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Padres fire general manager Josh Byrnes after three seasons in charge

Josh Byrnes was unable to fix the Padres' offensive woes despite several trades. Photo:

Josh Byrnes was unable to fix the Padres' offensive woes despite several trades.

After a disappointing 32-43 start to the season, the axe has fallen on San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes. On Sunday, the Padres announced they fired Byrnes, who has been the team’s GM since October 2011, effective immediately. In his stead, San Diego will have a temporary triumvirate at GM of vice president of baseball operations (and former Mets GM) Omar Minaya and assistant GMs A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman, Jr.

Byrnes’ firing marks the end of a short and unsuccessful tenure as the Padres’ GM. San Diego went 76-86 in each of Byrnes’ first two seasons, never finishing higher than third in the NL West. It is stuck in fourth place in the division after Sunday’s loss to the Dodgers, a whopping 13 1/2 games behind San Francisco. Things have gotten particularly bad in June, as the Padres have dropped 14 of their 20 games this month; San Diego hasn’t won a series since taking two of three from the White Sox at the end of May.“This ownership group is committed to fielding a team that consistently competes for postseason play,” said Padres president and CEO Mike Dee in a statement. “Thus far this season, the results on the field have been mixed at best and clearly have not lived up to expectations. After a lengthy evaluation of every facet of our baseball operations, we have decided to make this change today.”

What’s plagued Byrnes’ team this year is what’s bedeviled the Padres since he took over: a total lack of offense. San Diego is dead last in baseball this year in runs per game (2.99), batting average (.215), on-base percentage (.275) and slugging percentage (.341). At 224 runs on the season so far, the Padres are on pace to score just 486; no team has scored fewer than 500 runs in a non-strike season since 1971, when (you guessed it) the Padres scored 486 runs in 161 games.

Those scoring issues are extreme, but it’s nothing new for the Padres. Last season, San Diego tallied only 618 runs, the fourth-worst mark in the NL and seventh-worst overall. The 2012 season was slightly better at 651 runs, but that was still 50 runs under the league average and 157 away from first-place Texas. San Diego hasn’t broken 700 runs since scoring 741 in 2007, and the team’s OPS+ with Byrnes as GM has never topped 97.

For the most part, Byrnes hasn’t been able to fix San Diego’s offensive issues since taking over as GM. Though half of the the Padres’ regular lineup was acquired or developed before Byrnes became GM, his most notable additions haven’t panned out at all. Carlos Quentin, picked up from Chicago for a pair of minor leaguers in December 2011, has hit well when he’s been on the field, with a 139 OPS+ as a Padre. The only problem is that Quentin has been incapable of staying healthy for any useful length of time. The 31-year-old outfielder has played only 197 games in three seasons thanks to a variety of injuries; this year, he’s suited up for only 29 games thanks to knee and groin issues.

Then there’s the return on Byrnes’ biggest trade as San Diego’s boss: Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso. Acquired from Cincinnati along with Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger in exchange for Mat Latos, Grandal and Alonso were supposed to be offensive cornerstones, with Alonso taking over first base for the departed Adrian Gonzalez and Grandal at catcher. Instead, Alonso managed just a 110 OPS+ in his first season, then saw injuries limit him to 97 games in 2013. This year, he’s hit a mere .210/.250/.341 with only five homers and is currently on the disabled list with wrist tendinitis. Grandal, meanwhile, has seen his stock damaged by a 50-game PED suspension and a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. That almost entirely wiped out his 2013 season, and while he’s come back healthy, he’s also struggled to produce, with a .643 OPS in 160 plate appearances this season.

All told, few of Byrnes’ moves have worked out as planned. The Latos trade in particular has been a disaster for San Diego, with Grandal and Alonso struggling and Volquez contributing only 325 innings across two poor seasons with the Padres before being released late in 2013. Latos, meanwhile, posted ERA+ numbers of 118 and 120 in his first two seasons with the Reds, though he missed the first two months of the 2014 season with an arm injury. At last year’s trading deadline, Byrnes picked up Ian Kennedy on the cheap from Arizona, but Kennedy has yet to do much for the Padres, with an 88 ERA+ so far this season.

Trades were Byrnes’ primary way of bolstering his roster, as the Padres largely eschewed free agency during his time as GM. For the most part, San Diego stayed on the fringes during the offseason, handing out short deals on little money to veterans and players coming back from injury. That strategy didn’t pay off for Byrnes, however, as the likes of Jeff Suppan, Mark Kotsay, Jeremy Hermida and Josh Johnson contributed little to nothing in their short stints with San Diego. In fact, during Byrnes’ previous two seasons in charge, his biggest free agent signing was reliever Joaquin Benoit, who inked a two-year, $15.5 million deal in December 2013 to set up for Huston Street.

What’s interesting about Byrnes’ reluctance to utilize the free agent market is that the team’s payroll took a big jump with him as GM. Since 2011, San Diego has doubled its contract commitments, going from $45.8 million that season to $90.6 million on Opening Day this year, thanks in large part to new owner Ron Fowler. The majority of that cash went into long-term extensions for the team’s core players. Under Byrnes, multi-year deals were given to Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Cory Luebke and Jedd Gyorko. But nearly every one of those deals has backfired, with Quentin, Maybin and Luebke limited by injuries and Gyorko taking a massive step back after his strong rookie season.

Byrnes’ departure comes just one month before the trading deadline, and it would be a surprise if the new troika in charge doesn’t attempt to move some veterans in what’s been a lost season. Quentin is a likely deadline departure, and Street could be a possibility for a contender looking for bullpen help, as he’s on the last year of a five-year deal and has an affordable $7 million team option for 2015. The name that will likely draw the most attention, however, is Chase Headley. Despite his bad numbers so far (a .616 OPS and 77 OPS+ in 219 plate appearances), the 30-year-old Headley is just two seasons removed from a 31-homer campaign in 2012. On top of that, he’s set to be a free agent at season’s end, and there’s been no indication that an extension is forthcoming. However, his struggles this season and poor injury history could scare off potential trade partners, or at least depress any return.

With Byrnes gone, the Padres now have to find a replacement. The most popular rumor is the return of Kevin Towers, currently Arizona’s GM, who was in charge in San Diego from 1995 to 2009. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the Padres have already internally discussed bringing Towers back, but that will depend largely on whether  he stays with Arizona or gets the heave-ho from new Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony LaRussa. With Arizona an NL-worst 32-47 this season, there’s a good chance that LaRussa will clean house in the offseason, opening the door for a reunion between the Padres and Towers.

Regardless of what direction San Diego goes, the new GM will have plenty to address in his first season. One way or another, San Diego will likely lose Headley, and the team has a boatload of young players who are in line for arbitration raises or potential multi-year deals. That group includes Alonso, staff ace Andrew Cashner and shortstop Everth Cabrera. At the very least, the Padres have a strong farm system (ranked 11th in baseball by Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks) and boast a top-flight catching prospect in Austin Hedges. But the majority of that system is still a season or more away from making a major league impact, including Hedges and outfielder Rymer Liriano. Others, such as 2013 first-round pick Hunter Renfroe, top pitching prospect Max Fried and newly drafted shortstop Trea Turner, likely won’t hit the majors until 2016 or ’17 at the earliest.

As such, the Padres will have to find a way to win with the current roster and hope the team can snap out of its offensive funk. Otherwise, manager Bud Black could be the next out the door, along with the players Byrnes brought in to try to transform San Diego back into a contender.

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