Padres make the right move in underwhelming season
With offensive numbers historically low, Byrnes' tenure at general manager ends
As the losses piled up and it became increasingly clear this Padres team was not a "sleeper" but was, in fact, still slumbering, the question was not whether they would make some sort of midseason personnel change.
The question was which leadership position would be affected.
Would Phil Plantier join the long, long list of hitting coaches taking the hit for teams that don't hit?
Would Bud Black join the long, long list of managers who served as fall guys for flawed rosters?
Or would the Padres get down to the heart of the matter and make a change atop the baseball operations food chain?
Turns out they went to the top, relieving general manager Josh Byrnes of his duties 75 games into another lost season.
"Thus far this season," team president and CEO Mike Dee said in a release, "the results on the field have been mixed at best and clearly have not lived up to expectations."
To make a move of his magnitude is always difficult, because it's an open acknowledgment that the situation at hand is substantive, the fix far from quick.
But with the Trade Deadline a little more than a month away, a San Diego team likely on the short list of sellers needed to address the GM spot if it had any doubt that Byrnes ought to be the one working the trade trigger.
When Byrnes was dismissed by the D-backs back in 2010, that move reeked of an itchy trigger finger on the part of Arizona ownership. Byrnes was in the midst of an eight-year extension and had even been granted a partial ownership stake. But his gamble on A.J. Hinch as manager was met with resistance and was ultimately unfruitful, and Byrnes was shown the door just three years after the D-backs reached the cusp of the World Series.
This time around, there is simply not an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest the Padres are acting impatiently.
Byrnes' track record with the Friars is probably defined most by the 2011 trade that sent Mat Latos to the Reds, yielding Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger. Two and a half seasons later, it's impossible to argue that trade as anything other than a win for the Reds.
The track record of in-house extensions -- including Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Cory Luebke, Nick Hundley and Jedd Gyorko -- has been similarly spotty, at best. San Diego also missed its best opportunity to bring back a hefty haul for Chase Headley after his breakout 2012 season -- an offensive surge that has proven to be unrepeatable.
Certainly, baseball decisions are best analyzed in the panoramic frame, but the on-field results during Byrnes' time at the helm have been underwhelming:
2014: 32-43 (through Saturday)
This latest slog is particularly disappointing, given that ownership invested more than $20 million over the 2013 payroll (to say nothing of the pledge of another $25 million toward Petco Park improvements).
Unquestionably, injuries have played a part, just as they have in previous pedestrian efforts. And Byrnes has respect among his peers in the industry.
But the Padres have demonstrated neither the depth to overcome those injuries nor the signals that the offense, as constructed, is worth believing in, even at full strength. As a team, San Diego is batting .215, threatening the lowest team-wide average in the Majors in the modern era (the White Sox hit .211 in 1910). The club entered Sunday averaging just 2.99 runs per game.
Something had to give. An organization already mourning the loss of franchise icon Tony Gwynn didn't need another dour day on the docket, but it also had to acknowledge the obvious that the stagnant status quo ain't cutting it.
Now comes a truly interesting juncture, because the Padres will employ an interim troika of Omar Minaya, Fred Uhlman Jr. and Hinch in the GM spot just as some franchise-shaping moves must be made.
That committee has its work cut out for it, as Quentin, Headley, Huston Street and Ian Kennedy all figure to at least be dangled in the market. There is also the matter of whether this might be time to at least explore the market for Andrew Cashner, who would really shake up the pitching market (though with Cashner signed through 2016, such a move might be needlessly aggressive).
San Diego has to act decisively on those fronts, because the current market empowers the few defined sellers to be aggressive in the "ask." All the more reason why the search for Byrnes' permanent replacement is likely to be a relatively swift one, settled in-season.
This was another tough day for the Padres, capping an emotionally draining week. But the roughshod results are an indication that the problems at play run deeper than just lineup construction or batting practice methodology, and a San Diego team stuck in neutral for too long had to make some sort of systematic change to push forward.