Once upon a time, there was a baseball player who played in every single game of a season, hit 28 homers, and was worth exactly 0 fWAR.
Thus begins the ballad of one of the more fascinating players of our time, Matt Kemp. Robbed of the MVP award in 2011 by Ryan Braun, Kemp posted 8.3 fWAR just a year after his zero-value 2010 campaign. A 106 wRC+ became a 168 wRC+, and 28 homers became 39. No fewer than six injuries in 2012, punctuated by a labrum injury, and a diagnoses of arthritis in both his hips have reduced Kemp to something of a shambling mess. Trapped in the National League and on a Padres team that plays in a stadium with a large outfield, Kemp hit .263/.312/.443 and launched 23 home runs. He was worth only 0.4 fWAR.
The Padres gave up Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland, and Zach Eflin to get him. Kemp is owed $21.75 million in each of the next four seasons. He was the worst qualified defensive right fielder in all of baseball by both DRS and UZR. Kemp's body has failed him at age 31. This is the player that A.J. Preller selected to make his team a contender. It's no surprise that things didn't work that way.
I've written extensively on Preller's policies in the past. I didn't buy in when he put the team together, and I advocated blowing the team to smithereens through trades at the start of the winter. Craig Kimbrel is no longer a Padre, and neither is Joaquin Benoit. However the starting rotation remains largely intact, and the main position players acquired in last year's shopping spree are still in the lineup.
To what end? On paper, the Padres are entirely outclassed by the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Dodgers. Their farm system was restocked through only the additions of Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, and Carlos Asuaje in the Kimbrel trade. They can now hang out with Hunter Renfroe and Colin Rea as the only players of major note in the system and perhaps have a little party of sorts.
Above all else, Kemp still remains. There is perhaps no one player on the Padres more indicative of the devastation caused by Preller than Kemp. He's expensive and ineffective. He's almost impossible to trade except to a rich AL team looking for a DH, and even then the Padres would almost have to eat a healthy portion of his salary. He's a massive disappointment, yet an entirely unsurprising one.
Like Wil Myers and Andrew Cashner, he's susceptible to injuries. Like Myers and Norris, he was acquired for his power. Like Myers and Norris, he failed to make a substantial impact in turning the team around. Like Myers, his name carries more value than his production. Kemp has appeared in 304 games in the last two years and provided just 1.7 fWAR of value. His career is a rocket that left the launch pad and for a few glorious moments soared high over Cape Canaveral before losing a tail fin and zipping into the water.
The same description can be applied to the Padres. In a way, they're the only team in baseball without a definite direction. While there are undeniably some bad teams in the game right now (the Braves, Phillies, etc.) nearly all of them are either rebuilding or honestly trying to win. The Rockies seem to genuinely think, as they usually do, that they have a shot. Bless their poor hearts. And the A's are doing what they can to deal with the results of a few disastrous trades on a meager budget, but a tanking team doesn't give an expensive three-year deal to Ryan Madson. No, the Padres are the only team in a sport that's been blessed with widespread parity that's stuck in neutral.
This winter was a perfect time for Preller to hit the reset button. The time was ripe to sell off Cashner or Tyson Ross to a team that lost out on one of the big free agent pitchers. Instead he jettisoned Kimbrel and called it a winter. The Padres will collect compensatory draft picks because of the qualifying offers that Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton turned down before they signed with the Royals and Tigers, and they own the 8th overall pick as well.
Those picks will go a long way toward injecting talent back into what was once a promising system. Yet the Padres could have done so much more. They chose not to, and now the rebuild will have to wait a while longer. For a moment it seemed as if San Diego would be back on the baseball map. It was not meant to be. There's theoretically still time between now and the inception of the preseason to move one of the starters. Perhaps Cashner could find a new home if a contender experiences an unfortunate injury in their rotation during camp.
It's not terribly likely, though. The Padres are what they are. This is Preller's doing, and he'll need to be the one to fix it. Like Kemp, the Padres will keep plodding along, wondering what could have been.