Myers breaks through on 'wild ride' with SD
After rebuild, longest-tenured Padre gets chance to shine in playoffs
When the Padres traded veteran starter James Shields for 17-year-old shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. on June 4, 2016, it was hard for Wil Myers to get too excited. Myers, only 25 years old at the time, admitted to thinking, “I’m not even going to see this guy.”
But Myers has not only seen Tatis blossom into a young superstar in San Diego, he’s seen the Padres through their rebuilding process, emerging from the National League West cellar into the NL Division Series.
It’s rare for established players, even younger ones like the 29-year-old Myers, to remain in place throughout the full cycle of trying to contend, rebuilding and finally reaching the postseason. When clubs go all-in in pursuit of young talent, as the Padres did, they typically part with any veteran of value. That strategy left Myers as the club’s longest-tenured player this season, only his sixth year with the team.
Once thrust into the foreground as the face of San Diego’s franchise, Myers stuck around to see a long-term plan come to fruition. Now, he’s back in the postseason for the first time since he was named American League Rookie of the Year with the Rays in 2013.
“It’s been a wild ride here. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s pretty cool to be a player that goes through an entire rebuild process,” Myers said Monday, on the eve of NLDS Game 1 against the Dodgers at Globe Life Field in Arlington. “You see the lowest of lows and the highest of highs.”
But it was completely fair for Myers to wonder if he’d get to see a season like this with San Diego. The right fielder’s future remained uncertain as recently as late January, in fact, as the Padres front office pursued the man who will play right field for the Dodgers in this series: Mookie Betts.
While they were reluctant to part with any of their top prospects, the Padres believed their deep farm system would allow them to complete a deal with the Red Sox for Betts -- the final piece to push them from rebuilding to contending. After being traded twice earlier in his career, from Kansas City to Tampa Bay to San Diego, Myers was back in the trade rumor mill as part of Boston’s rumored return.
Instead, Betts wound up with the Dodgers, the team that finished 36 games ahead of the Padres while cruising to their seventh straight NL West title in 2019. The four-time All-Star and 2018 American League MVP landed in Los Angeles prior to this year's Spring Training and signed a 12-year contract extension ahead of Opening Day, guaranteeing the Padres will see plenty more of the one that got away for the next decade.
But a funny thing happened this year, an unexpected softening of the blow that came with missing out on Mookie. Myers didn’t just make it through the rebuild. He played a prominent role in making the Padres a legitimate challenger to the Dodgers’ throne and a contender for the World Series.
In 55 games this season, Myers slashed .288/.353/.606 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs. He led the team with a .959 OPS and 154 wRC+. He posted 1.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, a personal best since his All-Star season in 2016 -- yes, even with a truncated schedule.
Myers attributed his improvement at the plate to the more consistent approach he created during offseason work with Padres hitting coach Damion Easley and former big leaguer Tony Womack.
“Over the years, I feel like for me it’s always been the consistent factor. It’s never been my ability,” Myers said. “It’s not really been some drastic change. It’s really been a mental approach and focusing on one thing each and every pitch and trying to make that adjustment pitch to pitch.”
Myers is more of a supporting actor than a star now, spending less time in the limelight than Tatis or Manny Machado or Eric Hosmer, but he’s been in the middle of everything San Diego has accomplished this season. His Aug. 18 grand slam came second in the Padres’ four-game trip to “Slam Diego.” When Trade Deadline acquisition Mike Clevinger picked up his first win, Myers homered twice with another grand slam. And when the Padres beat the Cardinals, 11-9, in Game 2 of their NL Wild Card Series at Petco Park, Myers and Tatis went deep twice.
Myers thought he and Tatis would never play together, but instead they joined Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as the only teammates in postseason history to homer multiple times in the same game -- and keep San Diego’s season alive.
“It was kind of cool to see things like that come full circle, to see the plan in place, to see how the front office has really led this thing and how the plans come together,” Myers said. “You get guys like Fernando Tatis, you sign guys like Hoz and Manny, and you see from the pitching side what we’ve been able to do, from the Draft side, and it’s really cool.
“There’s been a lot of lows, but to be here, it’s really cool. It’s definitely been well worth the wait.”