That was not what Padres fans wished for on the Opening Day of the 2016 season. A loss Monday at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a commanding 15-0 shut- out, was certainly not the result they wanted. The Dodgers blanked the Padres again Tuesday in a 3-0 win, then blitzed their National League West rivals one more time Wednesday in a 7-0 shutout. For those who are math whizzes back at home, the Padres have been outscored 25-0 this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team in MLB history to be shut out in their first three games of the season.
That being said, the Padres definitely need to make some critical changes, beginning with the major league club itself continuing down to the A-Ball level. This is a franchise that is licking its wounds from last season and slowly rebuilding. It’s not a full-on tank job rebuild where losses approach the 100s each year, but it’s a rebuild nonetheless. When they received compensation for Justin Upton signing with the Tigers, that put a nice bow on their offseason goals to help the rebuild. So far they have traded pricey relievers (Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit) for prospects, let 2 free agents walk (Upton and Ian Kennedy), exchanged for 1st round draft picks, and acquired a couple of players that can pretty easily be dealt at the deadline for prospects after potential bounce back seasons (John Jay and Alexei Ramirez). These moves are not what you might consider to be major, but they are necessary ones, nonetheless. This is a workman’s effort and a necessary attempt at restructuring the team.
Major league sports teams tend to copy what successful clubs do. For example, the Broncos won the Super Bowl utilizing their defense, especially pass rusher Von Miller and his fellow players in the backfield. What NFL teams did this offseason was spend over a quarter of a billion dollars on defensive players hoping to copy the Broncos’ championship magic. The same can be said for the Cincinnati Royals who have been successful for the latter part of the last two years (one being their WS Championship in 2015) as a result of the bullpen.
The Houston Astros and possibly the Chicago Cubs could be looked at as “how-to” templates for rebuilding. The Astros really took it seriously, but they needed to do so, arriving late to the rebuilding process. From 2007-2010, they had enough of a core to attempt to contend, but their best players were getting old and expensive. They also had raided the farm teams years earlier, so no one was on the way to supplement the team. By 2011, it was too late. Mostly by accident, they lost 100 games and started selling players. Unfortunately, the Astros truly tanked in 2012. The 2013 draft proved to be vital to their calculated rebuild. The Astros actually made the playoffs last year, but the team still hasn’t seen a single player from the 2013 draft make the majors. They’ll benefit from it soon enough, but making the playoffs last year highlights how tanking isn’t the most important part of a rebuild. A similar picture could be painted for the Cubs.
The Astros are a prime example of the positive effects of player development work. Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, who weren’t even high draft picks, are two of the top players at their positions. Jason Castro , Carlos Correa and George Springer stand as 1st round picks that the Astros have cultivated into starters. They’ve also picked up players that other teams deemed expendable, namely Colin McHugh, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena. The Astros have turned them into regulars.
As the Astros’ management has shown, player development is the most important part of a rebuild. Obviously, there needs to be talented players to develop, explaining why the Padres acquired players like Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra in the Craig Kimbrel trade. Team managers are excited about getting two extra 1st round picks (one of those 1st round picks being the result of Ian Kennedy signing with the Royals) in this draft. There’s no guarantee, however, that prospects will be productive major leaguers. The Padres have had talent in their farm system over the years, but currently Cory Spangenberg , Travis Jankowski, Colin Rea, a couple of relievers and possibly Austin Hedges will carry the torch for the farm with this year’s big league club. Wil Myers will represent the fruits of trading a couple of highly touted prospects (Joe Ross, Trea Turner and a couple of others).
This is what the Padres need to strive for as part of their rebuilding efforts, turning talent into production. It doesn’t necessarily require a tank job or a fire sale to do so. It requires a skilled front office and coaches that can cultivate talent. It’s hard to envision these concepts working here, though, mainly because we haven’t seen it before. The Padres haven’t taken the first couple of steps towards getting talent that can be turned into big leaguers (and they will probably take some more at the trade deadline and next offseason), but only time will tell if the organization is capable of anything different than what we have seen in the past. The series with the Dodgers that opens up the Padres 2016 season will hint at things to come for this franchise.
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