The Padres just wrapped up a 1-7 road trip with a disastrous start from James Shields, and the 10-run meltdown from the team’s highest-paid pitcher was apparently enough to prompt owner Ron Fowler to speak on the matter. In an interview with Dan Sileo on Mighty 1090 radio in San Diego (audio link), Fowler called the team’s “embarrassing” and described the recent road trip a “pathetic.”
“I’m a very competitive individual,” said Fowler in the interview. “I think I’ve won a lot more than I’ve lost in my life. This baseball experience has been very frustrating, very embarrassing. … To have a starter like Shields perform as poorly as he did yesterday I think, is an embarrassment to the team, an embarrassment to him.”
Shields, who has been the subject of recent trade rumors (most notably involving the White Sox), tells Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller that he’s not embarrassed by the start but doesn’t enjoy losing any more than the team owner (links to Miller on Twitter). “I feel like I’ve pitched well all season long,” said Shields, who is in the second season of a four-year, $75MM contract that contains an opt-out clause at the end of the current campaign. “Obviously, I was the guy that tipped him over the edge. It is what it is. I don’t like losing either. I understand his frustration. As far as it being an embarrassment to me, I’m not embarrassed by it.”
Shields, of course, was one of the final pieces to a whirlwind 2014-15 offseason — general manager A.J. Preller’s first on the job. His four-year contract was just one in a litany of moves made by San Diego that winter, as the new Preller-led front office also acquired Matt Kemp, Justin Upton,Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris, Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton.
There were questions about the club’s defense and dearth of shortstop options, and the season proved to be a letdown for the Friars, who finished with a 74-88 record while receiving scarce production from the vast majority of their infield spots. However, the team elected not to act as a seller last summer (curiously, in the eyes of many) and instead retooled this winter with the hope of a better on-field product.
“It seems like at every turn — we have great pitching in ’14, what we’re going to do is add some offense to it, think we can make a run at it in ’15,” said Fowler. “That was a miserable failure. We’ve got some key players intact this year. We thought we’d be at least a .500 baseball team, and we’re anything but. … We rolled the dice with [Preller] on some Major League signings, Major League trades, and we have to collectively look at that and say it didn’t come together as well as we wanted. I don’t think there’s a brighter GM out there. I don’t think anyone works harder, but the results are not there, and I think A.J. would be the first one to tell you that.”
Asked specifically about his coaches, Fowler expressed praise for rookie manager Andy Green and his field staff, calling the unit “as good of a group or a better group” than he’s seen. Asked, then, if the problem should be placed on the players, Fowler replied: “It’s on the player, but the organization has to accept responsibility for probably having the wrong players. … part of it is on the players, but our job is to get the right players here who can be motivated and deliver at game time, and right now, we’re not doing it.”
Not lost on Fowler, though, is the chance to bolster the club’s long-term outlook with a significant draft bonus pool and a large swath of international signings. “We hired A.J. because we knew we had to develop a farm system and we had to do far better in international than we’ve done,” he said. “I think this draft coming up and the international signing period on July 2 will give us a far better view of A.J. I will say that he’s done a spectacular job of building the player development area, and I think the players we have in the farm system, as a group, are stronger than they were before.”
The Padres have the third-largest pool of any club in Major League Baseball, thanks to a pair of compensatory picks received when Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton signed elsewhere as well as a Competitive Balance lottery pick (Round B, No. 71 overall) that they won in last summer’s lottery. As such, the Padres have an enormous amount of flexibility and a wide variety of creative approaches to take next Thursday. The Astros, for instance, have had success by spending well over-slot in the supplemental rounds at the expense of some later-round savings — landing Lance McCullers with the 41st pick in 2012 and then picking up outfielder Daz Cameron, a one-time potential Top 5 selection, at No. 37 last season when he slid due to signability concerns. Beyond that, the Padres are rumored to be prepping to shatter their international spending pool, which would provide a significant boost to the lower levels of their farm system.
All that said, however, the team will be facing some difficult decisions as this summer’s Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Though they didn’t sell off any pieces last summer, an arguably greater urgency to do so exists this summer. Fowler conceded that some moves could be on the horizon. “Well, to stay status quo, probably, unless we start playing a lot better is not likely,” he said. “But you’ve got to get value in return. You don’t just let somebody go unless you think there’s some value or unless you basically are just frustrated by any other options.”
The draft and international markets will be a boon to the farm system’s lower levels, but they’ll have little impact on the club’s big league roster in 2016-17 (though there are some Cuban veterans on the free-agent market, such as Jose Miguel Fernandez, that are more near-term targets). As such, whether it’s this summer or in the offseason, it seems safe to expect that the Padres will be making another significant wave of moves in an effort to inject more help for the current on-field product.
I should stress that the entire 11-minute interview is well worth a listen for Padres fans or any that are interested in their recent plight. Fowler seemingly acknowledges that the Padres’ woes are a collective failure for which both ownership and the front office are at fault, candidly stating: “…in a normal environment, if you’d performed as well as we have over the past three years, you’d probably be unemployed.”