Bob Melvin wasn't there when it all went wrong for the San Diego Padres during the 2021 season, so he fairly would not address why the team felt it needed to change managers.
What Melvin did say Monday when the Padres introduced him formally as their next manager Monday: The Padres' collective personality didn't seem so bad when the Oakland Athletics visited Petco Park during the regular season. And whatever went wrong in the Padres clubhouse won't stop them from winning in 2022.
"I don't really know that part of it," Melvin said. "I know that, when we were here, it was electric — there were medallions flying everywhere, and guys that looked like they were really enthused to play the game. That really showed up here. These guys were passionate about what they were doing."
"Medallions" refer to trinkets including the Swag Chain, an animated trophy, worn around the neck, passed from player to player for making contributions during a game. The thought: If it was good enough to help the team win, it should be celebrated.
The Padres' clubhouse culture, deemed an essential part of the team's early success (or at least it didn't get in the way), appeared to get a little toxic in the second half, as evidenced from the Tatís-Manny Machado confrontation. As a result of not being able to fix whatever was wrong, manager Jayce Tingler was fired in early October.
Melvin didn't see any of that, he said, but if you balance what he did observe with the talent on the Padres roster, the appeal of managing in San Diego is obvious.
"I'm just going to be me, try to reach the players and make sure everybody's on the same page," Melvin said. "It's really important, and it gets really powerful when everybody has the same goals.”
Melvin seems impressed with the leadership of the Padres younger players.
Swag chains or anything called “swag” probably aren't something Melvin would come up with on his own, but he's no less passionate about winning, even if he's not as expressive as the more youthful Padres. Melvin's record proves it. A manager for 18 seasons overall, also with the Diamondbacks and Mariners early on, Melvin led the Athletics to three first-place finishes, six postseason berths, and a win-loss record of 853-764 (.528) since 2011.
Melvin is the first manager hired by the Padres organization with previous managerial experience at the MLB level since Jack McKeon in 1988. Team president A.J. Preller didn’t necessarily require hiring someone with Melvin’s long résumè but conceded that experience is part of what makes him effective, which is what the Padres need now.
“There’s a right person at the right time for different teams,” Preller said. “Over the past five years, we’ve gone from a rebuilding-type situation to a contending-type situation to, hopefully, Bob being able to get us over the top from a championship standpoint.
“It’s more about the attributes we’re looking for. Bob checked every box.”
The A's won 86 games in 2021, falling from playoff contention in the final week, but the offseason has looked foreboding with as many as 11 players up for salary arbitration. With the team's future ballpark plans undecided, many expect Athletics owner John Fisher to cut payroll. The Padres have been adding payroll and already have an agreeable home field that’s full of fans in most games. Between the prospect of an overhauled roster and the team possibly moving to Las Vegas, the time seemed right for Melvin to move first.
"Sometimes it becomes time," said Melvin, who also grew up in the Bay Area. "I was lucky enough to manage a team in my hometown for 10-plus seasons, but there comes a time when you know it doesn't go on forever."
Because of the respect and gratitude Melvin had from the Athletics front office, the Padres were able to scoop up an experienced, respected and successful manager (who also was under contract already) without trading any prospects or sending money to Oakland. Melvin said he was grateful to team president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst for making it easier for him to take the opportunity to interview for the Padres job.
"It was a surprise; I didn't expect it," Melvin said. "Once I was given the opportunity to listen to the people here, it became clear, pretty quickly, that this was the place for me."
Melvin's widely-held reputation for honesty should go a long way to address potential issues before they become actual problems. The Padres still have a great chance to win in 2022 and beyond, and there's every reason to think Melvin is the right person for the job. But the team still has a lot of work to do following the big expectations, promising 67-49 start and shocking nosedive of '21.
• With injuries and fatigue as factors, the pitching staff produced diminishing results, which got the pitching coach fired. Yu Darvish had a 6.16 ERA in the second half. Before even adding Melvin officially, the Padres hired Ruben Niebla, a 21-year member of Cleveland's organization and a widely respected instructor, to be the new pitching coach. Melvin will have a significant voice, Preller said, in the collaboration to finalize the rest of the coaching staff.
• The front office couldn't close a deal for ace Max Scherzer, who instead went to the dreaded Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. The deal they did make, for infielder Adam Frazier, did not immediately work out in their favor. The Padres should be players in the trade and free-agent market again this offseason, although a pending lockout by MLB owners in early December puts all of that on hold, potentially.
• The offense went from the top 10 in scoring in the first half to one of the weakest in the second half as their best player, Fernando Tatís, was hampered by the limitations of a shoulder injury. Tatís reportedly declined the option of having surgery on his shoulder, instead opting for continued strengthening and rehab. Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham (a free agent) and Frazier did not hit in the second half, and Jake Cronenworth, Will Myers and Eric Hosmer did not hit well enough to make up for it.
The Padres finished the season in a 12-34 spin. It takes discipline to avoid detours like that, Melvin said.
“You create goals for what you want to have happen fundamentally on the field and then you hold guys accountable to do it,” Melvin said. “When you create something in Spring Training that you feel is important, you can’t get off that. At times when you get a little run down, and you don’t want to do things, that’s when you need to keep pushing. We’re going to have to be disciplined.”
To get from 79 victories to, say, 95, and then winning in the postseason, will take more work than just adding a great manager to the mix. And even in Melvin’s case, no matter his reputation, the Athletics won one playoff series with him as manager. It’s still safe to say that Melvin helped the A’s maximize what they had, at least during the regular season.
As for what Melvin can improve about the Padres, Preller said:
“His leadership stands out, he holds players accountable.”