As you surely have heard by now, Jed “Hopey Changey” Hoyer has departed for the warm embrace of Theo Epstein’s bosom in the north side of Chicago, leaving the Padres with Josh Byrnes calling the shots. I want to get one thing out of the way first: I’m a Jed fan. It might just be that he was the first Padres GM in fifteen years willing to take the hit and commit to a youth movement, but that’s enough for me. Nothing frustrated me more with Kevin Towers than his refusal to think ahead. Go through KT’s history and tell me if you find an eight-month period that saw an injection of prospects like the one we saw thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Adams trades. Or, instead of doing that, you could just go straight to 1999 and look at what Towers brought back from the World Series fire sale. SPOILER ALERT: Woody Williams, Ryan Klesko, Bret Boone, or: a median age of about 30. Even as he dismantled the 1998 NL Champion team, Towers still couldn’t bring himself to get younger talent in return. I don’t think I need to tell you what happened the following five years.
Now Jed’s gone and while I’ve already looked into other teams to follow (adios Reagins), I’m still a Padres fan and I have to turn the page. Josh Byrnes is not a terrible replacement by any means. He’s experienced and he was promoted from within, which means he knows the system. To hear a large segment of the population speak on the subject, Byrnes is essentially the same GM as Hoyer. They’re both well-regarded and they’re both former acolytes of Epstein (though I suppose Jed’s not “former” anymore). The name might be different but ultimately, the Padres still have the same GM who will run the system the same.
I don’t buy that.
One of the reasons I fell in love with Jed in the first place is that he came in as a blank slate. Having never had the big job before, we could project whatever we wanted to see onto him. Byrnes, on the other hand, comes with the bulky baggage of reality. In four and a half years in Arizona, Byrnes built up a resume that we can pour over to make more educated judgements than we did around this time two years ago. I did just that, and here’s what I came away with:
Josh Byrnes has more in common as a GM with Kevin Towers than he does with Jed Hoyer.
While things weren’t exactly the same in Arizona, they weren’t all that different either. Byrnes has now taken over two teams hovering near the bottom with promising minor league systems. To give you an idea of what Arizona’s system looked like heading into the 2006 season, here’s their top 10 prospects list from that year, according to Baseball America:
1. Stephen Drew, ss
2. Conor Jackson, 1b
3. Carlos Quentin, of
4. Carlos Gonzales, of
5. Dustin Nippert, rhp
6. Miguel Montero, c
7. Garrett Mock, rhp
8. Matt Torra, rhp
9. Micah Owings, rhp
10. Sergio Santos, ss
And this list does not include the drafted-but-not-yet-signed Justin Upton. Including Baby Bossman, that list has combined for 69.3 wins above replacement. Byrnes would go on to add Chris Young, acquiring the center fielder from the White Sox in just his second month on the job. It was the last time that Byrnes would acquire proper young talent in a trade for four years.
This is where I note that only 43.9 of those wins worked out in the Diamondbacks’ favor. Carlos Quentin was notoriously moved to the White Sox before the 2008 season (“How you like them apples?” -Kenny Williams) to make room for Eric Byrnes (no relation), who then owner Jeff Moorad personally signed to a three-year deal. Less than two weeks later, Byrnes then sent the other Carlos, Carlos Gonzalez, to Oakland in a deal for Dan Haren, who was and is a great pitcher. Many people would argue that this trade was a win for Byrnes–but as a fan of the small market team that he just took over, I’m not one of them. Since the trade, Gonzalez (who wasn’t traded straight up) has amassed 13.8 WAR to Haren’s 23.4, but he’s also made roughly $30 million less. The Rockies (and the A’s, but mostly the Rockies) have paid about $160 thousand per win while the Diamondbacks and Angels have spent $1.4 million. Which leads me to my point.
The Padres are in a better place now than they were when Hoyer took over. He brought in smart guys and together they built a top 10 minor league system for the Padres. I have no doubt that Byrnes will keep things in order, but keep this in mind: in 2006, Byrnes’ first year in charge, Baseball America ranked Arizona’s minor league system as the best in baseball. In 2010, Byrnes’ last year in charge, it ranked 28th. The Padres’ system doesn’t have as far to fall but if this thing is going to work, Byrnes is going to have to learn how to keep his pistol in its holster. If you catch my obvious allusion.
The Rays were criticized earlier this year for being too passive in their dealings. But guess what – they made the playoffs and are a safe bet to do it again in 2012. They may never be World Series favorites but they’ve put themselves in a situation in which they have a realistic chance every year, even if it’s never a great chance one particular year. Playing in St. Peterburg, that is simply the reality of their situation. And unfortunately, it’s not that different from the reality Josh Byrnes faces now.
Uncle Jeff has made it clear that the bottom line is king here in San Diego. In a couple of years, we’ll reach our cruising altitude of a $70 million payroll, which would put the team in the bottom third of the league in payroll right now. By the time the team reaches that mark, I wonder if the Padres will be able to keep out of the bottom fifth in payroll. Things are going to get frustrating, and then they’re going to stay frustrating, and the Padres are going to need a steady hand at the wheel. It sure seemed like Jed Hoyer had one, but he’s gone and now it’s up to Josh Byrnes, who never showed one in Arizona.