April 10 2013 09:12 AM

New ownership's on the hot seat

Image courtesy of Change the Padres / Facebook

"[W]hen you look at the Padres' hopes for contention, they look pretty grim. Now, and for the foreseeable future."

Ugh. That was Jonah Keri, writing at Grantland on Monday, placing the Padres at No. 29 out of 30 in his baseball rankings, one place ahead of the pitiful Houston Astros and one place behind the god-awful Miami Marlins, who pretty much unloaded all but one of their best players this past winter.

"I like being an underdog." 

Double-ugh. That's Padres owner Ron Fowler, quoted by Tom Krasovic in an optimistic U-T San Diego story published March 31 that shows that U-T CEO John Lynch wasn't kidding when he said the paper would be cheerleaders for local sports teams.

Fowler likes being an underdog. So, he must be thrilled with his team's 1-5 start heading into Tuesday's home opener against the Dodgers. No team scored fewer runs during the new season's first week than did the Padres; only two teams allowed more runs.

Let's be real: No one thought the Padres were going to be among baseball's elite squads. They're a small-market team. At about $71 million, they have the sixth-lowest payroll in the Major Leagues, lowest in their division. It's more than they spent last year, but the increase didn't buy any high-quality new players; it simply gave necessary raises to arbitration-eligible players like Chase Headley, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Luke Gregerson and Joe Thatcher. The only new players are journeyman infielder Cody Ransom, a pitcher no one had ever heard of with a career 5.31 ERA named Tyson Ross and promising infield prospect Jedd Gyorko from the minors. Can you feel the excitement?

Man, it was a dreary off-season. The biggest Padres stories since last season ended were the moving-in of the outfield fences, the grousing over Time-Warner Cable's refusal to show Padres games to a huge chunk of the city's fans, rising-star catcher Yasmani Grandal getting suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's performance-enhancing-drug policy and the severe thumb injury that will rob the team of star third baseman Headley for the season's first couple of weeks. Talkin' baseball!

The team's also lost its two best young pitchers to serious injury: They don't know when Cory
Luebke will be back—maybe this summer, maybe next year—and Casey Kelly definitely won't pitch before 2014. It's a shame, too, because the Padres have some decent players in Headley, Grandal, Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonso, Cameron Maybin, Huston Street and Andrew Cashner, if he can stay healthy. 

The thing is, with the possible exception of Headley—although hand injuries come with notoriously difficult recovery periods—those are all complementary players. There's no indication that the relatively new ownership group has any plans to bring in the kind of star players that a team builds around. They had a chance to sign Headley, who had a breakout season in 2012, to a long-term extension, but they opted for one year.

Fans want to see some kind of plan to field a competitive team, and they're not seeing it. Until they do, ticket sales will be slow. Heck, one diehard fan, David Marver, was so displeased that he produced a 36-minute documentary that painstakingly chronicles the crimes and misdemeanors, lies and transgressions of Padres ownership, past and present, and he launched a Facebook page, Change the Padres, that encourages fans to boycott games until the owners "change their behavior."

Too harsh?

CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman's Padres beer mug is half full. The team will score more runs when Headley and Grandal come back, he says, and he believes there's future help on the way in the minor leagues. Maybe the new owners should be given a longer leash.

"Ron Fowler is a smart businessman, and so far, he seems to be letting the baseball people do their jobs," Hellman says. "The O'íMalley family"—part of the ownership team—"is a baseball family, which this franchise desperately can use. First order of business was a homegrown player: Chase Headley. They have yet to sign him long-term, but not trading Headley during the off-season was smart. The previous ownership would have traded him long ago. Let's see how that plays out before we all shoot the new owners."

Fine. Pistols holstered. For now.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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