Behind Preller, Padres hope to follow route taken by Tigers
GM's mission to boost offense in pitcher-friendly park similar to Dombrowski's early days in Detroit
The Padres are making plenty of offseason noise.
And the message is coming through very clear: The Padres want to be a factor in the National League West again, and they know that starts with jump-starting the offense.
The Padres have had a winning record only once in the past seven years. They have been shut out of the postseason the past eight years, while the four other teams in the NL West have all made multiple postseason appearances in that span. The Rockies and D-backs have made two appearances apiece, the Giants have made three -- winning the World Series all three times -- and the Dodgers have been a part of baseball's October showdown four times.
The Padres' ownership group made a statement of concern in August when A.J. Preller was hired to become the team's fourth general manager in seven years, and then backed that up by providing the new administration with the freedom to overhaul the roster.
While there is speculation the Padres could emerge as a trade partner for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels (a San Diego native), it's a fact that the Padres have decided to become the aggressor on offense, no longer acting intimidated by the size of Petco Park.
The Padres have undergone a bigger makeover of the lineup than any other team in the NL this offseason, completely overhauling the outfield with trades for Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp, and also bringing in a proven catcher, Derek Norris, and a new third baseman, Will Middlebrooks.
The Padres have come to the same realization about Petco Park that the Tigers reached a decade ago with Comerica Park. There was initial teeth-gnashing in Detroit about the size of the playing surface at Comerica, and the potential negative impact that would have on creating a solid offensive approach.
General manager Dave Dombrowski, however, eventually focused on putting together a productive lineup, and the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder (before he was traded a year ago), were just as intimidating at Comerica Park as they had been anywhere else.
A franchise that struggled through 106 losses in 2002 and 119 losses in 2003 has enjoyed five postseason appearances in the last nine seasons, including each of the past four. It has scored more runs (3,066) in the last four years than any big league team other than the Red Sox, and the Tigers are still at home in Comerica Park, where aside from a slight adjustment in dimensions, the biggest difference has been an adjustment in the roster's offense.
By contrast, in suffering losing records during Dombrowski's first four seasons as the Tigers' boss (2002-05), the team scored fewer runs (2,716) than any other American League team.
The Padres, meanwhile, are coming off the third worst offensive season in franchise history, averaging only 3.3 runs per game last season. It's their lowest total since they averaged 3.03 per game in 1972. The club record for offensive futility came in the expansion season of 1969, when they averaged 2.89 runs per game.
Much has been made about Petco Park's dimensions, but the Padres' offense has struggled as much on the road as it has at home. Last year they scored only one more run on the road (268) than they did at home (267).
Enter the offseason roster manipulation, in which the Padres did give up many of their top prospects in search of proven commodities, with the focus on the outfield.
Upton and Kemp are big-time bats. Upton is a two-time All-Star who hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs for the Braves last season, the fourth time in six years he's hit 25-plus home runs. Kemp had five seasons of 20-plus home runs in the last six years, including leading the NL in homers (39) and RBIs (126) in 2011 despite playing home games at Dodger Stadium. He also is a two-time All-Star and was No. 2 in NL MVP Award voting in 2011.
Myers, who will fit into center field between Upton and Kemp, is embarking on his third big league season. A former top prospect with the Royals, he was the key player in the trade that brought James Shields from the Rays to Kansas City two seasons ago. Myers will benefit from the lineup protection of Upton and Kemp, who also will take off some of the pressure that was expected of the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner with the Rays.
With a pitching staff that compiled the second-lowest ERA in franchise history (3.27) last year and was second only to the Nationals in the NL, the Padres will check into Spring Training looking good on paper.
Time will tell if they can follow in the path of success the Tigers enjoyed.