Yes, the San Diego Padres have lost five games in a row.
Yes, they rank 23rd in runs scored, 23rd in OBP, and 23rd in batting average.
Yes, the starting rotation (and the roster in general) is very young and very unproven.
Yes, there’s a good chance the Padres don’t make the playoffs this year.
No, this does not mean the franchise has taken a step back. As a matter of fact, it’s a really great time to be a Padres fan! The team’s rebuild is going as planned and they’re set up to build one of the best teams in franchise history, and will soon be positioned well to compete for division, league, and MLB championships.
Where it started...
The Padres “went for it” in 2015, attempting to build a team that could contend right away while they rebuilt their farm system. It didn’t work. It was a huge mistake. They parted with prospects that turned into very good MLB players for guys that were past their prime or soon-to-be free agents.
Sometime in 2016, the team realized this plan was foolish, and decided to go all-in on a rebuild. They traded Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for prospects, James Shields to the White Sox for prospects, and Matt Kemp to the Braves for a bag of balls.
I’d like to show you where the team came from at that point, all-in on the rebuild, before looking at where they are today.
This is the lineup from August 1, 2016, the day after the Kemp trade. The only one of those players that is still a starting-caliber player today, two and a half years later, is still on the Padres (hi, Wil Myers!).
Since then, the Padres have spent a lot of time, energy, and money on building up their farm system to be one of the best in baseball. Which leads us to...
The (Old) Timeline
When you follow the Padres’ prospects and the timeline that was built out for the team’s success, it boiled down to this:
- If all things went smoothly, the top positional prospects would make it to the team sometime in 2019.
- The top pitching prospects could maybe be September call-ups in 2019, taking roles within the starting rotation in 2020.
- The 2019 season would be one for rookies to “get their feet wet”.
- The offseasons after the 2019 and 2020 season would be time for the Padres to find trades and free agents to fill holes in the roster.
The team was never meant to compete for a playoff spot in 2019, and they still may not.
The (New) Timeline
What happened? How did we end up getting our hopes so high that a five-game losing streak feels like a knife in the gut?
Well, for one, the Padres sped up their own timeline by signing free agents early. They paid the price to get the likes of Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado, knowing that they were wasting some money on the early years of those deals so that they could have the talent in place for an eventual 2020 or 2021 run at the playoffs.
Instead of waiting for Josh Naylor and Hudson Potts to arrive and learn the ropes of the big leagues, trailing a year behind Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias, the Padres made Tatis and Urias the final pieces in the infield.
They also used their biggest trade chip, Brad Hand, to get a major-league ready prospect in Francisco Mejia. By adding more major-league ready talent to the roster, the Padres made their team more ready to compete at the major-league level.
What comes next...
While the Padres’ hot start cools off, it’s easy to forget that their farm system is still very stacked. Just yesterday, former Mets GM Jim Duquette put both MacKenzie Gore (4) and Chris Paddack (9) in his list of the top 10 pitching prospects in baseball. The only other team with multiple pitchers on that list were the Atlanta Braves, with Mike Soroka (8) and Kyle Wright (10).
And, just like there’s high quality pitching prospects, there’s an absurd quantity of good pitching prospects that will be coming up to San Diego within the next 2-3 years.
Mejia is still the #4 prospect in the Padres’ system, and serves as a backup plan to ensure that Austin Hedges’ bat won’t slow the team down when they’re ready to compete.
Urias is, frankly, better than this. No matter how worried you are about his first 81 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres, there is a mountain of evidence that says he’s the #3 prospect in the Padres’ system because he’s going to be a .270/.350/.390 guy that plays incredible defense at 2B.
Let’s take a look at what the lineup looks like these days:
That lineup includes 2 of the 3 most talented players in Padres history, in my opinion. It also includes 6 players that were at least partially developed in the Padres farm system (vs. 3 in the lineup from 2016).
It’s not often that a team has two generational talents on the roster at the same time, neither of them past their prime. It’s not often that they have two 5-tool players on the roster at the same time. It’s not often that they could have one player on the team making big money that’s not their best player, much less two players on the team (Myers, Hosmer) making big money that are not either of their two best players. This is a different San Diego Padres team than what you’re used to.
Also, if you’re concerned about Hosmer’s decline, the team still has Naylor at the AAA level. If you’re concerned about Hedges’ bat, they have Mejia on the bench behind him. There’s an answer to just about every offensive issue you can come up with, and the pitching prospects that look like they’ll be dominant are nearly here.
Don’t change plans
We all talked last year about how much fun it was going to be to watch Tatis Jr. and Urias this year, even if the team wasn’t very good. Now, we get to add watching Machado, the best 3B in Padres history, play every day as well!
Don’t change your plans. Watch this team. Enjoy this team. And understand that, when they lose, it’s not a failure on a part of the players, the coaching staff, or the GM. It’s part of the plan.
This is one of the last stages of the rebuild. We’re almost there.