SAN DIEGO -- On the first Wednesday in October, the Padres figured they might be readying themselves for a playoff game. Perhaps even a playoff series.
Instead, with no postseason baseball to show for their disappointing 2021 season, San Diego parted ways with manager Jayce Tingler, the team announced Wednesday, the latest and biggest shakeup for a club that might see quite a few of them this winter.
Tingler, who had one year remaining on the three-year contract he signed after the 2019 season, posted a 116-106 record in two seasons in San Diego. That includes a 37-23 mark in his first season -- the abbreviated 2020 campaign in which Tingler helmed the Padres to their first playoff appearance in 14 years.
San Diego's surprise 2020 breakthrough was followed by a flurry of offseason acquisitions, raising expectations significantly ahead of the '21 season. Tingler’s Padres did not meet them. On Wednesday, he was relieved of his duties and offered an opportunity to remain with the organization in a different capacity.
“Jayce accomplished a great deal in his two seasons with the Padres, leading our team through an unprecedented pandemic and into the postseason for the first time in 15 years,” general manager A.J. Preller said in a statement. “I have tremendous respect for him as a coach, colleague and friend. After much thought and consideration over the last several weeks, we felt change was necessary at this time to ultimately reach our championship potential in San Diego.”
In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Preller noted that Tingler’s entire coaching staff has been informed they are free to pursue other opportunities while the franchise embarks on its managerial search. The next Padres manager will ultimately choose his own coaching staff, meaning it’s possible some of the team’s coaches return.
It’s unclear whether Tingler would be open to returning to the Padres in a different capacity. Upon his dismissal, he offered this statement through the organization:
“It’s been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to manage the San Diego Padres and lead this group of men. I’m truly thankful for the opportunity and grateful for the tireless efforts of our players, coaches and support staff over the last two years. While I’m profoundly disappointed that our season ended far too soon, I know this team has a very bright future ahead.”
The Padres, who fashioned themselves as World Series contenders, fell well short of their ambitions in 2021. They ended the season under .500 (79-83), and their fall from grace was precipitous. The Padres sat 17 games above .500 on Aug. 11. They posted the worst record in baseball after that.
Injuries undoubtedly played a part, and the Padres' pitching staff was hit especially hard. The front office also made the decision to pass on starting pitching at the Trade Deadline, leaving Tingler shorthanded in the rotation.
Still, even taking those factors into account, the Padres underperformed. The team faded from NL Wild Card contention down the stretch. Their two biggest stars -- Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. -- publicly feuded in the dugout during a game in St. Louis.
With a month and a half remaining, Preller endorsed the job Tingler had done. But as the Padres struggled in September, San Diego's GM said he came to a different conclusion.
“At that point, you’re looking at it saying, ‘I hope Jayce is here for the next decade,’” Preller said. “But you get to the end of the year, the performance down the stretch, some of the things that we saw on the field, some of the conversations I had with our staff -- it wasn’t any one thing. It wasn’t one incident or one moment. It wasn’t a St. Louis series I could point to. It just came to overall looking at the way the season played out. … I felt ultimately in order for us to get to where we need to get to, it was going to be somebody else in that chair.”
Now, a critical decision awaits Preller -- who is expected to be retained. Preller will be making his third managerial hire after Andy Green and Tingler. In his seven seasons as general manager, the Padres have made the playoffs only once.
After hiring two first-time managers, some expect that Preller might look for a skipper with a big league track record. Then again, that was also the expectation after Green was let go in 2019. Preller settled on Tingler, who had even less managerial experience than Green.
“You always learn from your experience, but each situation is a little different,” Preller said. “It’s more of a situation of just being thorough, going through the process, getting in front of some people we think are quality candidates. … We’re going to do what we have to do to get it right.”
The biggest challenge for an incoming Padres manager could be ingratiating himself to a veteran clubhouse that is primed to win now. There's no grace period. The Padres envision themselves as contenders once again in 2022, with most of their core returning.
But that core might be due for a shakeup, too. Wil Myers, the longest-tenured Padre, is entering the final year of his contract and is a candidate to be dealt. (Myers, of course, has been the subject of trade speculation for years, but this winter the task of dealing him is easier than ever.) It would be trickier to move Eric Hosmer's contract, but with a crowded infield, that could be on Preller's to-do list as well.
The Padres have already shaken things up in their front office this winter, having cut ties with farm director Sam Geaney and reassigned scouting director Mark Conner to the role of special assistant. Once a manager and his staff are hired, the next major changes will come on the field.
“It’s an easy narrative to say, ‘Hey, we’re talented,’” Preller said. “But from my standpoint, we’ve got to look at it like: It wasn’t good enough. What can we do better on the roster? … The roster that I constructed and we put together was not able to do it consistently. We’ll dig into that over the next couple weeks and couple months with the idea that we put a team out that is playing into October next year.”