May 20, 2024

SAN DIEGO — Less than a year after a stirring run to the National League Championship Series, the high-priced, underperforming San Diego Padres are defending themselves against reports there is a lack of clubhouse leadership within a dysfunctional organization.

While hinting that there have been issues in the clubhouse, right-hander Joe Musgrove said they have been addressed following a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune that questioned the clubhouse culture and a story in The Athletic that suggested cultural issues and dysfunction extend up to general manager A.J. Preller.

Both publications said the reports were based on interviews with players and former club employees who had been granted anonymity.

“You look at last year, we were one step away from being in the World Series competing for the ultimate prize. Not a whole lot’s changed this year,” said Musgrove, who has spent two stints on the injured list. “Obviously, there were things that went on in the clubhouse this year that we didn’t do a very good job of addressing and handling. I think if we addressed some of those things sooner instead of kind of letting them fester, some of that stuff might have worked itself out. By no means is it a dysfunctional organization.”

Musgrove declined to offer specifics, saying, “A lot of stuff has been said already in these write-ups that have come out.”

“I think when you struggle like that, sometimes when things aren’t addressed when they need to be addressed or in the way they need to be addressed, I feel like sometimes the guys who are considered the leaders feel a need to step up, myself included, to try to do more than you should,” he said.

Some sources in the Union-Tribune story appeared to be pointing a finger at third baseman Manny Machado, who helped carry the Padres to the NLCS last fall and finished second in NL MVP voting. Machado was given a new $350 million, 11-year contract in spring training despite saying he planned to opt out this offseason from the $300 million, 10-year deal he signed in 2019.

“We’ve talked since these articles came out as a team and addressed some stuff and Manny’s told us how he feels about it and where we stand, so we’ve cleared up a lot of that stuff,” Musgrove said. “I think everything’s good in here, to be honest. It doesn’t feel like there’s tension toward one another and who’s speaking about who and whatnot.

“We wish it would have been handled internally and not gotten out there, but it’s out there now and we’ve got to address it and move forward.”

Machado, who missed about two weeks in the middle of the season with a fractured left hand, declined to offer specifics, too.

“Everyone’s always going to have their own opinion,” Machado said. “At the end of the day, we go out there and play to the best of our capabilities. A lot of quotes of that story were left out and everyone always has their own narrative that they’re trying to persuade. Ultimately, it’s my responsibility that I didn’t play. The real point of this is we didn’t play good baseball. I didn’t play good baseball and we let a lot of people down in this city.”

Preller brushed off talk of dysfunction and also defended Machado, saying: “Manny’s going to be part of the solution here for a long time.

“To put everything on one player, Manny, no, that’s not the design. We don’t have one leader. That’s not how we designed that club.”

The Padres had World Series aspirations coming into this season, when the big question was how four highly paid superstars — Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Juan Soto — would mesh. From early on, the Padres were wildly inconsistent offensively and there were several bullpen meltdowns. The Padres have been under .500 since May 12 while watching the rival Los Angeles Dodgers — whom they stunned in last year’s NLDS — run away with the NL West. The Padres were on the brink of elimination heading into the season’s final week.

While the Padres have made the playoffs twice in the past three seasons, including the pandemic-shortened 2020, last year was the first time they had a winning record in a full campaign since Preller was hired in August 2014. There have been reports of tension between Preller and Bob Melvin, the fifth manager in the GM’s tenure. Melvin, a three-time Manager of the Year, has one year left on his contract.

The Padres folded down the stretch in 2019, costing manager Andy Green his job, and had a brutal collapse in September 2021, which got Jayce Tingler fired.

Musgrove called Machado “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had” and said he “shouldn’t be taking the brunt of this.”

“This isn’t his fault that we’ve lost and had a bad year,” Tatis said. “I think people expect the leader to be able to pull the team out of whatever hole they’re in. But there’s so much stuff going on this year that it’s difficult to have one person come in and do something or say something and change the entire outlook on the entire team. Everyone’s got their way of doing things.”

Machado has been bothered by tennis elbow and limited to playing designated hitter this month. Normally loathe to discuss injuries, Machado said recently he will have surgery once the Padres are eliminated from postseason contention. He’s hitting .253 this season — that would be a career low — with 30 home runs, 88 RBIs and a .780 OPS.

Bogaerts said he was surprised by Machado’s ability to play through injuries. While it might cause his production to slip, “I mean, would you rather have Manny Machado in the box or someone from Double-A they just called up? Just his presence in this lineup, on the field, it just goes a long way.”

Tatis called Machado “a great leader. He leads by example, comes every single day, making sure he’s able to be on the field no matter what. I feel that’s huge. He comes in, he has a beautiful presence inside the clubhouse and during the game. But it looks like what led to everything this year, just underperforming a little bit and people just started pointing fingers.”

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