The Houston Astros had a plan, stuck to that plan and have been rewarded by the team’s first trip to the World Series since 2005. The San Diego Padres have had a much longer drought since being swept by the Yankees in 1998. However, the current front office also reportedly has a plan: to return to the playoffs if not the World Series by the early 2020s. If the plan works could the Padres grow up to be like this young, exciting Astros team?
In 2012, Houston won a pitiful 55 games, one of the worst records in the history of the sport. The next year the number of wins actually went down to 51. In the meantime, the front office under general manager Jeff Luhnow, who took over in December 2011, traded veterans and started acquiring talent from a variety of sources.
Although pundits predicted the Padres would lose 100 games this season, putting the team in line for top draft picks, San Diego has again been mediocre rather than truly terrible. Thanks to winning 71 games, the home team has to wait for the Tigers, Giants, Phillies, White Sox, Reds and Mets before stepping to the microphone.The Astros acquired one of their most dynamic players, 5’6” second baseman Jose Altuve, on the international market, Preller’s stomping ground. At first, Houston considered him
The Astros acquired one of their most dynamic players, 5’6” second baseman Jose Altuve, on the international market, Preller’s stomping ground. At first, Houston considered him too small to play in the big leagues when he showed up for a tryout in Venezuela in 2006. The next year he showed up again, and this time the Astros signed him as an undrafted free agent for $15,000. He blasted through minors, bypassed Triple-A and earned a call-up in July 2011.
According to Baseball Reference, Altuve ranks first in WAR overall as a position player, as well as for offense and for batting average. Since Preller often talks of big-bodied players in discussing prospects, Padres fans probably can’t count on landing an Altuve-sized player anytime soon.
However, Preller does have the reputation for thinking outside the box. He also has a track record of identifying talent as the Texas Ranger’s director of international and professional scouting. He helped acquire the likes of Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Josh Hamilton and Yu Darvish during his tenure.
That other team from Texas has a number of homegrown players besides Altuve who helped fuel the trip to the World Series, including reliever Lance McCullers, starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, right fielder George Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman.
Currently, Bleacher Report ranks the Padres farm system fourth (up from seventh) with LHP MacKenzie Gore, RHP Cal Quantrill, SS Fernando Tatis Jr. leading the group. The talent may start to dribble in as soon as the end of 2018, but many of the players in the system are very young. However, performance will trump age. According to Jeff Sanders, San Diego Union Tribune, “… the Padres have said all along, the players themselves will dictate how fast they move.”
The Astros have not just relied on drafting and developing talent but also on savvy trades. The team hit pay dirt by trading their third, ninth and eleventh ranked prospects (according to MLB.com) for veteran pitcher Justin Verlander mere moments before 11:59 ET trade deadline on August 31.
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Verlander, chosen second in the 2004 draft right behind the Padres’ pick of Matt Bush, won the ALCS MVP award, striking out 21 in 16 innings. In Game 2 of the series, he pitched a nine-inning complete game masterpiece with 13 strikeouts against a loaded New York Yankees team.
So far Preller’s trades for the Padres have had mixed results at best, especially after the 2015 attempt to short-circuit the process by acquiring players like Matt Kemp and Derek Norris. The trades left the Padres with a depleted farm system, as well as huge salaries on the books for players like Kemp.
In 2014 the Astros won 70 games, just one fewer than the Padres this year. The following year, the record improved by 16 wins. San Diego has to have the same kind of turnaround if the team has any chance of growing up to be the Astros. Under Preller, the Padres have to actually hit on some draft picks, follow through in developing the talent in the system and improve dramatically in adding key pieces through trades. Of course, a little good luck would also help.