Somewhere in the midst of rationalizing league-low payrolls, Padres ownership convinced fans to shift from rooting for the Padres to win the World Series to rooting for the Padres to succeed as a business.
After arriving at Lindbergh Field last June, I was greeted with this hilariously fitting advertisement:
It was followed up by a Little League World Series where the Chula Vista team had a roster of kids whose favorite players included Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, but zero current Padres.
New team president Mike Dee has said the old Padres avoided marketing their players. No kidding.
Basically, the Padres’ previous administration made a conscious decision to separate fans from the actual Padres so that when the franchise made its predetermined choice to jettison their best players, fans would support it. This was genius from a business perspective, but utterly evil from a human and fan perspective.
Unfortunately, rooting for the Padres to succeed as a business devolves every discussion about Padres decisions to best business practice. Whatever happened to determining if certain moves help the odds that the Padres win the World Series? Delegating money may be a factor, but keeping a productive player is a better bet than hoping for the money to be better delegated. Never mind spending more.
A large portion of the problem is that the Padres have convinced fans that all moves are intertwined – that extending Chase Headley disallows extending Jedd Gyorko and/or Andrew Cashner. Yet none of those three plays the same position or reaches free agency at the same time. Assuming that those moves depend on one another is a fabricated constraint that has little basis on what happens on the field, where wins and losses are determined.
The Padres should extend all of those players, as they all make them a better team. At the very least, Padres fans should be rooting for the Padres to keep all those players, even if the cost of extending them comes at the expense of the owners’ next luxury home.
And here’s the kicker: Teams that spend less money get less bang-for-their-buck than teams that spend more, at least by what should matter most to fans: World Series titles per dollar.
Since 1988, the highest-spending team in each season has combined to spend $3.01 billion en route to winning five World Series titles; or $602 million per title.
The lowest ranked payroll slot to ever win the World Series was the 25th slot, when the Florida Marlins improbably won the World Series back in 2003. Since 1988, that slot has spent $915 million; over 50 percent more than the highest-salaried teams spend per championship.
In other words, the Yankees weren’t spending an absurd amount of money on their title quest. In fact, every other slot was spending more per World Series title, if they even won one at all.
It’s like the Yankees purchased World Series titles like I purchase vodka to get me through the season: via Costco’s bulk discount. Meanwhile, the Padres purchase small fractions of a title at a corner store, paying off the credit card’s interest with interest of another kind: fan interest.
It’s time to restore rooting for the Padres to win the World Series, not to win as a business.
Ron Fowler is marginally better than previous owners, but that doesn’t make him the Padres’ savior. Moorad/Moores were so awful that we forget that a successful organization requires more than differentiating yourself from the worst. After all, the Padres are way behind their competition in free agent spending since Fowler gained control:
Until the Padres spend for the sole purpose of improving championship odds, instead of scientifically spending to perfectly balance business expenditures with the money you give them, their tires will continue to spin. I’ve heard that even blue Ferraris need an occasional push, so here goes:
In a large market, fan complaints can be ignored without meaningful effects on operations. In San Diego, they can’t; for the Padres to compete with the “haves,” Petco Park needs to sell out 81 times per regular season.
Like it or not, that’s not possible without pandering to the disenfranchised. Despite the “success” of the Athletics and Rays, they ranked 23rd and last, respectively, in 2013 attendance, even with deflated ticket prices. While they squeeze as much as they can out of thin payrolls, that strategy’s “successful” implementations have a total of zero World Series titles and league-low fanfare.
Even when larger contracts haven’t panned out, many of those teams still had good fortune or good standing with their fans. The Rockies and Phillies are riddled with such deals, but enjoyed excellent attendance in 2013 despite an awful team: averaging 34,000-plus fans. Even the poster boy for bad contracts, Barry Zito, won two postseason games for the Giants en route to their 2012 World Series title. (I wonder if Giants fans lament that contract now.)
So the idea that lucrative contracts are debilitating to a franchise is overwhelmingly false. What’s truly debilitating is refusing to take any risks.
Make no mistake: In order for the Padres to reach the point where Petco Park consistently sells out, giving the team a legitimate World Series title opportunity, they have to keep their best players and add to them externally. That is the only way to silence a growing base that refuses to drop a penny on the product.
David Marver is the founder of Change the Padres, a consumer advocacy group boycotting the Padres. Marver’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.