Padres Dismiss Farm Director; Rumblings Of Potential Larger Changes Mounting

The Padres have decided not to renew the contract of farm director Sam Geaney, reports Dennis Lin of the Athletic. Geaney departs the organization after spending nearly seven years leading the club’s minor league system.

Geaney was hired in October 2014, just a couple months after the Padres tabbed A.J. Preller to lead baseball operations. The team made an ill-fated attempt to contend in Preller’s first year at the helm before committing to a significant teardown and rebuild. That process involved trading established big leaguers for prospects and a significant financial outlay in the international amateur market, leading to the construction of a farm system that was perhaps the game’s best for a couple years.

That rebuild began to bear fruit in 2019, when players like Fernando Tatís Jr. and Chris Paddack made their big league debuts. The team still struggled, but that changed in 2020. The Friars went 37-23 in last year’s shortened season, making the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years. In addition to bringing aboard talented young players like Tatís, Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth, Preller and the front office aggressively pursued star players in free agency and trade over the past few seasons. Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado had been brought aboard on huge free agent deals, while San Diego built a star-studded rotation via trade, landing Blake SnellYu Darvish and Joe Musgrove (in addition to the since-injured Mike Clevinger) from other organizations.

That series of bold strikes had a few effects. It thinned out the once-vaunted farm system significantly. Luis Patiño, who went to the Rays in the Snell deal, was perhaps the only truly elite young talent sent away. But San Diego parted with a collection of generally well-regarded players, dealing a blow to the minor league depth. Still, that seemed a price worth paying to build a fantastic big league roster, and the Padres entered the 2021 campaign with extraordinarily high expectations.

Early in the season, San Diego looked well on their way to meeting those lofty goals. They won 32 of their first 50 games; by late May, their chances of making the postseason were approaching 99% in FanGraphs’ estimation. Things have changed dramatically since that high water mark, with the club particularly struggling coming out of the All-Star Break. The Padres have gone just 23-33 in the season’s second half, entering play tonight with a 76-73 record that places them four games behind the Cardinals in the race for the National League’s final Wild Card spot (with the Reds also a game above them in the standings). Their playoff chances — considered a near-lock a few months ago — have plummeted to 3.4%.

Given that collapse, there’s been plenty of speculation recently about potential staffing changes that would go beyond Geaney’s dismissal. Preller, who was promoted to president of baseball operations and extended through 2026 in February, doesn’t seem likely to be in much danger. But alterations to the coaching staff could be a more realistic possibility, and the team will at least have one notable coaching decision to make this coming offseason.

The Padres fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild on August 23, bumping bullpen coach Ben Fritz to the position on an interim basis. That hasn’t brought about any sort of immediate turnaround, as Padres hurlers rank just 22nd in ERA (4.90) and 15th in SIERA (4.20) since making the change. This winter, they’ll need to determine whether to hand the job to Fritz permanently.

Recent days have also brought about some speculation regarding second-year manager Jayce Tingler’s future in the organization. Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal, Lin and Britt Ghiroli of the Athletic and Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune separately reported that Tingler, whose contract runs through 2022, is facing increased scrutiny within the clubhouse. Both outlets report that some members in the organization have questioned whether Tingler — a 40-year-old skipper in his first managerial job — has done enough to command the respect of the locker room.

Clubhouse frustration boiled over publicly on Saturday, when Tatís engaged in respective shouting matches in the dugout with bench coach Bobby Dickerson and Machado. Tingler had previously been ejected from the game, and development coach Ryan Flaherty intervened to break up the argument.

It’s certainly no surprise that frustration is mounting in the organization, given the manner in which the team’s play has fallen off. But Rosenthal, Lin and Ghiroli suggested some with the team see the spat as a microcosm of a broader leadership void. Acee, meanwhile, reported that some members of the clubhouse have desired Tingler’s dismissal for a while — and would continue to do so even if the team rights the ship and manages an improbable playoff push over the season’s final couple weeks. Both pieces present a detailed look into a seemingly messy situation and are worth full perusals.

Despite that reported discord, it’s by no means a fait accompli that Tingler’s managing his final few games in San Diego. Acee cautions that some players in the clubhouse still stick by the skipper, instead expressing frustration with what they believe to be other players’ excuses for the team’s underperformance. Both the Athletic and the Union-Tribune note that Preller and Tingler, who previously worked together in the Rangers’ front office, are very close personal friends, leading some to question whether Preller would be willing to dismiss Tingler.

It’s also impossible to pin down precisely how much blame Tingler actually deserves for the team’s struggles. As mentioned, the Padres were quite successful last season, Tingler’s first at the helm. This year, the roster has been hit hard by injuries, particularly on the pitching side. Clevinger was lost to a Tommy John surgery over the offseason. Fifth starter Adrián Morejón required the same procedure in April. Darvish, Paddack and Snell have all missed some amount of time due to injury; Paddack and Snell remain on the IL. Top prospect MacKenzie Gore, expected to be a potential big league option entering the season, struggled significantly in the minors and hasn’t proven ready for a call-up.

That’s led the Padres to look for buy-low pickups in recent weeks, with the team signing Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez after they’d been released by other clubs. That came on the heels of a trade deadline in which the front office failed to bolster the rotation, despite reported pursuits of Max Scherzer and José Berríos. (Arrieta was designated for assignment this evening after struggling over four starts).

The Friars weren’t completely inactive. They landed second baseman Adam Frazier and reliever Daniel Hudson only to see those players’ performances unexpectedly crater. But this extremely aggressive front office’s inability to land any rotation help was one of the more surprising takeaways immediately after the deadline, and it’s proven to be a significant storyline for the team in the second half.

For now, the Padres have tried to tamp down speculation about the future as they focus on the season’s final couple weeks. Tingler pushed back on the idea that he’d lost the respect of the clubhouse when speaking with reporters (including Bob Nightengale of USA Today) this evening. Machado and Tatís conducted a joint press conference tonight in which they claimed they’ve put Saturday’s incident behind them (video from Annie Heilbrunn of the Union-Tribune). It seems unlikely there’ll be any significant shakeup in San Diego while the season’s ongoing, but the Padres’ staffing decisions could prove to be one of the more important things to watch in the early portion of the upcoming offseason.

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