At the risk of jbox and Dex forcing me to get them coffee everyday for the rest of my life (not an easy task considering I live in Tucson, AZ and San Diego is a good five to six hour drive), I am stepping out of series preview mode to cover a topic that's been bouncing around in my head for a while now. It's especially fitting now as the Padres come off two straight series victories including a sweep of the Cubs. As fans of a team that struggles to put together winning seasons, we often find ourselves wishing for just a respectable finish. A few more wins here, a few less losses there. If the Padres could just finish above .500, God help us, we'd be a happy bunch. Don't get me wrong, I want play-offs. I want postseason baseball in San Diego. I want Petco Park packed and bursting at the seams with rowdy Padres fans who have always Kept the Faith. But it's not often that we get that. So naturally, we root for the next best thing - as many wins as our team can muster.
But just how helpful are those wins really? Do they actually hurt the team? There are two avenues for us to explore in answering those questions; the tangible benefits and costs of winning more games in a losing season, and the intangible side effects (both good and bad).
In 2009, the Padres finished with a record of 75-87 - not horrible, but far from play-off caliber. However, from July 31, 2009 through the rest of that season, the Padres played 31-26 baseball. From August 31st on, they played 18-11 baseball. They got hot in the second half of 2009 and we all know that helped carry them through 2010. The players on that roster acknowledged it, the fans saw it, and the media talked about it. Yet, had they not gotten hot, where would they have finished? How did the success affect the team both negatively and positively?
On July 31, 2009, the Padres were 20 games under .500 with a record of 42-62. That's a .404 winning percentage. Had they continued that pace, they would have finished somewhere around 65-97. And the truth is, they had actually started getting hot about a week before that. On July 25, 2009, the team had a 38-60 record. However, for the sake of this article, I'll use July 31st as the turning point in the season.
Now, if the Padres had continued playing .404 ball and finished with just 65 wins in 2009, they would have, at worst, had the sixth pick in the 2010 draft. Here are the teams that finished with the same record or worse than our estimated record in 2009:
Kansas City: 65-97
Since San Diego, Cleveland, and Kansas City would all have the same records, the draft rules say the previous year's record would be used as a tie-breaker. In 2008, the Padres finished with a record of 63-99, the Indians with a record of 81-81, and the Royals with a record of 75-87. Hello fourth overall pick.
The new CBA makes the draft a lot more fair for small market clubs. If you don't believe me, read this article by SABR President Vince Genarro. In 2009 and 2010, the old CBA was still in full force. This meant that if any team lost a high profile free agent in the offseason, they would be owed to compensatory picks to be slotted ahead of the team that signed the free agent. The Padres were losing free agents, but not normally the high-profile variety. Generally, San Diego would trade players who were on the verge of free agency. Heath Bell is the most recent - and last - example of a Padres' free agent netting two compensatory draft picks. These picks will bumped the Marlins back in their draft order.
Let's go back to that 2009 season. Here's what the following year's top-ten picks of the draft looked like based on actual final records of 2009:
1. Bryce Harper
2. Jameson Tailon
6. Barrett Loux
7. Matt Harvey
8. Delino DeShields
9. Karsten Whitson (Padres)
10. Michael Choice
Now, obviously the Padres weren't going to get Harper. The Nationals were extraordinarily bad in 2009. The Padres, before the hot streak, were just your normal type of bad. But of the eight picks ahead of the Padres in the 2010 draft, four have made their Major League debuts - or will make their Major League debut. Manny Machado is set to debut today. We know about Harper's success, we've seen Harvey when he faced the Padres recently. Pomeranz is having some success in Colorado, and people expect big things from Machado. Whitson, the Padres first pick in the 2010 draft, went back to school and isn't even in the Padres system now.
Now we have the tangible cost of the Padres finding success in a losing season. They lost out on at least Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, and possibly Manny Machado. But what were the benefits of the success San Diego had toward the end of 2009?
The intangible benefit, you know the one I tell you about and you just have to believe me, was the success carrying over into 2010. The Padres entered spring training in 2010 with confidence and a real belief that they could win the division. And they almost did. That type of confidence can help a decent team over-perform and win 90 games when no one expected them to. But there are tangible benefits to such success as well.
As teams win more games, excitement in the city builds. This may not have been true in 2009 because it was difficult to recognize in the middle of a losing season. However, in 2010 it was clear. The Padres' average attendance in 2009 was 23,735. In 2010, that jumped to an average of 26,318. Almost 3,000 more fans watched the Padres play live at Petco per game in 2010 than in 2009 - all because of the success the team was having. In 2009, the Padres failed to cross the 2 million mark for attendance for the first time since Petco opened. However, San Diego drew 2.1 million fans.
More fans generally means more money for the team to spend. And that was the proposed plan by supposed new-owner Jeff Moorad. Moorad had publicly expressed his desire to eventually raise the Padres payroll to $75 million and operate consistently at that mark. While that still wouldn't put them in line with a lot of the more consistently successful teams, it would certainly make the Padres more competitive. To do so, the Padres needed to draw fans. Their winning ways made that easier.
Of course, Jeff Moorad fell through as the new owner, and the Padres will (hopefully) have a new new owner soon. Yet, no matter the owner, the fact remains, winning equals more fans and more money for the club to spend. But winning during a losing season means lower draft picks and missing out on a potential franchise-changing player.
Now that I've written this entire article explaining the pros and cons of winning in a losing season, I'm going to tell you I don't care. I'm a Padres fan. Every time I go to a game or watch a game on TV, I want them to win. I'm not thinking about draft picks or attendance. I'm thinking about my team winning.
Keep the faith!
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