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Introduction

According to their official site, the following is a list of the members of the San Diego Padres‘ starting rotation:

Padres Starter 2016 DRA
Christian Friedrich 5.23
Luis Perdomo 4.02
Clayton Richard 4.16
Jhoulys Chacin 3.94
Trevor Cahill 3.80

We tend to get obsessed with a team’s Opening Day roster, but of course injuries, inconsistency, and trades will riddle this fine corps as the season continues. So despite the temptation, it might not be wise to grow too attached to this star-studded marquee. With that in mind, we here at Baseball Prospectus have endeavored to go deeper, to analyze with great force, and to look at some potential Padres starters down the line, along with how they might come to wear the navy and tan.

Kurt Ainsworth

“Dad, do you want to play catch?”

Ainsworth glanced over at his 6-year-old son, the spitting image of himself, struggling to lift up two baseball gloves. He glanced back at his laptop. The company would do fine without him for 20 minutes. Probably 10, before the kid got bored. He could spare 10. “Sure thing, pal,” he said.

He followed the boy into the backyard. He hadn’t been in the backyard much these days; there was a lot going on. The grass was a little wild, but the plants were all still there. He tested his arm, windmilling it carefully in its socket, while Grant struggled to get his fingers in the right pockets. The arm felt okay, today.

“OK, dad!” his son cried.

Ainsworth turned to the boy, judging exactly how hard he should throw. Some grounders, first? No, he wanted to catch it. Ainsworth had wanted to catch it, too, when he was a boy. He reared back and lobbed one softly in. It bounced in front of the boy, who trapped it clumsily.

There was a buzz. Ainsworth looked up to see a big dragonfly—no, a drone, floating lazily in the distance.

Seconds later he heard the phone ring inside. His wife opened the patio door. “Dear, there’s a gentleman on the line. He’s quite insistent. I don’t recognize the name. Priller?”

Ainsworth dropped his glove and turned, forgot about the boy entirely. “The Padres,” he said, softly. “They’ve found me.”

Patrick Dubuque

Daniel Bard

It was happening again. Wake yourself up, Daniel thought. Don’t let them do this to you.

“Hello Mr. Bard,” said the handsome, weathered man in the polo short. Embroidered above his left breast lay a stitched white S interlocking with a D. “I’ve been looking for you.”

How did he find me? How many times can I say no?

The man handed him an envelope. Inside were nestled dozens of vouchers to the nearest amusement park. “We’d like you to join us. Why don’t you hand these out to your family and friends as a token of our interest.”

Just ignore him. You know where this is going. “I won’t. I won’t take them,” Daniel protested. “You’re setting me u …”

“Oh, but Daniel. I already have,” the man responded. “You’ve proven again why you should start for us. It finally appears as though … ”

Too late, Daniel thought. He’s got me again.

“… you’ve stopped giving out free passes.”

Daniel jolted awake, his forehead covered in sweat. It was just a dream, Daniel thought as his dog looked up, startled by his sudden movement. Go back to sleep, he can’t find you here.

Such dreams had plagued Daniel recently. First the parachute that opened even when he didn’t pull the ripcord, forcing him to land perfectly in the zone. Next the bowling tournament when Daniel just couldn’t miss, proving he only threw strikes. And then the falling instrument Daniel caught before it landed in his lap, meaning he’d avoided a base on balls. Just let it go. You’re safe now.

Daniel’s dog whined at the door, his eyes fixated on the leash hanging on the doorknob, pining for his owner to take him for a spin around the block.

“Not now, Splitty,” Daniel said. “It’s the middle of the night.” He laid his head back down, willing sleep to come. I won’t go back. I won’t start for the Padres. I won’t let them do this to m …

The phone rang. Daniel didn’t want to answer it, but he had to. That was his curse.

“Why hello, Daniel,” said the same voice. The voice that handed him the vouchers, his parachute, his bowling shoes, and the frayed guitar strap. “I’m very impressed, though I wish no ill will toward your dog.”

And that’s when Daniel knew he could not escape. He closed his eyes, waiting for the words to come.

“We want you to pitch for us, Daniel. We want you now that you’ve stopped giving out walks.”

Ben Carsley

Dan Meyer

Every morning at 7:00 am, Meyer walks down the same 12 steps and across his living room to where a lonely laptop sits on a mostly sturdy folding table. Two weeks ago, he moved his one-cup coffee maker to an adjacent table so that his morning routine could feel consolidated and self-contained. He stretches his fingers, muffles a peppered yawn and types “Dan Meyer” into the Google search bar. He sighs, scrolling down for a full two-and-a-half seconds before exhaling deeply and opening up a spreadsheet he updates daily with the following entry:

“January 4: Sixth entry.”

It had been 12 years since he was a top-50 prospect, but the two years since he was last at the top of the “Dan Meyer” Google search results somehow felt longer. His former fleeting fame fell to the wayside as Dan Meyer, a math teacher from California, rose to mild national prominence—at least as far as math teachers go. He dreams of robbing a train or winning the lottery. Yet, today he goes one step further and types in “Dan Meyer Baseball,” as his place in the sport he gave his formative years to must remain intact.

“I’m feeling lucky,” he says and clicks the mouse confidently. He lets out a groan when he stares these locks in the face.

What kind of middle name is Thomas anyway? “It’s just a damn blue train,” mumbles Meyer into his computer. “Livingston was the first governor of New Jersey—that means something.” He takes solace in knowing that he at least has the pitching market cornered.

Then he slowly notices a “(2)” in the minor league players section of Baseball-Reference. He takes a long sip of his now lukewarm coffee and clicks, revealing a left-handed pitcher in the Can-Am league.

“Well that’s just F*$King fantastic,” he yells; his computer now speckled with coffee spots of rage. The phone rings.

“Hey honey,” a voice calls from an upstairs bedroom.

“Yea, Mom?”

“There’s an A.J. Preller on the phone for you.”

Visions of those Google rankings dance in his head as he tries to play it cool long enough to pick up the phone without giving away his intentions. “Hey … hello, sir. How … what can I help you for?”

A brief silence follows. “Let’s take that f*$king math teacher down,” says Preller.

Bret Sayre

Dewon Brazelton

A car backfired in the alley outside the rundown apartment he was using as a temporary hideout, and reflexively his shoulders hunched, his muscles tensed, and a couple beads of sweat forced their way through the wrinkles beginning to etch into his forehead. He had to stop letting this happen. That was so many lives ago. The damage was done, and there was no changing what had happened.

Dewon ran a sleeved forearm across his his brow and got back to work. He could scarcely believe the sequence of events that had led to this point, but he knew he regretted signing up for that Computer Science course at the local community college all the same.

His meteoric rise in the hacker community was as unexpected as his pratfall as a major-league starter, but once he found himself behind a keyboard, everything felt right again. Everything was right again, until the Binghamton gig. Sure, rigging the vote to end up as “Rumble Ponies” seemed like a fun gag, with no victims, but it put him on their radar. He’d spent weeks on the run, but now, back in this rundown flophouse, he felt cornered.

His anxiety rising, he heard another backfire and again his mind went straight to the bad place. Ever since San Diego, when he gave up six homers in 18 innings, any loud pop gave him flashbacks. By the time he recovered he noticed his computer had frozen. Nothing was working. He hit ctl+alt+del but realized that was the the trigger. Before he could yank the battery from the laptop, the familiar font appeared on the screen.

We are the Padres. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

Craig Goldstein

Brad Penny

Penny sat in the overstuffed leather chair, his hands clasped. Breathe, idiot, he thought to himself. Act like you don’t need the job. People always do better at these when they’re relaxed, when they seem casual. When was the last time I smiled? Have I been smiling the whole time? Oh, Jesus.

“So what would you describe as your greatest weakness, Mr. Penny?”

“Oh, I … well, you know, I’d probably say that my greatest weakness is my strength.” Wait, is that how it’s supposed to go? That sounds really stupid. “I mean, strength training. I think I overdid it with the weights later in my career, and it hurt my flexibility.” Good save, idiot.

“I see. Well …” the man said and trailed off, scanning over the resume on the desk in front of him. I should have used that fancy marble-looking paper. “You certainly have the kind of experience we’re looking for here in San Diego. And so many references.”

This is going well. It’s going well.

“I think that should just about do it, unless you have any questions.” He made a move to rise from his chair, then stopped. “Oh, there’s just one thing, Mr. Penny. Would you be so kind as to … throw a pitch for us?” He gestured to the right, where 60 feet away squatted a random catcher. Had he been there the whole time? Also, what a weird office.

Seeing no other option, Penny took the ball, faced the catcher, and threw his best fastball, shattering a glass sculpture on a bust eight feet to the right.

This is not going well.

“We’ll give you a call,” the man said, shaking his hand with a grim face.

Three weeks later, they gave him a call.

— Patrick Dubuque

Casey KellyOr Is He?

One morning, as Casey Kelly was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed back into a California-bound Quad-A pitcher. He lay on his muscular back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, a gray, monotone jersey with the word PADRES again stitched across the chest. From this position his navy hat, just about ready to slide off his head, could hardly stay in place. His athletic legs, which once held such promise on the diamond, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

“What’s happened to me,” he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls. Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of baseball equipment was spread (Kelly was a traveling prospect), hung the picture which he had cut out of Sports Illustrated a little while ago and set in a pretty gilt frame. It was a picture of a man with a Dodgers hat and big smile. He stood there, lifting up in the direction of the viewer a signed contract worth $5.25 million dated for 2010.

Casey’s glance then turned to the window. The sunny weather (it was always sunny, never raining in San Diego) made him feel uneasy. “Why don’t I keep sleeping for a little while longer and forget all this foolishness,” he thought. But this was entirely impractical, for he was used to sleeping with his scarred elbow beneath him, and in his present state his elbow was not scarred. No matter how hard he stared at his arm, no stitch marks appeared. He must have blinked a hundred times before glancing at the mirror. And that’s when he understood.

Casey Kelly was Zach Lee. Or is it Zach Lee who was always Casey Kelly?

— Ben Carsley

Casey Fossum

“Timing has a lot to do with art” is something LL Cool J once said, and it had stuck with Fossum ever since. That and the entirety of the song “Headsprung.” And while it was true enough, it didn’t make it any easier to swallow how rotten his own timing had been.

A prospect before prospects were both huggable and untouchable, a curve-first pitcher before pitching without a fastball was en vogue, he was even a compensation pick before anyone gave a crap about that stuff!

The thoughts dominated his mind, as they had every day for the last 14 months. His daily walks with the dogs got longer with each passing day. It was barely a week ago that they started being ready to turn back before he was. Over and over the thoughts turned in his head, as he absent-mindedly guided Heathcliff and Slocumb toward the patch of land where he left his glove and a bucket of balls.

They were tired already, but he still had the itch. If Rich Hill could get $48 million for throwing a bunch of deuces and a pedestrian fastball, why couldn’t he? He’d yell in his glove like a maniac if they wanted. The only way he’d been able to work off the frustration was by uncorking a few yellow hammers back where no one could find him. Thirty-eight was probably too old to be chasing these fever dreams, anyway.

As he lugged the bucket of balls out from behind its usual fence post, he noticed an abnormally clean ball, with a navy post-it and gold-pen writing. He picked it up and inspected the ball. This one had Manfred’s signature. The note said “check the bottom of the bucket.” As he turned the bucket on its head and balls rolled left, right, and center, an envelope scattered out amongst them, containing a contract from the San Diego Padres.

Fossum was stunned, flummoxed, bewildered. How had they? When had they? Where had they? He tucked the envelope into his back pocket and shrugged. He guessed it was true. If you were good enough, scouts will find you.

— Craig Goldstein

Danny Hultzen

Hultzen stood on the mound, shaded his eyes from the sun with his good arm. His shoulder throbbed like a metronome, the fragments within a representation for all the chaos of the world. He peered for the sign but did not see it; waves of heat obscured his view, the dull roar of a crowd no longer a crowd, just a single living ring of flesh slowly constricting upon him, one millimeter, one shoulder throb at a time. He rubbed his eyes, felt the sting of sweat. He could no longer even see the catcher or the batter past the sweat dripping into his eyes. It was so hot. There was nothing except himself, and the sun, and the Padres uniform clinging to his chest.

Why was he here? What had led him to this? He rolled the baseball in his left hand, searching for a grip, never finding it, his hand slick with sweat. Baseball. This is where it’s led me. And suddenly, in a paroxysm of hatred and understanding, he threw the baseball, threw it as hard as he could, felt the shoulder rip and felt the fire burn him, not even looking which way he threw. And then the pain, the loneliness, the emptiness. The crowd drew closer. He wanted to fall, to strip off that leaden beige jersey, kick or run. Instead, mechanically, he lifted up his glove hand, and a ball fell into it.

Hultzen stood on the mound, shaded his eyes from the sun with his good arm. Just like he had before. How many times? How many pitches? Would he never leave this mound, had he always been there? The heat roiled and forced back his thoughts, forced them back to his aching shoulder and the ball in his hand. He looked to the catcher for the sign, couldn’t find it. As he drew up, for no reason, he laughed a short, hollow laugh.

— Patrick Dubuque

MGL

A drop of sweat falls onto the discolored concrete slab in the corner of his basement, quickly followed by three more in rapid succession. As his perspiration crescendos, he peers out from behind the hot water heater. Nothing. Silence. He tucks his feet underneath him, holding them tight against the retaining wall to squander any movement. He peers out once again. Nothing. Then a creak. It’s become impossible to tell where the Fibonacci Sequence of fear excreting from his forehead and neck ends and the mild but noticeable leakage from the 40-gallon unit begins. In a flash, he is not alone.

He jumps out with intention to startle, but loud noises haven’t had an effect on Jeff Manship since before he was bitten. He was surprised that there was no glow to accompany the radioactivity; and felt as though he’d been lied to by those comics he tore through 40 years earlier. He tosses the putty knife at the wall to distract him as he takes off for the door left ajar in the distance.

Then, he felt the bite—right into his calf. All of a sudden, he felt his body shake. He grabbed a rusty mirror sitting on the unused workbench and held it up to the beast’s face. Once again he was alone. He fell to the floor, his arms and legs twitching uncomfortably. Three minutes later, when it stopped, he felt different. Heavy objects felt lighter. The door of his car made a louder sound as he closed it and drove off to the Funplex.

He didn’t know what to expect. As he walked past the batting cages, he stretched. Finally limber, he stepped into the speed pitch booth. He rared back. “91.” He did a double-take. He rared back again. “92.” He spun a slider and floated a change. Never had doing something average been so rewarding. He strutted back to his car and pulled out a phone number from the depths of his contacts.

“Hello,” a hasty voice answered.

“A.J.,” he said brimming with confidence. “I’m ready.” He paused.

“But first it’s time to talk about game theory.”

— Bret Sayre

Matt Moore

Moore stared at the ceiling. It was three in the morning; moonlight tossed deep blues across the bedroom. Goodnight moon, goodnight cheers, goodnight promising careers. It was 3:01, now. He noticed a crack in the drywall above, stared at it, stared so long it started to move in his vision. He imagined it growing. He imagined it splintering, cracking, the entire ceiling coming down and crushing him.

“Babe,” his girlfriend whispered from somewhere beyond the rubble. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he lied.

He looked at the crack again, traced his vision along it.

“You know,” she whispered again, “Petco Park still suppresses homers, I think.”

His jaw clenched. “Does it suppress walks?”

He continued to stare at the crack, willing it to expand. It was 3:03.

— Patrick Dubuque

Jeremy Sowers

For bid: Padres cleats, never worn.

— Craig Goldstein

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jonkk1
1/30
Monday, 6:30 a.m. Probably already the best read of the week.
draysbay
1/30
Careful, this was one of the greatest pieces of all time until we received a cease and desist order from Chooseco LLC. http://www.draysbay.com/2011/2/11/1987387/draysbays-choose-your-own-adventure
heterodude
1/30
The illustration is fantastic, and the writing somehow matched that lede. Excellent work all around.
yibberat
1/30
Sorry for the monday morning downer but I'm not really a fan of oh-so-clever snark when there are other options. I want my time refunded.
TheArtfulDodger
1/30
I'm not really a fan of demanding the impossible, so I guess we're at a stalemate.
BenC22
1/30
If this piece stops you from watching the Padres in 2017 we've actually saved you time, tbf.
batts40
1/30
I don't want my time refunded, but do feel you owe me for a new keyboard. I spat coffee all over mine at "MGL."
jfranco77
1/30
I'm trying to look at the Mets' top 10 and figure out if the Rumble Ponies will have a better rotation than the Padres.
draysbay
1/30
Durham will. Honeywell, De Leon, Faria, Schultz, Hu. Sexy time.
lepley
1/30
Ooof. Swing and a miss of Reggie Jackson 1983 proportions.
BenC22
1/30
Hey, at least something related to the Padres rotation generated a strikeout
Deadheadbrewer
1/30
The concept and every word were unbelievably wonderful, particularly for me the Meyer and the Sowers. Thank you all.
nzach54
1/30
Commenters, lame, enemies of fun: I don't get it. Writers, sublime, clever: This was good.
WickedCurve26
1/30
Loved this article. Great start to the week.
toddhdow
1/31
Great article! Literally laughed out loud more than a couple of times. My only complaint is that I didn't see it yesterday when it was first published. Nice work!
jmiel628
1/31
Wow this was good...
aquavator44
2/04
Thank you for using the "You Are a Shark" cover for this piece. My all time favorite CYOA title.