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As fans and analysts, we like it when a team has an easily identifiable plan we can follow along with, whether it's rebuilding for a better future or pressing the proverbial all-in button. There's a certain level of solidarity between team and fan (or team and analyst) when both sides are on the same page, allowing us to scroll through the transaction log and nod our collective heads—even if we disagree with a specific move or, in more extreme cases, the entire plan, we at least give the team a certain benefit of the doubt for formulating a course of action and sticking with it.

So when Chris Long tweeted this

last week, I immediately started categorizing teams into the four groups in my head.

Some are easy: The Astros, Cardinals, Royals, and Cubs all merit obvious consideration for the "have plan, executing it extremely well" group. Some teams are more difficult to peg: The Athletics probably fall in with the 'Stros and Cubbies, but they've committed so many head-scratchers in recent past that we've invented market inefficiencies for them. Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and prospects . . . ? Shoot, those pesky A's pulled off the old Sagittarius-for-Capricorn gambit. And what do we do with the Marlins? It's pretty clear they have a plan, but it's probably a sinister one.

Some teams—the Phillies, the Brewers, the Red Sox—have new front offices that appear on the right track but probably haven't been in place long enough to warrant consideration for any group. Then there's a whole swath of teams that could go here or there, depending on individual perspective. Teams like the Orioles or the Twins or the Diamondbacks.

Then there's the Padres. Since 2009, they've cycled through three different ownership groups (if you count Jeff Moorad's failed attempt to buy the club), four general managers, and enough CEOs and front office higher-ups to fill a Best Western conference room twice over. One constant has been the lack of any semblance of a long-term plan, which is understandable given the organization's penchant for mass upheaval.

Jed Hoyer looked to be building a Red Sox-style player development machine in the early part of the decade, but front office politics (then-sort-of-owner Moorad's old pal, Josh Byrnes, was hired as VP of baseball operations in December 2010) and a perfect situation in Chicago led to Hoyer jumping ship before seeing his plan through. Byrnes, hired after Hoyer's departure, seemed to work in more of an off-the-cuff manner—like Hoyer's predecessor, Kevin Towers—which generally left San Diego without a clear vision of its own future.

After firing Byrnes mid-season in 2014, the Padres hired A.J. Preller away from the Rangers, a GM prospect who'd mostly been lauded—and occasionally reprimanded—for his work on the international scene. Preller's first few months on the job were typically quiet. Time was spent rearranging his staff and ordering new ergonomic office chairs, but by the end of his first offseason at the helm he'd captured the baseball world's attention by acquiring Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, James Shields, and Craig Kimbrel.

I catalogued each of Preller's 2014-2015 offseason moves into various buckets, as seen in the table below.

Win-now Move

Tweener Move

Rebuilding Move

Big Move

4

2

0

Average Move

0

3

0

Small Move

1

4

0

There's a plan, at least. Given the overall lack of talent in the organization when Preller took over, it was arguably the wrong plan . . . but it was a plan, and it provided a rare string of cohesiveness for Padres fans to latch onto and believe in. The Padres were going for it in 2015, and while it subtracted young players like Yasmani Grandal and Trea Turner and added burdensome contracts like Matt Kemp's, the team had transformed from forgotten also-ran to fringe contender by Opening Day.

When the plan didn't unfold as expected on the field—the Padres played sub-.500 ball in each of the season's first three months—the front office mostly stood pat. Bud Black was canned in mid-June, replaced by Triple-A skipper Pat Murphy, but the only player-for-player trade the Padres made prior to the July 31st deadline was hardly notable: Abraham Almonte was sent to Cleveland for Marc Rzepczynski. In August, Will Venable was dealt to the Rangers for a couple of low-tier prospects, and Bud Norris was signed in the same month. That's it—the Padres stuck with the same roster all year, and it led them to a disappointing 74-win season.

This offseason, then, would provide a litmus test for San Diego's newly adopted boldness. Would the Padres raise payroll further and bring in another cavalcade of established stars? Would they backtrack and tear it down, returning to a more conventional small-market, build-from-within approach?

Here's the tally so far this offseason:

Win-now Move

Tweener Move

Rebuilding Move

Big Move

0

0

1

Average Move

1

2

1

Small Move

0

3

0

It seems as if they've fallen back into the in-between purgatory that's defined the franchise for the better part of the past decade-plus.

The Padres unloaded relievers Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit early in the offseason for a package of prospects highlighted by outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra; a nifty pair of moves that helped replenish the farm system without gutting the core of the team. December was spent exchanging spare parts: Jedd Gyorko turned into Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski turned into Drew Pomeranz and two prospects, and Casey Kelly and Ricardo Rodriguez turned into a catcher—at the time, the fourth one on the roster—named Christian Bethancourt. The Padres also signed two relievers in Buddy Baumann and Carlos Villanueva, adding depth to a suddenly depleted bullpen.

Most recently, San Diego signed Alexei Ramirez to a one-year deal worth $4 million, solving, at least temporarily, a longstanding shortstop problem that featured too much Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes in 2015. It's a move that looks okay in isolation, but given the context . . .

1) The Padres won 74 games last year and have to replace the contributions of Kimbrel, Benoit, Justin Upton, and Ian Kennedy.

2) The rest of the infield includes Yangervis Solarte at third, Cory Spangenberg at second, and Myers at first, a position where he's logged only 194 professional innings. The outfield, set to be manned by Melvin Upton, Jay, and Kemp (and possibly by Rule 5 player Jabari Blash), doesn't look much better.

3) The current starting rotation features a never-healthy Andrew Cashner, a 34-year-old James Shields coming off a career-worst 108 cFIP, and some combination of Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea, Drew Pomeranz, and Brandon Maurer. The 'pen is without a true closer or even a particularly obvious candidate for the role.

4) The rest of the division is really good. The Dodgers are the Dodgers; the Giants added Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span in an even-year push; the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke to supplement an already potent offense; the Rockies are, well, the Rockies.

. . . it's tough to get particularly excited.

The bigger concern is the overall plan, and what, exactly, it is. When we can't identify it, we start to think it doesn't exist. We throw up our hands in a general state of confused malaise, and we angrily tweet at fake A.J. Preller accounts. Maybe that's our problem. The Padres aren't necessarily mandated to tell everyone what they're doing, and they're presumably a smart organization. They've got Preller and Logan White and Sam Geaney and Josh Stein and Don Welke and Nick Ennis and a bunch of people we probably haven't heard of scouting and number-crunching away. They've got money and jobs on the line.

Then again, with each disjointed move we grow closer to our fear that the Padres are indeed without a plan, and that they'll continue to wander aimlessly about the baseball landscape until they bump up against its edges. They certainly haven't committed to winning in 2016, but they also haven't given way to a conventional rebuild as obvious trade chips like Tyson Ross, Cashner, and Derek Norris remain on the roster. Worse yet, significant money is tied up in potentially tough-to-move contracts like the ones owed to Shields, Kemp, and Upton, and all those players are still on the roster and signed through at least 2017.

Even a team following through on a bad plan is probably better off than one with no plan, and either way an overarching organizational philosophy is almost a prerequisite to sustainable winning in today's game. Think the Cardinal Way, or Jeff Luhnow's calculated approach, or Billy Beane's constant search for an exploitable edge, or the Cubs' reliance on drafting and developing. Think Ground Control and MITT and an obsession with collecting, organizing, and analyzing all sorts of information, ultimately driving decisions.

How can the Padres compete with the Dodgers' money (and smarts), the Giants' track-record, and the D'Backs' newfound chutzpah without a coherent plan of their own? In short, they probably can't, unless they get lucky. For a franchise that's won just one playoff game since the turn of the century, good luck just won't cut it.

Let's hope there's a plan here somewhere.