San Diego Padres: The “Cardinal Way”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 29: Manuel Margot
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 29: Manuel Margot /

Historically, the Cardinals have owned the Padres, but San Diego managed a rare series win this week in St. Louis. The Cardinals’ bullpen helped immensely, giving up 12 runs in seven innings. Although St. Louis finds itself third in the Central Division with a 64-64 record this year, the Padres’ organization would do well to study the “Cardinal Way.”

“The ‘Cardinal Way’ goes back nearly 100 years and, for generations, has provided the backdrop for how one of the game’s top teams views itself,” according to Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer. A book, The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embraced Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time, has even been written on the subject. Author Howard Megdal details the organization’s winning ways and uncanny ability to find and develop homegrown talent.

The Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles, second only to the Yankees’ 27. The organization has 19 National League pennants, 10 Central Division titles and won wild card berths in 2001, 2011 and 2012.  To put this success into perspective, St. Louis has more pennants than the Padres have winning seasons (14).

Most impressive, the Cardinals, who rarely have bad let alone terrible seasons, manage to stockpile young talent despite almost never having high draft picks. In 2016, Joel Reuter of Bleacher Report published his “Ranking All 30 MLB teams on Homegrown Talent” using player WAR for that year as his determinate. The Cardinals ranked second with 26.2 WAR, while Padres ranked 30th with 2.5 WAR.

The Cardinals have been around forever, while the Padres joined MLB in 1969, making head to head comparisons patently unfair. However, the Cardinals have thrived in essential areas like drafting and player development, especially with pitchers. The Padres, put simply, have not.

According to Reuter, every other team in the division ranks considerably higher in the value of homegrown talent. At 18th on the list, the Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt at 4.8 WAR; the Dodgers (ranked 11) have Clayton Kershaw (5.6); the Rockies (ranked 6) have Nolan Arenado (6.5) and Charlie Blackmon (6.15), and the Giants (ranked 2) have Buster Posey (4.7).

The Padres have historically drafted poorly, but less attention has been paid to the organization’s failures at developing players. Before this year’s draft, Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote of the team’s “lethal cocktail of bad luck and incompetence” in the draft. But he also emphasized the “remarkable inability to develop the players they’ve acquired.”

Part of the problem in both areas lies in the fact that the Padres’ change draft and development strategies on a regular basis. Since 2009, when general manager Kevin Towers left the team, Jed Hoyer, Josh Byrnes and now A.J. Preller have taken charge. With each change, comes a change in philosophy.

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In his tenure with the Texas Rangers, Preller scouted international talent and had nothing to do with developing that talent. Oddly, Preller’s choice for director of player development, Sam Geaney, also has no experience on the development side either.

One consolation, he does seem to have the right attitude. When Geaney was hired he told SDUT’s Dennis Lin that “…as anyone who arrives via an international scouting background, you tend to be hyper-sensitive to the importance of the development side…. It’s not a sign-them-and-wipe-your-hands approach.”

Next: Offseason infield decisions

Padres’ fans can do little but wait and hope for a change of fortune in the usual “Padres Way” of drafting and development. Success in those areas has been the hallmark of the “Cardinal Way,” and must be the guiding principal behind the Padres attempts to break out of their stunning failures in both areas.