Cold Call and Collected: Padres Preview 2014
General Manager Josh Byrnes has been a very busy man lately, making deals and moving players as he sees fit to build Padres success. With the acquisitions of Johnson, Smith and Benoit standing out as the biggest transactions this offseason, you would think that Josh would be relaxing and taking a moment for himself to reflect upon the numbers and figures that he has been tasked with allocating. But Josh is, or strives to be, a man of the people and took a moment out of his busy schedule on Tuesday evening to hold a “Padres Live Fan-Forum” event over the phone with team President/CEO Mike Dee and special guest Mark Grant.
The live fan forum took place over a teleconference-esque format where season ticket holders and media personnel alike could dial in and listen to the comings and goings of the upcoming Padres season. Upcoming promotions and changes to the park were on the agenda for the short 30-minute forum, and a bit of player news was also sprinkled into the event’s schema.
Promotional Schedule / Bring Back the Brown?
Before the show got running, Mike Dee wanted to address listeners by saying that 2014 would be the year for Padres marketing and advertising, and that the team would offer “by and far be the best promotions you have ever seen.” The team is actively running a promotion on the Padres Facebook page where fans can vote on the final promotion of the season: either a bobblehead, art piece, or a replica of Petco Park; voting ends on December 20th at 3:00pm.
In addition to the great giveaways and Padres promotions that Dee had drummed up, he announced the return of “Baseball Night in San Diego,” where local businesses would be involved in the events and promotions at Petco Park. Dee also noted that “brown and orange will return,” noting that the Padres will be wearing the home and away brown and orange tops from the Padres historic 1984 season for one series in May (May 22nd – May 25th against the Chicago Cubs). Dee asked listeners to break out their “cub busters” shirts as well, hinting at celebrations for the 30th anniversary since the team’s first National League Pennant.
Byrnes chimed in after Dee’s proclamations noting how busy he had been, noting all of the proposals and trade opportunities he had been working on to “try and figure out what makes the team better.” After Dee’s positive and exciting announcement, Byrnes mustered up a “we’re still working at it” sort of report that led into the forum part of the event.
While the event was specifically designed to be a “listen in and be amazed” type of affair, there was an opportunity for fans to ask Byrnes and Dee their own questions. After Dee had warmed up the “crowd” for the forum, the phone lines were open for season ticket holders to call in. So, what were the pressing questions for the evening?
Bunting? – The first question, possibly one of irony, was about “the art of bunting” and whether or not the new players would continue to follow the ways of bunting to manufacture runs. Josh Byrnes seemed to hint that the bunting would continue under the tutelage of new bench coach Dave Roberts in order for the team to manufacture runs and boost the offense.
Smith for Gregerson: Salary Dump v. Salary Wash – Once everyone’s hearts and minds were put to rest with the assurance of even more bunting, a fan inquired about the specifics of the Gregerson/Oakland trade. The fan seemed to be upset about the move, asking what the logic was behind acquiring “a mediocre left-handed bat” in Smith. Byrnes balked at the idea that Smith was “mediocre,” and noted that he felt the team needed “somebody good against right-handed pitching… finding someone who is proven against right handed pitching is difficult to do in this market.” Byrnes also noted that “Luke did (a great) job… we had to structure our bullpen once when we lost Mike Adams and Heath Bell a few years back and… we can do it again.” The moral of the story? We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again, and someone needs to be able to hit off a right-handed hurler. Hopefully that’s Smith. Mike Dee also chimed in after someone criticized the move as a simple salary dump. Dee wanted the fans to know that Smith was commanding a similar salary to Gregerson’s for 2014 and that the move worked more as a “salary wash” instead of a dump. Whether or not that is a positive thing remains to be seen.
Amarista Rumors / Cuban Imports – Another fan asked about the status of infielder Alexi Amarista, noting that she had heard “rumors” of him being traded away. Byrnes quickly dispelled such rumors, noting the value of Amarista’s utility. Following that question, another fan asked why the Padres had not taken advantage of the talent flowing out of Cuba. Byrnes addressed this by conceding that the Padres needed to be more active in that market, and noted that players such as Alonso and Grandal were evidence of the talent that can come out of there. While no direct answer was given, there was a hint at trying to recruit more from that area.
Headley’s Future? – One fan asked about the unknown future of third baseman Chase Headley, asking if he was to stay on the team or if he was going to be traded off while his value was still high. There was no direct response that addressed Headley’s immediate future, however, Byrnes did note that “right now we view him as a good player and part of the team that can take the step forward and get us to October.” While the answer does provide a positive outlook, there was little concrete evidence that Headley was to remain a Padres past the 2014 season.
Sound Quality, HD Screens, and Hot Dogs (Oh Doctor) – A few fans inquired about the more topical areas of Padres baseball, particularly the status of the infrastructure of the soon to be 10-year old Petco Park. One elderly fan inquired about the terrible sound quality he had experienced in recent games. Fortunately, Mike Dee was quick to respond saying that Petco Park was to be installed with an all new sound system that should “improve the overall fan experience at the park.” Dee also announced that the “jumbo-tron” video board out at the Park-at-the-Park was going to upgraded and replaced with a high definition screen that will be 50% larger than the one that is there now. Additionally, the aging scoreboard atop the left-field light stanchion will be replaced with an HD screen sometime before the 2015 season. Finally, one fan asked about the quality of food and hot dogs (as well as their availability) during games. While the question was a confusing one, the response was just as confusing as well. Nonetheless, the availability of hot dogs and the overall fan experience should increase (I think) in 2014.
A Robust Outfield / How to Build a Roster – Another elderly fan quipped to Byrnes about the number of outfielders that the team had, asking how many would take the field next season (note: three. It will always be three). There was also a question about how manager Bud Black would set up the roster night after night with such availability. A joke was made about a social media promotion involving “#Buddy” where fans could send possible lineup combinations prior to the start of a game via twitter – this of course was just that: a joke. Byrnes responded to the initial outfield question noting that the purpose for the inundation of players (particularly outfielders) was because “some players such as Alonso or Headley have the versatility to play 150 or more games… but players like Cabrera or Gyorko cannot. Our roster is built around a combination of keeping doors open and playing players to their strengths… we need a good bench, good speed, etc. When injuries get in the way, we need options… Plus, platooning the outfield has shown to render better results: platooning Venable and Denorfia in right field (last season) helped the offense add up.” Byrnes hinted that platooning had better results than some other teams outfielders and that the versatility and depth was a huge upshot rather than a burden. On a final note of addressing the roster, Byrnes also hinted that the capability of the full roster could serve as “trade chips” and that “we’re always looking (for an upgrade) in the event of injuries or something like that.”
Arms, Arms and more Arms – On a final positive note, one fan asked about the status of the Padres pitching staff. Byrnes thought that the starting pitching from last season had shown great leaps and bounds in the second half and that such improvement would carry over to 2014. With Kennedy, Stults, Cashner, Ross, Smith and Erlin – as well as the return of Wieland, Kelly and Luebke and now the addition of Johnson – Byrnes believed that the Padres pitching staff would be strong in Spring Training and even stronger when the season started. Come springtime, it should be interesting to see how the arms stack up.
After the last question, the forum event closed out with Mark Grant thanking everyone for listening in and announcing that more live fan-forum events through the phone would be coming up as the season approached. Grant also informed everyone whose questions were not addressed that Fan Fest would have a similar event where fans could ask the General Manager and CEO all of their burning Padres questions.
While the event had little information about any particular player’s progress or status, the event did give a small preview into the upcoming 2014 season. Hopefully, future forums will warrant new information that will give a view into the method behind Byrnes’ moves up in the office to make an impact down on the field.