The San Diego Padres have the third-worst record in baseball and — again — are at the bottom of the league in just about every offensive category. On Sunday, they became the first team this season to fire their general manager.
Josh Byrnes was let go after nearly 2.5 years on the job. Byrnes took control of the Padres in October 2011, after then-GM Jed Hoyer left the organization to join Theo Epstein in Chicago. San Diego put up identical 76-86 records in 2012 and 2013, and came into Sunday at 32-43 — barely ahead of the dumpster fire that’s been Arizona in the NL West standings.
While the Padres have had some bad injury luck over the past few years — especially when it comes to pitchers succumbing to Tommy John — the main issue with the Byrnes-era Padres is the same as it’s been for every Padres team as long as anyone can remember: they couldn’t score.
Ranking dead last in the majors in runs scored this year (and by a wide margin), the Padres are coming off back-to-back seasons of ranking 24th. Virtually every Padre outside of Seth Smith is having an ugly offensive season — Smith and Cameron Maybin are the only regulars with an OPS over .700.
It didn’t help that two of Byrnes’ biggest trades as GM backfired, as far as helping the offense goes.
His first big deal was the trade that shipped budding star Mat Latos to the Reds for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger. Alonso has struggled to provide the kind of offensive production you expect from a first baseman, carrying an OPS barely over .700 as a member of the Padres and never hitting double-digit home runs in a single season. Now 27, Alonso is hitting just .210/.250/.341 this year. Grandal had a strong showing as a rookie in 2012, but was popped for a PED suspension last season after getting caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. He’s hitting nearly as bad as Alonso this year, putting up a line of .191/.281/.362.
About a month after acquiring Alonso, Byrnes traded away Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates to Hoyer and the Cubs for Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na. While Cashner has grown to fill the void left by Latos atop the San Diego rotation, Rizzo is developing into one of the better power-hitting first basemen in the National League. While some of the power would have been muted at Petco Park, he’s still beaten Alonso in WAR every year since the deals. If you want to get cute, his WAR in 72 games so far in 2014 (2.5) is better than Alonso’s career mark in 390 games (2.0).
Byrnes also tried to get in on the pre-arbitration extension craze that’s worked so well for teams like Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for the Padres, none of those moves have panned out. Not one.
Cory Luebke signed an extension, then became one of the pitchers who needed Tommy John (twice). It’s hard to get on Byrnes too much for an unexpected injury, but the Padres will still be paying more than they would have if they had gone year-to-year. Maybin is owed $15 million over the next two years thanks to a deal Byrnes gave him, and is another player having trouble staying healthy. Jedd Gyorko was given a five-year, $35 million extension before this season that will have him making $13 million in 2019. Gyorko is hitting .162/.213/.270 this year.
Two and a half years isn’t all that long for a GM to turn things around. But when that many things have gone wrong in such a short span, it’s hard to blame a still-new ownership group for wanting to try someone else.
This ownership group inherited Byrnes and his staff when they bought the team in late 2012, and to their credit, they seemed to give him a chance before moving on to find their own people. Omar Minaya, currently serving as San Diego’s Senior VP of Baseball Operations, will handle GM duties with AJ Hinch and Fred Uhlman, Jr. until the replacement is named.
Something to keep an eye on: a possible return to San Diego for Kevin Towers. Towers’ seat in Arizona was already warm before Tony La Russa took over in the desert. With the Diamondbacks headed for their worst season since 2010, a housecleaning seems likely.
If Towers and the Diamondbacks part ways, the Padres may be interested in bringing him back. While things ended poorly there the last time, Towers did oversee some of the most successful teams in franchise history. The wisdom of recycling a GM whose philosophies are starting to seem antiquated could be questioned, though, and it would be understandable if the new ownership group wouldn’t want to be tied to the previous regime by re-hiring someone so closely associated with the old group.