MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Fowler certain Padres are on the rise

Fowler certain Padres are on the rise

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres open their 48th season against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on April 3, and by all accounts, the franchise is heading in the right direction.

The days of piecing it together with veterans are over, and since the last Draft, the Padres have invested more than $70 million in young domestic and international amateur players.

"We're going in the direction we planned to go, we just have to be patient," Ron Fowler, the team's executive chairman, told MLB.com this past weekend. "That's where we're focused and that's where we're going to stay."

The player payroll will be around $75 million at the big league level, the lowest since Fowler, managing partner Peter Seidler and his brother, Tom, purchased the team from John Moores, Jeff Moorad and his group of limited partners on Aug. 6, 2012. Fowler represented the limited partners in the $800 million deal.

Fowler admitted that since then, the entire group has had a steep learning curve, both locally and among the Major League Baseball owners and Commissioners.

"We did not have a relationship with MLB when we bought the team, we were sort of out with the ins," Fowler said. "Over the last 18 months, I think we've developed a very close relationship with the Commissioner and [his] people. I've gotten to know a lot of the owners a lot better. We understand how baseball works a lot better than we did previously. I think now we're in with the ins."

Fowler is well liked by Commissioner Rob Manfred, having been the chair of the labor committee that banged out the new five-year Basic Agreement last year with the MLB Players Association, and now is a member of the Manfred's executive council.

"I have a lot of confidence in Ron Fowler's leadership and his ability as a chief executive and I have every confidence that the Padres will be a successful franchise moving forward," Manfred said on Tuesday.

San Diego received accolades for staging a great three days of All-Star festivities last July at Petco Park and will be host for the third time of a bracket in the World Baseball Classic next month.

Daily Recap: Open Competition

With the Chargers leaving for Los Angeles effective next football season, the Padres have a unique opportunity as the lone big league team left in the market to woo San Diego sports fans. San Diego is the only market in the country with a baseball team and no other franchise in any of the other four major pro sports leagues -- basketball, hockey, football and soccer.

To that end, the Padres are partnering with Sycuan Casino to offer any 2016 Chargers season-ticket holder as many as four free tickets to a Padres home game in April or May. Even with all the controversy surrounding the team's pending move, the Chargers had upwards of 55,000 season-ticket holders last season. That's a huge fan base for San Diego to draw from.

"I don't like to talk about a team leaving a market, whether it's one of our teams or somebody else's," Manfred said. "But it's an advantage to have less competition in the market, there's no doubt about it."

On the local level under this ownership group, the Padres have gone through two club presidents, three general managers and three managers. But the franchise is now likely set with GM A.J. Preller and manager Andy Green, who have two years and three years remaining on the contracts respectively.

"I think we have the right manager and the right player development people now," Fowler said. "We're very happy with the direction we're going. They're not going anyplace as long as we have control of it. We want stability here and they're the guys we want stability with."

For Fowler, the only way is to stay the course.

"We thought we had a better team than we ended up having in '15 when we brought in some veteran hitting and pitching," Fowler said. "In '14, we thought we looked pretty good pitching-wise, but after the changes in '15, we were worse. That's when we made the firm decision of what had to do and just stay with it."

In 2015, the Padres were 32-33 and six games behind the division-leading Dodgers before the games of June 15. At that point, management decided to replace manager Bud Black with Triple-A skipper Pat Murphy. San Diego finished that season at 88 losses and Murphy was also let go. The club lost 94 games under Green in 2016.

Fowler said ownership knew it had to change direction quickly.

"We had other things we we're looking at and we felt we had to do it," Fowler said. "We have no regret with what we did."

How many of the prospects will pan out? Only time will tell. Trevor Hoffman, the near Hall of Fame closer whose job is coordinating pitching up and down the Padres' system, said he's thrilled with what he sees of the young hurlers at the lower levels. But the big league club is still bereft of pitching at this point.

Weaver on joining the Padres

To that end, Preller signed veteran right-hander Jered Weaver to a $3 million free-agent deal on Saturday, and he said he still has room to add Major League payroll prior to the start of the regular season.

Preller says he has full management support.

"It shows the commitment from our ownership group, especially in terms of the investment this past year in the amateur market," Preller said Tuesday. "It's one thing to say, 'Hey, this is our plan and this is what we want to do,' but the big thing is they put an investment in place.

"You need the capital long-term to go out and get good players. They backed that up. There has been some excitement the last two years in San Diego. In order to have true excitement you have to win. You have to put a good product on the field."

This group is trying. The Padres are moving forward long term with all systems go.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.