Five years ago, the San Diego Padres was a franchise in flux. Today, it’s a franchise deeply entrenched in a rebuild but some key pieces seem to be in place. What does the future hold for this team and for its fans? Let’s take a trip in the time machine to see where we’ve come from, who we are now, and where we might be headed.
Five Years Ago: Living in the Past
In 2012, the franchise was going through a muddled change of hands as the Moorad group backed out of a complicated sale and the reins eventually came to rest with the Fowler Group. Josh Byrnes had recently taken over for Jed Hoyer as General Manager, and it felt like the organization’s player acquisition and development programs were adrift. The players on the field featured a reluctant star in Chase Headley, and the players with whom the fans connected the most (Wil Venable and Chris Denorfia) weren’t names known far from Petco. Each year was a season that brought limited promise, where our best players didn’t seem to stack up against their best players, and our prospects never shined as brightly as theirs. The Padres seemed stuck in a loop of re-tread veterans, under-performance, injuries, and flame-outs. The manager that took over for Bruce Bochy six years prior was liked by everyone, but Bud Black was dealt a poor hand each year, and he never seemed to play it well. As fans, we felt resigned to the cellar each year and there didn’t seem to be a clear way out. The fact that the franchise’s most identifiable personalities were Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Jerry Coleman was representative of the franchise as a whole. There were a couple of shooting stars that blazed across our sky. We couldn’t bear to consider the darkness, instead we appreciated how they illuminated our night... until they were gone.
2014-2015: A State of Flux
2014 was a season of change. We lost Jerry and Tony, and that still hurts. The season was lost to retrospection of our collective loss, but in that season there was positive change. Josh Byrnes’ GM tenure finally ended, and after an exhaustive search the team hired a relatively unknown young international scout named AJ Preller to revamp the whole organization from the ground up. His in-season moves at the MLB level didn’t turn any heads, but that winter we saw excitement around the Padres that hasn’t been seen for a long, long time. “Prellerpalooza” was in full effect, and the Padres were suddenly making headline news across the nation. Us fans got all wrapped up in the hoopla, ignoring the critics who were pointing out the issues with roster construction, because we felt something we hadn’t felt in a long time: hope.
Well, 2015 was a big flop. The bullpen fell apart, the rotation never took off, the defense was atrocious, and the offense was frustratingly inconsistent. It wasn’t all bad news, though, as more changes started to shape what lay ahead for the organization. Wil Myers went from overmatched centerfielder to a promisingly athletic first baseman. Bud Black’s tenure ended, paving the way for an overhaul of a qualified but stale coaching staff. The All-Star Game was coming to Petco Park, so fans still had plenty to get excited about, even if the product on the field didn’t live up to expectations.
2016: The Start of Something
The hiring of Andy Green left a lot of people scratching their heads. The Padres had a qualified candidate in bench coach Dave Roberts, who barely garnered consideration. Veteran managers like Ron Gardenhire were out there looking for work, but the Padres chose a young, precocious, progressive thinker to lead the team out of the dugout and into future success. The re-tooling of the team for the 2016 season didn’t inspire the same kind of fervor that the previous season had, but the organization’s eye were already on a bigger goal. Spring Training brought talk of a new culture, led by Green’s attention to detail and insistence on accountability.
While the team on the field was struggling under a rough start, the real action was taking place in the amateur talent acquisition department. The Padres expertly negotiated the amateur draft, signing a mix of high-ceiling talent with some solid high-floor players who are projected to shoot through the minors quickly. Before the ink was dry on the draft signings, the international signing period opened and the organization swept the board, signing an impressive haul of the best players available on the international market. Once again, Preller and his crew drew rave reviews once the dust settled.
The 2016 All-Star Game was a turning point for the Padres and for their fans. Wil Myers was a team representative in the All-Star Game, he participated in the Home Run Derby, and he acted as the team’s ambassador throughout the proceedings. In the Futures Game, the Padres featured three representatives that figure to be a large part of the team’s near future: Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, and Hunter Renfroe. Margot made a highlight-reel catch over the centerfield wall that gave everyone a snapshot of what he will bring to the organization. The fans understood that Myers is the new “Face of the Franchise”, and that the kids in the minors are the future.
By mid-season it was clear that contention wasn’t going to happen, and furthermore some roster overturn was needed for Green to see the change he wanted to see in the clubhouse. The team offloaded all of its movable veterans, in some cases bringing back prospect talent, and in other cases simply paying players to go away to clear space for the first wave of internally developed youth. By the end of the 2016 season, the team on the field was starting to show the fans a glimpse of the future.
2017-2022: The Next Five Years
Coming in to the 2017 season, the Padres are projected to field one of the youngest rosters in the league, and most of that youth is on the position player side of the roster. The “Core Four” of Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Carlos Asuaje are ready to join the young, talented players previously with the team like Wil Myers, Cory Spangenberg, Travis Jankowski, Alex Dickerson, Ryan Schimpf, and Yangervis Solarte. Some promising young pitchers including Luis Perdomo, Walker Lockett, and Jose Torres are on the fringe of the active roster, with a wave of talent behind them in the high minors. This group is to be tasked with establishing the nucleus of the organization’s future, setting a cultural standard as the young players acquired in the 2015 & 2016 drafts & international signing periods begin to percolate up through the minors.
Some of us fans are eternal optimists. If you squint really hard, you can make a case for the 2017 team digging out of the cellar and becoming borderline competitive. With the right luck and some shrewd moves, this core could bloom together and make some noise in 2018. But the real “window of contention” for this organization should start to take shape in 2019 and then truly come into form in 2020-2022. Some of the young players on today’s roster will still be there, but the wealth of talent acquired via trade, draft, or int’l signing since the day Preller took office represents the future of Padres baseball.
The Padres’ minor league system has been consistently ranked in the top five in all of baseball this offseason. That isn’t due to a handful of near-MLB-ready players in the high minors, it’s because there is a remarkable volume of high-ceiling players from ages 16-21, many of whom will be starting their professional careers this season. Go take a look at MLB Pipeline’s Padres Top 30 list, you’ll find that 21 of them are age 21 or younger. Read some of the recent prospect reports, and you’ll read about a dozen or so other youngsters that could make such a list in the coming years. Names like Anderson Espinoza, Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jeisson Rosario, Garbriel Arias, Luis Urias, Jacob Nix, Austin Allen, and so many more don’t mean much to the common fan, but they represent a rich future for this organization.
The Future is Bright
It’s clear that the Padres is a rebuilding organization. Some of the pieces that will lead them forward are already making an impact, while others are just learning their path on the back lots of Peoria. The team’s direction has been communicated to the fans, and we understand that there will be struggles and frustration, but for the first time in recent memory, there is reason to have true optimism in what lays ahead. We’ve been through some tough times in these past few years, but Padres fans have good reason to be excited about the future.