen games back because the offense is on pace to put up the worst team batting average baseball has seen in a century, you can’t just stand pat, can you?
I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows what the heck to do about this team. What do you do when your seven-year veteran, 30-year-old third baseman hits 65 points below his career average? While last year’s breakout player, your right fielder, who had 22 bombs and 22 steals, headed into Memorial Day with one home run and not a single steal? While your shortstop, who has an on-base percentage of .336 and the most steals in the NL over the last two years, drops to a .260 OBP and has his SB rate cut in half? While the second baseman who was so impressive in his rookie year that you, to much acclaim, signed him to a multi-year deal suddenly puts up the worst OBP in the league by nearly 50 points?
While the chance you took on signing a potential ace at a bargain rate got sidelined by a Tommy John surgery? While your breakout pitcher from three years ago, who is finally ready to pitch again, also goes back for his second TJ surgery?
What would you do to fix all that?
Fire the GM?
Byrnes got the short end of the stick. Granted, this team may not have everything that a team needs to win. But Byrnes was profoundly unlucky. Take away those TJ surgeries, and things could have been quite different. What if Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly had managed to stay healthy? The Padres starting pitching options this year would have included Josh Johnson, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Luebke, Wieland, Kelly, and Eric Stults. That’s four major-league-ready pitchers available to be used in trades to strengthen the offense. Think we could have gotten a quality power-hitting corner infielder for Luebke, Erlin, and Kelly? Every team is looking for pitching. Offer up some first-rate young talent, and you’ll get what you’re looking for in return from somebody.
Or what if the offense just fell short of expectations by what might be considered normal statistical deviation, instead of falling off the table in a way that almost defies description? What if only 3-4 players hit 40-70 points below their career averages instead of 6-7? What if 2-3 players actually hit better this year than they had in the past? What if the 4-5 players in their 20s, starting to come toward what should be their career peak years, actually continued their offensive progress instead of failing to a point that would, on any statistically normal offense, get them sent back to the minors to work out whatever issues they were having?
We’d have never heard a word about Byrnes’ or Black’s or Plantier’s jobs being in jeopardy. That’s “what if.”
An incredible confluence of unlikely events brought the Padres to where they are today. And I don’t know what to do about it. And Bud Black doesn’t know what to do about it. And Josh Byrnes didn’t know what to do about it. And Mike Dee, Ron Fowler, and Peter Seidler didn’t know what to do about it. If anyone did, they’d have done it by now. But firing Byrnes doesn’t do a thing to solve that problem. But they had to do something, didn’t they?
And now we enter yet another rebuilding phase. A new GM will likely mean a new coaching staff. Giving up on this year is likely to mean trading players away as the July 31 trading deadline approaches. The highest-paid players on the Padres aren’t high-priced by baseball standards. Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Ian Kennedy, and Carlos Quentin all earn under $10 million a year.(And were all brought here by Byrnes, as were Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. The man brought a lot of good pieces to the team.) But those players are the highest-priced pieces that will draw a reasonable return in a trade. So don’t get too attached, Padres fans. Remember 1993? Don’t worry if you don’t, you’ll get plenty of reminders about that fire sale over the next few months.
They have to do something.