Padres join other winter winners in failing to succeed during the season
From Opening Day, Bud Black, now the former manager of the San Diego Padres, began the season with no job security. Not on the last year of his contract. Not with an ownership group that inherited him. Not with a general manager who inherited him. Not with a roster that, despite huge changes, is obviously flawed. Just like the 2012 Marlins, the '13 Blue Jays and the '14 Rangers, the 2015 Padres reproved that winning the winter with well-catered press conferences can create false expectations.
It’s not as if San Diego has massively underachieved, the way Seattle and Boston (home to Lloyd McClendon and John Farrell, respectively, the next two managers on the hot seat) have done. General manager A.J. Preller fired Black when the Padres were 32-33—not so out of line with a team that looks on paper like an 86-win team.
We knew this team would be poor defensively—and it is 27th in baseball in defensive efficiency, and its pitchers have been undermined by a defense that allows the second-worst batting average on balls in play in the league. (Only Washington is worse.) We knew this team was too righthanded on offense—and it is 12th in the league in OPS against righthanded pitching. And we knew Preller was rolling the dice when he bet on righthanded hitters Jedd Gyorko, Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks and Wil Myers all to bounce back from down years.
Gyorko followed his .210 season of 2014 by hitting .210 again and getting sent to the minors. Middlebrooks is hitting .226. Myers has one home run since April while missing a month with a wrist injury—after missing much of last year with a wrist injury. And Kemp? There are no signs that his big second half of last season is sustainable.
How bad has Kemp been? He has hit two home runs. His .336 slugging percentage is the worst of his career. His walk rate (4.7%) is by far the worst of his career. Pitchers are pounding him with pitches down and away, and he is flailing at them.
None of this—the defense, the too-righthanded roster, the down year from Kemp—reflects the job done by the manager. But that doesn’t mean Black got a raw deal from Preller. Black has been managing for nine years and never brought his team to the playoffs. The owners, since taking over in 2012, have nearly doubled the payroll from $55 million to $106 million. Preller, who was hired last August, brought back Black after a quick test drive, but the manager didn't even get a one-year extension, leaving Black as a lame duck and an easy target.
The only way Black could have earned himself more rope was to take a team with so many new parts and come roaring out of the gate—which is why he played many of his regulars together through spring training. San Diego did get off to a 10-5 start. But when it followed that with a 10-19 stretch, Preller began to get nervous. For two weeks he began wondering if Black needed to go. And when the Padres dropped another series to the Dodgers last weekend—they lost four of them to Los Angeles, going 4-8 against their division rival—Preller had seen enough. He had given Black the chance to work with more talent, but 65 games convinced him Black wasn’t the manager he wanted.
Oddly, Preller canned Black without having a replacement in mind. He will hire an interim manager from within the organization—possibly Triple A manager Pat Murphy—and conduct a search for a full-time replacement after the season.
Preller had overhauled this team so thoroughly and so quickly last winter that Kemp called him “a rock star.” The effort was impressive. But look around at what has happened to the teams that created the most noise over the winter.
The Red Sox, who are in last place and nine games out in the AL East, are such a disaster they are pushing Farrell to the brink of being the next manager to be fired. Pablo Sandoval has one extra-base hit batting righthanded and is losing his usual battle to control his weight; Hanley Ramirez cannot play the outfield; and evaluations on pitchers Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, outfielder Rusney Castillo and outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig all look like misfires.
The Mariners, despite the money spent on Nelson Cruz, are an awful offensive team, and after a panic trade for Mark Trumbo, have put McClendon on the hot seat. The White Sox can’t hit or field. The Nationals—a big winter player if only because they spent $210 million to sign Max Scherzer—can’t catch the ball.
What do most of those teams that caught our eye in the winter have in common? They play poor defense. Line up the winter winners according to defensive efficiency, and here’s what you get:
Red Sox: 19th
White Sox: 30th
All of them have been disappointments. The Padres may play a bit better with their interim manager, but it won’t be much better. Not with that defense.