[I, Brady Phelps, wrote this article for 4L Magazine, a digital copy can be found here]
Let me tell you something, my friend: Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use in Padres baseball. You’d better get used to that idea.
That’s what the past has felt like … every single offseason for the better part of a decade in San Diego.
[ Hopeless ]
But, what’s this? What is this I’m feeling? Not that same hope each team has every offseason just because they’re all tied for first place. No, this is different. Is this what it feels like to be relevant in Major League Baseball?
I’m overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know what to do with these emotions. I don’t know how to begin writing an article on the Padres offseason, and what to expect in the 2015 season.
The Padres didn’t just have an offseason … they had a mega-offseason. A mega-offseason? I don’t even know what that means, but that’s what they just had.
The Padres have been a baseball afterthought. The NL West has been ruled by the Dodgers (who are now spending more money than the Yankees) and the Giants, who haven’t done much of anything except win the World Series every other year.
Now? Well, the good guys don’t have anything to show for it yet, but all the sudden … San Diego is all the rage around baseball. The Padres went from a completely irrelevant team to the most talked about team in all of baseball. How? How is that possible?
The man’s name is A. J. Preller.
Who is this A. J. Preller you speak of? What is this wizardry he’s brought to San Diego? Who is this man who came to San Diego from Arlington … and was handed a 1977 Vega only to somehow transform it into a brand-new Ferrari?
He’s a fictional character. He’s not real. He’s Superman. He’s some sort of bizarre combination of Geppetto, the master puppeteer, and Don Corleone, making every team in baseball an offer they can’t refuse. Better yet, he’s Keyser Söze. The greatest trick A. J. Preller ever pulled was convincing the baseball world the Padres didn’t exist.
Back on Dec. 3, I saw a tweet that read “#padres signed SS Clint Barmes? The guy is 35 years old and he sucks … way to go AJ Preller!” Baseball Twitter was pissed. Was this going to be the 2015 version of “the final piece” that was Seth Smith a year earlier?
As a fan base, the skepticism is understandable. I mean, how many “big off-season acquisitions” like Jorge Cantu, Jason Marquis, Edinson Volquez, Brad Hawpe and Jason Bartlett walk through door, only to fade into nothingness? Eventually, serious doubt sets in. After the Barmes signing this offseason, there was no press conference, no celebration, just a lot of frustration from fans. Not because Barmes is terrible, he’s not … but because fans feared that was it. That was the offseason. That what fans had become accustomed to.
But something felt different with A. J. Preller. At least I felt it. I shot out a tweet, at the risk of the Twitter trolls coming out in abundance: “Watch Padres fans freak out & overreact over Barmes, only to look silly later when Preller brings in a big stick. *crossing fingers*”
If you missed it, that was a not-so-humble-brag. However, I’ll be the first to admit I was actually wrong because I said Preller would bring in “a”–singular–big stick … not a handful. It wasn’t long before the flood gates opened.
In comes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris and Wil Myers. Not to mention other notables like Tim Federowicz and Will Middlebrooks. Are you kidding me? Matt Kemp and Justin Upton are on the San Diego Padres? We’re either living in some sort of parallel universe or it’s 2025 and those dudes are gray beards. Nope. It was real. Those are just the hitters.
On the hill, Preller took one-year gambles on Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson—two names you recognize because when they were younger and healthier, they were ace-worthy. I know that sounds familiar, but these guys can’t be compared to the Padres swooping up Mike Piazza at age 38 or Greg Maddux at age 41. Morrow is 30 years old, and Johnson is 31. On paper, there are plenty of years left in those arms.
All those new names you just read? You’d think our pitching staff would have imploded to acquire all of those bats, right? Wrong. Preller didn’t have to give up one of the core-three in his starting rotation: Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy.
Then, just when you thought the insanity had subsided … Preller strikes again with James Shields joining the starting rotation. James Shields! A 2011 All-Star who took the Rays to the Series in 2008 and then just did the same with the Royals in 2014. He has the only World Series win in Rays history.
WHO IS THE STAFF ACE GOING TO BE AMONG THESE STUDS?
Doesn’t it feel good to have to struggle with questions like that? Fans are asking questions about how we’re going to fit so many arms into the rotation, or how we’re going to deal with a subpar defensive outfield. Last year, fans would wonder every single day what name we’ve never heard of would turn up when Buddy Black rolled his dugout dice while making the lineup card.
So, if Preller didn’t give up our staff aces, he must have emptied the farm system, right? Wrong. Although he obviously parted with some minor league talent, he magically kept the Padres’ top three prospects. He gave up Yasmani Grandal, who was amazing when he joined the club in 2012, only to test positive for high testosterone and serve a 50-game suspension in 2013. Good riddance.
Preller also gave up Seth Smith, who was a fine player for San Diego, but I think most fans agree he over-performed in 2014 and that Preller wasn’t about to buy high. Same with Rene Rivera behind the plate. A valuable teammate in 2014, but someone the Padres don’t plan on missing with Norris and Federowicz behind the dish.
Every year I scroll through the Padres roster, the outfield specifically, where you hope the power will come from, and think … “You know, I like having guys such as Cam Maybin and Will Venable, but I sure wish they weren’t starting because they’d be nice coming off the bench.”
Well, thanks to Preller, Kemp, Myers and Upton … now they are! It’s beautiful. It’s a shame Chris Denorfia isn’t going to be around for all the 2015 fun. I’ll miss Norf. (Not to be confused with Norv … I won’t miss him.)
In a matter of months, A. J. Preller has completely shifted the mindset of the San Diego baseball fan. The word untouchable doesn’t exist in my baseball vocabulary anymore. Not with Preller at the helm. No player is off limits. Assume nothing, San Diego. Preller may very well still be working. So where does it lead us for the 2015 Padres season? The answer is obvious.
I want it. I want it so badly, I can taste it. Sounds like a silly statement to make before the season has even started. A silly statement since the Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 (they were swept).
I know, I know … Matt Holliday never touched home plate in ‘07. I know, I know … the team won 90 games in 2010 despite a historic collapse. Still, they haven’t actually been in the playoffs in almost a decade. Despite Preller’s moves, Vegas is projecting the Dodgers and the Giants to post better records than the Padres. I don’t care. Take your Vegas projections and put them on a plaque in the Bud Selig Plaza. They’re irrelevant. None of that crap matters.
Here’s the kicker, and please read carefully. If the Padres don’t make the playoffs … so what. Sure, I want them to make the playoffs. Shoot, I want them to win the World Series. But that’s not the point.
Remember this. Remember this feeling. This lingering feeling deep inside of every Padres fan in the offseason that screams, “We matter!” It means the San Diego front office tried. FINALLY, THEY TRIED.
After years of saying goodbye to franchise players like Peavy, Gonzalez, Latos and Rizzo. After years of being lied to by the likes of Moores and Moorad, the front office has removed their heads from their collective asses and they came out guns blazing. I love it!
If the team doesn’t work out … if starters get hurt, or the newly acquired Padres play terribly … well, that sucks. But it doesn’t mean this offseason was a failure, because guess what: The San Diego Padres are relevant again. Padres fans can walk around town with their heads held high. Hell, they can walk around any town with their heads held high. Because we’ve got A. J. Preller and your team doesn’t. That feeling? That feeling is hope, my friends. Finally, Padres fans have hope again.
Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Take a bow, A. J. Preller … take a bow.