The Tank That Keeps On Rolling

If you do not know me, let me paint you the picture that is me. I am 6’4” and 280 pounds (most days). When I meet strangers for the first time the majority of them have some wise crack about how I must have played football. Well, I did. I played four years of high school football, two years at a junior college, and two more years as a scholarship athlete at New Mexico State University. All of this being said, my true sports love is baseball. I played baseball from the time I was allowed to be signed up all the way through high school.

 I love everything about baseball. I love the strategy, I love the mind games, and I love my Padres. The phrase “My Padres” is one coined by the great Ted Leitner and one that I use whenever I refer to the Padres. With the Chargers bolting for Los Angeles, the Padres are the last professional franchise I can call my own. Like all San Diego Sports, the San Diego Padres are holders of many not very desirable distinctions. They have never won a World Series and still have yet to have a player throw for a no-hitter or perfect game. More recently, it has been eleven years since the Padres have even smelled the postseason in what seems like an endless cycle of hope dashed by despair.  

The Padres are what we like to call a “small market” team. In other words, they don’t have the type of money behind them to go out and sign players to $200 million contracts. Hell, they haven’t even ever signed any one player to a $100 million contract. This year’s payroll actually consists of paying more money to players who no longer play for the Padres than to ones who actually do. You know, back to the non-desirables. But, as any true sports fan, I continue to have hope. Hope that one day we can have something to display in a shiny display case. 

For the first time in a long time I am 100% on board with what the Padres have done and continue to do. I have a theory. AJ Preller, the man coined the GM Rockstar, knew that the only way to win, and sustain winning, was to completely tank. Ownership did not want to go down that road as the Padres have always been near the cellar of the standings anyway. So AJ Preller brought in a plethora of veterans with nice track records to try and appease ownership and the casual fan. To be completely honest, I was one of those fans to buy the hype because for the first time the Padres were dominating headlines on ESPN for good reasons. He brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel, James Shield, BJ Upton, Will Middlebrooks, and Derek Norris through trades and free agency. 

To be honest, the only players we gave up that were any good were Joe Ross and Trea Turner, but they were the ones we gave up to get Wil Myers, so the jury is still out on that one. AJ Preller knew that this influx of veteran talent would never work but he did it so that ownership and the casual fan could see it didn’t work that way. 

Yes you heard me right, he did it on purpose.

These guys are too smart to be so dumb. He knew full well that there was absolutely no way that this team would be the one to break through the cellar ceiling. You cannot buy sustainable winning, you have to build it. So after a 74 win season, he got the green light from ownership. Blow the mother f**ker up. And he did so in fantastic fashion. 

Instead of trading this veteran talent for mediocre prospects that were close to the major league level, he went for high ceiling prospects that were still years away. He brought in players like Anderson Espinoza, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Margot, and Josh Naylor to name a few. This helped to pump life into a terrible minor league system to go along with the drafted talent like Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe. Now the incredible part, the international signing class.

Without getting into the particulars of how baseball signings work, there is an international signing period that essentially lasts a year. During this period there is a cap placed on every team for how much they can spend. Should they go over that cap, they pay however much they went over in taxes. But there is not a cap on top of that so basically if you go over you’re just paying double for every player. Well, AJ Preller went over that cap, by a lot. Like historically over. Last I could find the Padres are spending upwards of $80 million towards players in the international signing class. That is unheard of. As of last check the Padres have signed the #’s 3, 9, 11, 12, 16, 22, and 24th ranked players in the international signing class and look poised to sign #1. I mean what the hell right? We’re already spending an obscene amount on international talent, what’s another $10 or $20 million.  

Now all of this is great for a team that needed prospects to fill a terrible minor league system. What this is not great for is the product on the field. I know, I had to go back to the darkness. This gets us back to the title of this post. The tank job that AJ Preller has authored is again one for the ages. This team is horrific. I know that, they know that, but it’s all in the name of being good one day (fingers crossed). While we wait for all of this young talent to reach the ability to produce in the Major Leagues, we get to watch Jered Weaver toss 82 MPH fastballs towards hitters who can’t wait to swing out of their shoes. Sorry Jered, I’m sure you’re a good dude but it is what it is. The idea is simple, pay over the hill veterans a small salary to eat up innings and get them through the 2017 season. 

Some analysts have even put the Padres down for being this bad because it is “bad for baseball”. But what is worse for baseball, a perennial loser who is just kind of bad or a historically bad couple of years after which a team might turn into the next Cubs. This is why I am completely on board with this plan even though it feels like we have been down this road 100 times before. The only difference is the commitment was never all the way there.

Padre’s ownership knew it couldn’t resign players like Mat Latos or Jake Peavy so traded them for major league ready, mediocre talent. Every once in a while one prospect would pan out and we would trade him in an attempt to get another prospect. This time we have completely sold the farm for prospects and committed to letting young guys like Hedges, Renfroe, and Margot go through the pains that most young players go through without risk of losing their job. 

Again, I feel like I might still have my head in the sand but I truly to feel like this time is different. I feel like this is the rebuild we needed that no one wanted to go through. The crazy thing is I know for a fact the Padres will be the worst team in Major League Baseball by the time the year is over. I would be absolutely floored if another team took that spot from the Padres. But I am more excited to watch games now than I ever have been. Even though I know they are going to be historically bad, I bought an subscription so I could watch every game. 

I know that we are watching the beginning of careers that will be the ones who we look back on as being the ones who started it all. The ones who brought us our first real World Championship, no-hitter, and perfect game. And if they aren’t, well I guess I will be writing a post talking about how dumb I was to think the Padres could actually be good.

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