San Diego Padres: Looking back at the 1998 season

dcalkins
14 Oct 1998: Pitcher Sterling Hitchcock
14 Oct 1998: Pitcher Sterling Hitchcock /
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In 1998, fans of the San Diego Padres rocked the Q (Qualcomm Stadium) and probably contributed to hearing loss among the Friar faithful.

Of course, the San Diego Padres had to misfortune of facing one of the best teams in the history of the sport, the 1998 New York Yankees. The Yankees swept the series, 9-6; 9-3; 5-4; 3-0. Since that beat down, the Padres have not even sniffed the ultimate goal of the season.

Appropriately, homegrown star Tony Gwynn led the team by batting .500/.529/.688/1.217 in the series. But the 1998 team largely consisted of players added through trades or free-agent signings with only a few other homegrown players like catcher Ben Davis and pitcher Joey Hamilton.

Players critical to the Padres success in 1998 (like pitchers Kevin Brown, Sterling Hitchcock, and Trevor Hoffman as well as outfielders Greg Vaughn and Steve Finley) started their careers with other organizations. The Yankees, on the other hand, trotted out players either drafted or otherwise signed as rookies by the team, players like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.

Much has changed in the sport in the past 20 years, making it almost impossible for a mid-market team to be successful without a supply of homegrown players. Recent playoff contenders, including the World Series champions of 2017 the Houston Astros, have relied on the draft as well as international signings. The Astros signed Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel as international prospects and drafted Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

Other changes have occurred including the advent of MLB.com’s Statcast that measures everything from launch angle to sprint speed to average pitch velocity. Many managers take advantage of advanced statistics to place fielders depending on a batter’s tendencies. Base runners can no longer flatten the catcher, as the Red’s Pete Rose did to the Indians’ Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star game.

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The sport expanded to 30 teams beginning in 1998 with the addition of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays. Since 1994-5, there have been no work stoppages in baseball, and revenues for the sport exceeded $10 billion for the first time last year.

In 2017, the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs all hosted over 3,000,000 fans. The Padres, despite a 71-91 record, attracted over two million fans.

Player salaries have risen to an average of over $4 million, and Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year contract with the Miami Marlins with a value of $325,000,000 finally eclipsing Alex Rodriguez’ $275,000,000 with the Yankees.   Teams like the Padres do benefit from revenue sharing (although details on the amount allocated to San Diego remain a mystery).

Despite revenue sharing, the Padres cannot possibly afford a payroll close to that of their division rival Dodgers. The Dodgers sold for a record $2.15 billion in 2012 and had the highest total payroll in baseball last year at $242 million with the New York Yankees at $202 million coming in second. The Padres ranked 28th with a payroll of $72 million, and much of that went to players no longer on the team like Matt Kemp.

Padres’ management has obviously recognized the fact that a mid-revenue organization can no longer build a team the way the 1998 team was assembled. Contracts have exploded from Gary Sheffield’s high of $15 million per year in 1998 to Clayton Kershaw’s $33 million last year.

In order to compete for the grand prize in baseball, the Padres will have to continue to build a core of young players through the draft and international signings. Some of those prospects will have to be sacrificed to allow the team to trade for a missing piece or pieces. The Houston Astros gave up three prospects to pry ace Justin Verlander away from the Detroit Tigers at the last minute of the trade deadline, and he made the difference for the World Series winner.

Next: Olney thinks the Padres will sign Eric Hosmer

Unfortunately, even the addition of a Verlander to the roster won’t bring World Series games to Petco Park on the 20th anniversary of the team’s last chance at the ultimate prize. But, maybe, in the not so distant future, the San Diego Padres will finally end the long drought.

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