The end of 2020 saw Major League Baseball licking its wounds and pondering how it should navigate a new year filled with just as much uncertainty. Considering the potential for continued losses, franchises are determined to cut back on expenses. And, naturally, payroll becomes the first casualty; for the first time in a long while, the offseason, traditionally host to a flurry of activity in which talent is sought by all and sundry, figures to be one of reflection and not action. Except, that is, for the Padres, who see a break while others recoil with caution.
Make no mistake. The Padres are taking a significant risk. Such is the nature of competition in the sport that roster improvements, no matter how seemingly substantial, often translate to marginal returns. The best players increase win probabilities, but do not bring with them certainty of ultimate success. And, in the midst of a pandemic that has all but wiped out the usual revenue sources, investing in marquee names comes at high cost but guarantees little. Nonetheless, the small-market outfit dared to dream big and pull the trigger on a couple of deals slated to further lift its profile.
Indeed, the addition of Blake Snell and Yu Darvish provides the Padres with a fearsome rotation frontline designed to turn it from a middling competitor into a bona fide contender. No doubt, they wouldn’t have thumbed up the trades had they been compelled to hand over more than a single regular and farm system prospects in return. And, no doubt, they wouldn’t have so much as thought of doing, so were they not already close to challenging the powerhouse Dodgers in the National League West.
The Padres were likewise fortunate, to be sure. They pounced on the Cubs’ apparent need to let Darvish go in order to trim outlays, as well the Rays’ evident urge to flip Snell early in the face of a hazy outlook. Then again, the boldest make their own fortunes. And should their gamble pay off, the rest of the league will be left to second-guess a pronounced failure to discern opportunity in crisis. In any case, there is benefit to establishing a culture that moves for continuous improvement and rewards resourcefulness.
Baseball etches nothing in stone. At the same time, there can be no discounting the value good vibes bring to effort. Ask Snell, Darvish, and free-agent acquisition Ha-seong Kim, who feel wanted by the Padres. Ask Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., who welcome the arrival of fellow top-shelf players. And ask the fans, who appreciate owner Peter Seidler’s against-the-current disposition. The hardware may not be a sure thing, but, in the eyes of the aforementioned, they’re already champions.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.