Maybe it’s just my proximity to San Diego, but it seems like the Padres, White Sox, Dodgers and some other teams have given us baseball fans the most transformative couple of off-season weeks since I’ve been following the sport. That’s been a long time.
New Padres general manager A.J. Preller electrified long-dormant Friars fans by acquiring an entirely new outfield of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp, along with C Derek Norris and 3B Will Middlebrooks. With the exception of 2010, the Padres have been downright boring since moving into Petco Park. Twice in the last 10 years they won the National League West title only to see crowd counts shrink because fans knew the quality of the product really wasn’t that good — and their suspicions were confirmed in the playoffs.
Subsequent years, outside of 2010 when they won 90 games and pushed the Giants into the final day of the season, were both dull and filled with losing. Fans never had a short-term expectation that THIS was going to be THE season. They faced a long-term rebuilding process through the farm system.
Preller came in at mid-season and apparently realized that a major shakeup was in order, that the major league team couldn’t wait long enough for the minor league system to produce talent. So he made the changes he had to make and did so without losing the top three pitchers in the starting rotation — Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy — or dealing away the system’s top prospects.
Behind all the wheelin’ and dealin’ was this thought: the Padres pitching was so good in 2014 that if they scored at least four runs a game last season, their win total of 77 would have increased to 96.
They would have won the division by two games.
Clearly, you don’t score the same amount of runs in every contest but it demonstrates how the Friars really don’t have a very high bar to climb over. You can talk all day about how Kemp is injury-prone; Upton never seems to reach his potential; Myers and Middlebrooks are young, unproven and coming off injuries; etc, etc. But look at what the Padres are aiming for — four. That’s all. They don’t need to recreate murderers row here to launch a playoff run. That is why fans locally are so excited and why others around baseball are suddenly interested in the goings-on at Petco Park. If a couple of the new acquisitions struggle, as they likely will just based on the odds, so be it. They’ll still be better than those they’re replacing.
Fans of other teams also have reason to be excited about their new acquisitions. Their general managers have become very aggressive about adding talent and are no longer content with a status quo that was perhaps busted up by the Giants and Royals last year. The GMs noticed how poorly the big-money franchises fared last season, and how the few that did reach October baseball didn’t last long. The Dodgers, for one, have undergone a makeover after apparently realizing that wins don’t necessarily follow dollars. Baseball’s landscape could end up looking very different in 2015, and we fans have Preller and his colleagues to thank.