With just over a month left in the 2017 season, the San Diego Padres now find themselves at 55-69, a full 33 games back of the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, with the eighth-worst record in baseball.
Going into the season, many thought the Padres would have a realistic chance at a 100-loss season with an almost guaranteed shot at the number one pick. Now the Padres sit nine games behind the Phillies for the worst record in baseball. With 38 games to go, the Padres are going to have a hard time making up that kind of ground. Realistically, a top five pick may be slipping away unless the team starts performing less consistently.
Now that the Padres find themselves slipping down the draft board, the talk around town has turned to an entirely different question: Is the Padres tank over? Or at least is it reaching a turning point of some sort? Now based on the title of this piece, you could probably guess what my answer to that first question is, but let’s take a look at that question in a little more depth before I expound upon my viewpoint.
Over the past two-ish years since the Padres seemed to at least somewhat commit to the tank, general manager A.J. Preller has turned the Padres’ farm system from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best. With the trade of Craig Kimbrel during the 2015-2016 off-season, it was clear the Padres had every intention of once again starting over. Trades of Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton, Andrew Cashner, James Shields, Fernando Rodney, Drew Pomeranz, Derek Norris, Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, Brandon Maurer, and others have followed over the last year and a half, and the Padres have completely retooled the minor league system. On top of all that, the Padres have done well in the draft and have signed a plethora of young international talent in order to fill the lower levels of the system.
However, even with all the talent that has been injected into the system, a list which could go on for quite awhile, this Padres “rebuild” doesn’t feel anywhere close to being done. The Padres have acquired a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about that, but you have to really squint to see this team being competitive in 2019, which seems to be the stated goal for both the front office and ownership group, as well as at least some fans. There is certainly lots of pitching at all levels of the Padres’ system, but pitching is inherently risky, and not all of those guys will pan out.
The glaring weakness for this rebuild actually has nothing to with pitching, though. At present, it’s hard to really picture how the Padres will fill out their lineup from top to bottom in two years. They obviously hope that Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, and Wil Myers will all be a part of that future, but none of those four, save for maybe Margot, have really hit their strides and shown themselves to be absolutely integral parts of the next championship team. Ancillary parts like Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg, Franchy Cordero, Travis Jankowski, and others could be a part of that future, but there aren’t any parts the team can seem to count on just yet.
Looking down at the farm, the issue becomes even more glaring, as the farm system is almost devoid of any position player talent that could be ready in time for a competitive window starting in 2019. Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr. are the two obvious names that fans are counting on to make an impact around that time, but outside of those two, there’s not many players that really stand out as potential everyday position players for 2019. The team seems like they may be set into the early 2020s with the sheer amount of teenaged talent they signed on the international market this past year, but some of those guys would have to absolutely set the world on fire to see big league playing time as soon as 2019. The more likely scenario is that most of those guys won’t see big league action until 2021 or 2022 at the earliest.
So where does that leave the Padres in the meantime? Over the next year and a half, the Padres major league team is going to continue to be mediocre at best. Sure, they might be able to cross the 70-win threshold next season, or perhaps even this season, but this team isn’t going to be sniffing at the playoffs in the short term. During that time, the development of several minor leaguers will be extremely key, most notably all the players you would consider top-10 prospects. If at least a few of those guys can make some noise and work their way to the big leagues, maybe we can start talking about an end to the tank being in sight. But until that happens, this team has no business pretending they are going to be competitive next year or even the year after. The payroll will be noticeably low next year, so the team may choose to add some auxillary parts, but there’s just not enough already there in order to build a winner in the short term.
Going into next season, the Padres intention should be to lose as many games as possible while not hindering the development of the key members we mentioned above or any of their most important prospects down on the farm. There’s always a possibility a team can surprise and speed up the timetable for contention, but that’s just looking less and less likely for a team that is made up like the Padres are. The rest of this year and 2018 will clearly still be building years, and the Padres should be shooting for as high a draft pick as possible while maintaining their position that any major league talent is available in the right trade. Once next season is over and the team has a better idea on where certain prospects stand, then they can start to worry about making big moves, whether that is signing players in what is going to be a crowded free agent market next off-season, or trading some of the players or prospects they have to fill holes that start to become glaring.
Regardless of what happens over the next year to year and a half, Padres fans need to be patient. It’s hard to sit and root for a team that is rebuilding, but it should pay off if the Padres don’t rush things and let this all play out. Whether that’s 2019 or 2020, or even beyond, remains to be seen, but it’s clear the tank is still in full swing for now.