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The San Diego Padres spent Tuesday evening welcoming back outfielder Carlos Quentin, who was serving a suspension for charging and fighting with Dodgers pitcher Zach Greinke two weeks ago.
The team then lost its fifth consecutive game, the longest active losing streak in baseball and one loss shy of the worst record.
The Padres won five of their first 20 games, and their biggest flaw is with starting pitching. And it’s not going to get better any time soon.
Many fans saw this coming. And now they want to know where they should direct all the blame.
Technically, the new ownership group (led by Ron Fowler) has lived up to its promises to spend more on players. The team’s payroll is up from $55 million last year to over $70 million this year, and the Padres have jumped from the league’s lowest payroll to its sixth lowest in 2013.
The new owners have also done their best to appease Padres fans by moving in the outfield fences to make the games down at Petco Park more entertaining.
Josh Byrnes was fired as general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and was immediately brought to San Diego to reunite with Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel, both of whom had left the Diamondbacks a year earlier.
Although the team had a young GM in Jed Hoyer, who was turning one of the league’s worst minor-league systems into one of its best, Byrnes was hired as assistant GM and took over the lead role when Hoyer left for the Chicago Cubs.
Moorad is gone now, but one of the most painful moments of his legacy still haunts Padres fans. Why would he let Hoyer, who was under contract with San Diego, leave to take the same position with the Cubs? Most assumed it was because he wanted to get Byrnes, with whom he had a past working relationship, into the GM role.
Byrnes’ legacy as the Padres’ GM has revolved around inactivity and one major trade, which sent Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso and Brad Boxberger. Boxberger is still in the Padres’ minor-league system, playing with the AAA Tucson Padres. Grandal is serving a 50-game suspension from MLB for performance-enhancing drugs. Volquez currently holds a 0-3 record and an ERA of 8.84 as the team’s No. 1 pitcher. Alonso has been a solid starting first baseman.
Latos was traded away in hopes of getting back four good players, two pitchers and two position players. His 2.73 ERA through four starts (and 26.1 innings) in 2013 is exactly what this year’s Padres so desperately need, a stabilizing force at the top of the starting rotation. There was also concern that the Padres couldn’t afford to keep Latos much longer, which seems silly when he’s being paid $1.5 million less than Volquez for this season.
Bud Black took over for Bruce Bochy after the 2006 MLB season. The Padres dropped him after he led the team to 88 wins and an NL West division crown but lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
Black led his first Padres squad to 89 wins but finished third in the division.
The Padres have had a winning record in just two of Black’s six seasons as manager. They haven’t made the playoffs in any of those six seasons. Despite that, Black won the award for NL Manager of the Year in 2010.
It’s difficult to blame the players. If they’re not good enough, it’s the fault of the general manager for having them on the roster. If their technique is wrong, it’s the fault of the coaching staff. If they’re not motivated enough, it falls on the shoulders of the team manager.
If this was a group of players that had a reputation for partying and general civil disobedience, they might deserve to shoulder some blame. But they appear to be an upstanding group of men who wish they could play better and win some games.
Being a sports fan is a bit of a Catch-22. The team plays better when fans come out in droves, but the fans only come out in droves when the team plays well. The fans want to be knowledgeable about the game so they can support everything the team does right, but that knowledge can boomerang when fans feel a team is doing things the wrong way.
The fans aren’t to blame here. They are trying to do everything they can. As much as 40,000 could help the team at Petco Park, they probably aren’t going to be able to turn this into a winning ball club.
So, who’s to blame?
There’s probably not one person or group to blame for the Padres’ struggles.
The team’s ability to win when there’s no longer anything to play for seems to indicate Black isn’t very good at managing a team.
The team seemingly going backward in terms of talent should indict Josh Byrnes’ ability as a general manager.
The fans, myself included, seem tied up in pointing the blame, as if it’s some sort of math problem that we can fix if only we can find the right calculation.
Baseball people will tell you, “It’s a long season” if you start talking about a 5-15 record in April. Many teams have come back from worse and ended up going deep in the playoffs.
There seems to be something fundamentally wrong, however, with the vision of the Padres that is carrying over from year to year, owner to owner and player to player. I just hope they can figure out what it is before the team loses its last remaining fans.