My 15 years as a Padres beat reporter put me close to a variety of Padres teams, so it's only natural that people ask me where things now stand.
Here is where this franchise now stands: on the bottom of the ocean floor.
This is the worst Padres team I've been around.
It gives me no joy to write these words, but were these Padres in the American League East, they would lose 120 games.
Worse, the team is as flat as the floor of Death Valley.
Players who have yet to do anything in the major leagues appear overly comfortable. Such as the rookie who lounged in the clubhouse while the rest of the team's hitters met in a separate room. Such as the players who chatted on cellphones 25 minutes before a game. Or hobnobbed with friends in a clubhouse tunnel 30 minutes before first pitch.
None of this is surprising.
The message from owner John Moores many months ago was that this season does not matter. The past several months have been about cutting costs, shedding payroll, shopping any player who is eligible for arbitration or close to hitting his performing bonuses.
Performance is taking a back seat to dollar imperatives. Like when Brian Giles flat-lined well below .200 for more than two months, yet the Padres refused to bench him. The front office was desperate to unload Giles' $9 million salary and believed the only way to do it was to play Giles and hope he got hot. He never did.
Resilient organizations can weather lean times by producing young talent that outperforms its low salaries. Once again, however, the Padres are getting negative returns from their farm system. A team of lesser financial means such as the Marlins, with a majors-low payroll of $37 million, is reminding the Padres what can be done with excellent scouting, strong player development and a coherent front office (a front office, I might add, far less top-heavy than San Diego's).
So far, based strictly on what we've seen in the major leagues from homegrown Padres, the farm system that Moores hired Sandy Alderson to construct has been a bust. So far, this team's most exciting young position players are a Rule V draftee (Everth Cabrera) taken from Colorado's low Single-A club last December and an outfielder (Tony Gwynn) plucked from talent-rich Milwuakee in a salary dump two months ago. On the pitching side, homegrown starters such as Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos -- all taken fairly high in the draft -- have yet to show they can become anything more than No. 5 candidates, at best.
The front office that insisted that hitting coach Wally Joyner was a problem last summer and replaced him with Jim Lefebvre has discovered maybe Joyner wasn't a problem. Some hitters -- not all -- have tuned out Lefebvre. Some never tuned in, because they associated him with Alderson and Fuson.
Sure, the Padres have been hit hard by injuries.
The club badly misses the know-how and fire of players now injured, such as David Eckstein, Chris Young and Jake Peavy.
Were you surprised when those players were injured? I was not, despite knowing that each of them trains quite hard.
It had to be demoralizing for Padres players to see a productive, good teammate such as Scott Hairston get traded for three minor leaguers this month.
What's more, frequent losing and the long summer will make any team look flat. In April, the Padres looked perky and resourceful.
But this year, the Padres are plumbing new depths. One should hope this is the bottom. I doubt that it is.