How these Padres were built, Pt. 4: Big Spenders
The San Diego Padres finally admit that they need to spend big money if they want to compete for a World Series title, with a little help from their fans.
When we left off our series yesterday, the San Diego Padres were doing the unthinkable (for them). They were spending money. More specifically, they were eating large amounts of cash just to get big contracts for bad players off their books.
Padres fans have been told, basically since the team joined Major League Baseball over 50 years ago, that this small-market team would never be able to spend like their big-market rivals and would have to find other ways to win instead.
Peter Seidler changed all of that.
How these Padres were built:
Allow me get through some of the boring stuff before getting to the fun stuff.
Peter Seidler purchased the San Diego Padres in 2015 as part of “The O’Malley Group”. Peter O’Malley, Seidler’s uncle, had once been part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ron Fowler was named team chairman.
At the time, Seidler was battling Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for the second time. He didn’t think he had much of a chance to live very long, and so he went after his dream of owning a baseball team.
While Seidler resides over a private equity firm worth billions, there was no expectation that his group would spend any more than Padres owners in the past. But then there were signs that it might, starting with the 2016 fire sale where the team was more than happy to spend money to make the trades more favorable.
The biggest contract in Padres history, take 1: Wil Myers
On the heels of 2016’s fire sale, the Padres signed a young player coming off an all-star season to the largest contract in franchise history. That’s worth celebrating!
The deal is officially listed as a 6-year extension worth $83 million, although the final year of it is a team option for $20 million that probably won’t be accepted. Still, the fact that the Padres were willing to even have a player on the books making $20 million per season felt like a step in the right direction.
Myers had taken over 1B after the team had traded away Yonder Alonso, and there was much talk about how he finally felt comfortable and engaged while on defense. The team had found their 1B of the future.
The biggest contract in Padres history, take 2: Eric Hosmer
Hmm. Okay. Now things are getting murky again.
One year after signing Myers to a franchise-record contract extension to be the 1B of the future, Padres signed free agent 1B Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record contract. This one for 8 years and $144 million.
Hosmer had been about as good as Myers in his career before having his best season ever in 2017. He was 28 years old, and he had a World Series ring to go with four Gold Glove awards. Myers would have to find a new spot.
The amount of money being spent here was still amazing for Padres fans, but it seemed a little like spending for the sake of spending. Neither contract looked like a particularly wise investment at the time it was made, evidenced by the fact that the Padres were the only non-Royals team even interested in signing Hosmer, and both have proven to be poor investments since.
It all comes crumbling down
Things were not looking for good for the Padres in 2018.
A.J. Preller had tried a quick rebuild of the roster in 2015. When that didn’t work, he fired the manager (Bud Black) and the interim manager (Dave Roberts) and inserted a crazy person into the role (Pat Murphy). None of that worked. 2015 was a bust.
2016 saw the teardown of the major league team, a new manager in Andy Green, the all-star game in San Diego, and Wil Myers making his first all-star team. Positive signs! The extension for Myers after the season showed a willingness to spend.
2017 felt like a step backwards, although it was sold as “the first wave of young talent” that would be arriving in San Diego. There sure was a lot of youth in the lineup, but none of them seemed to come with the ability to hit the ball. The pitching staff was nothing but recycled old veterans and a young unknown named Dinelson Lamet. Again, they lost a lot of games.
2018 is where it really felt like it was going to fall apart. The signing of Hosmer felt like the last time the team would spend big money, and they did it on a guy that wasn’t a superstar. Wil Myers was turned into a utility player (officially!) as they tried him everywhere on the diamond, including a stint as the team’s starting 3B. And, by record, the 2018 team was even worse than the 2017 team. They were spending money but moving backwards.
After the 2018 season, there was a swell from the fans and some local media regarding Manny Machado. The four-time all-star was just 26 years old and a legitimate, bonafide superstar. He was also a free agent. If the Padres were going to spend money, this was the type of player they should be chasing. But he would likely cost about twice what Hosmer cost, and team chairman Ron Fowler quickly set the groundwork for a lame duck offseason.
Fowler gave beat writer Kevin Acee a quick peek into the team’s financials, showing that there was still an awful lot of debt that had to be paid off before the team could even considering bringing in another highly-paid player. He didn’t write off that such a move could come down the line, but stressed that debt reduction had to be the team’s top priority to remain financially responsible.
Padres fans had heard this song and dance before. Maybe if we were a big-market team, but the San Diego Padres were not about to sign a $300 million contract with anybody.
The biggest contract in Padres history, take 3: Manny Machado
Eat it, Fowler.
After Acee’s article about the Padres’ finances, the fans were displeased and vocal about it. The team didn’t even have a league-average payroll and they were crying poor? No no no. We needed to demand more.
If the team could see the value in signing Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer for a combined $227 million, surely they could see the value of paying Manny Machado $300 million over 10 years. Unlike the other two, Machado was an absolute superstar.
There was something else at play here, too. By February 2019, it was becoming pretty apparent that the Padres had found something special in Fernando Tatis Jr.
By this point, Tatis had played three seasons in the minor leagues and was starting to get consideration as the top prospect in all of baseball.
Getting Machado would calm down the fans, give Tatis an infield partner for a decade, give the Padres the superstar they had been searching for since trading away Adrian Gonzalez, and put the team on a potential World Series trajectory.
Few has been said about how or why the team went from focusing on debt reduction to signing Machado, but rumor has it that Peter Seidler (now in remission) took a larger front office role than he had in the past. After all, who better to spend the money than the guy who is writing all the checks?
A complete change of course (with mixed results)
The 2019 San Diego Padres weren’t good, but they were definitely fun.
The first full season for Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack, both of whom made the team out of spring training despite never playing at the triple-A level, was a success for both.
Kirby Yates, who the team had basically pulled off the scrap heap a couple of years earlier, made the all-star team and got some Cy Young votes.
It just wasn’t enough. The starting rotation had more bad young pitchers than good. The starting lineup had one too many holes in it (Austin Hedges and Ian Kinsler being the worst offenders). Tatis, already the team’s best hitter, missed half the season due to injury.
Despite having three highly paid position players, the most exciting rookie in baseball, a dynamite closer to build a bullpen around, and a potential ace in Paddack, the Padres won just 70 games in 2019.
I think this is around the time that the team’s front office, including ownership, realized just how deep this Padres shit really went. It was time for an exorcism. This team needed to be cleansed.
Tomorrow, we break out the white sage for the final installment in the How these Padres were built series. We’ll figure out how this team went from bad to good seemingly overnight, stemming from a change in the image and culture around the team.