The Padres once-promising season cratered after the All-Star break.
The injury to rookie phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. was literally the back-breaker.
Management shut Tatis down for the season with a lower back injury in mid-August. Tatis and the organization might have pushed for rehab and a quick return to the field if the Padres were playing meaningful baseball in September or, even better, heading to the playoffs.
But they weren’t and aren’t so Tatis will recuperate and, we can hope, ruminate (link: https://www.mlb.com/news/fernando-tatis-jr-on-injuries) on the depressing fact that he’s suffered three significant, game-nullifying injuries in 14 months (broken finger in the minors last year and this year’s hamstring and back ailments).
For those of us still watching the Padres, the team appears listless without Tatis. The rookie added electricity on the field, at bat and on the bases. He became the centerpiece of every game, a thrilling, smiling, awe-inspiring highlight reel (link: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/fernando-tatis-jr-injury-a-look-back-on-the-highlights-of-incredibly-fun-rookie-year/).
Tatis personified the promise of our still-unrealized future, the potential of pipeline phenoms, winning streaks, walk-offs and playoffs to come.
Oh, our aching back.
We miss all that.
And to my mind that illuminates a serious problem.
Tatis was too much.
The team was depending on him more than it should – for boyish verve, for marketing gold, for stolen bases, doubles, home runs, runs scored, for dazzle and daring, for full-extension catches and jaw-dropping lasers hurled from five-hole no-man’s land.
That was supposed to be the Manny Machado account. You know, the one that checks in at $300 million.
I have a long history with the Padres marketing department latching onto one star and begging the fans to overlook every other weed in the garden to behold the lone, dew-speckled rose.
I was beginning to get that whiff around Tatis. It smelled rotten.
Not because Tatis isn’t a star but because he is.
The Padres, we are told, will be a team of stars.
Then it better start acting like one — on the field and in the front office.
Why have Machado and Eric Homer receded to the status of also-rans? They are and should be game-changing players. They are commanding salaries of difference-makers yet in the team’s current configuration both hover dangerously close to indifference makers.
Machado has performed notably but has not been the transformative presence I hoped or in this very space predicted (link: https://clairemonttimes.com/lets-go-to-war-with-manny/). His stats are respectable but beneath career norms.
Machado’s WAR (win-above-replacement) from 2015-2018 was 5.8. For a refresher on WAR read this: (link: https://library.fangraphs.com/misc/war/)
Through 127 games this year, Machado’s WAR is 2.9.
I never progressed beyond basic algebra at Madison High School and earned two bachelor’s degrees without taking a single math class (YES!), but even I can figure out Machado is statistically half the player he has been for the past three years. Machado just turned 27 and should be but isn’t at the top of his game.
I’m still waiting for that stretch of 10 or 20 games when Ted Leitner, Don Orsillo or Mark (Mud) Grant can authoritatively say “Manny put this team on his back and carried it.” Superstars do such things. Often when it matters most — say, after an All-Star break when a young team is playing .500 ball and is surprisingly part of the Wild Card conversation; or after another great player on the team – yes, Tatis would qualify – goes down to injury and the clubhouse is in dire need of direction, passion and performance.
We all know this has not happened.
As for Hosmer, his season WAR is 0.6, which is better than last season’s -0.1 horror show, but well below his 2015-2017 average of 2.6. Hosmer and Machado are seasoned pros with proven talent. Yet they under-perform at Petco. Both came up with small market teams (Machado with the Baltimore Orioles; Hosmer with the Kansas City Royals) with small budgets, light-touch local media and long-suffering but stubbornly loyal fans.
I don’t know.
But Tatis’ injury has exposed this conspicuous under-performance. That is a good thing. It will force the organization to ask unpleasant questions about Machado and Hosmer. Both have long contracts. What is the tone of the conversation? Is it about hustle, commitment or lineup help? Does it turn from these on-field fundamentals to manager Andy Green? Something is wrong. It must be addressed and fixed. With Tatis gone the organization can’t kid itself or try to fool us with catchy Tatis tweets.
Without Tatis the Padres will finally take stock of Luis Urias and see his day-to-day potential at shortstop and second base (perhaps evaluation will be given to moving Tatis to second base, a less taxing position). Pitchers will have to pitch to contact and do so knowing they do not have a miracle worker at shortstop — that Tatis is not there to perpetually bail them out. That will force them to pitch smarter, more aggressively and with more deception. Or fail. We have seen more of the latter than the former.
Without Tatis, there is more pressure on Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe.
Margot has performed well this season and his 1.6 WAR is a welcome sign he’s becoming a true major leaguer. If Taylor Trammell (link: http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?player_id=666211#/career/R/hitting/2019/ALL) is the real deal (a big question considering his under-whelming stats in Amarillo) Margot could shift to left, giving the team two speedy outfielders with plus speed and skills.
Would be nice.
Renfroe was on fire in the first half and has fallen into an ice pond since the All-Star break (as of this writing (link: https://www.mlb.com/player/hunter-renfroe-592669 ) he was hitting an anemic .184 with a .254 on-base percentage and .350 slugging percentage over his last 30 games). Still, his 3.1 WAR is tops on the club now that Tatis is out. Perhaps his slump was inevitable, but it’s more glaring now.
Tatis is a truly amazing player. He is worth the price of admission. Just as Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith were in the 1970s; as Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti were in the 1980s and 1990s. I invite you to nominate the pre-Tatis electrifying Padre of the 2000s. I can’t either (sorry Adrian Gonzalez).
That’s the point.
The Padres have a player of generational significance. Winfield and Smith won a World Series with teams not named the Padres. Gwynn and Caminiti led the Padres to a World Series. What will the Padres do with Tatis?
That question is now squarely before all concerned. It is more visible and more urgent now that everyone can see the holes in this roster, this clubhouse and, possibly, in this manager without Tatis as a highlight reel distraction.
A whiff of Tatis is not enough.
Tatis needs and deserves a team worthy of his talent.
Where are you Machado, Hosmer, Margot and Renfroe?
The time to answer is now.