The current state of San Diego sports

Matthew Roberson | Sports Editor | @mroberson22

San Diego has earned its reputation as “America’s Finest City” for its ideal weather, pristine beaches, and laid-back coastal culture. Thousands of people flock to the city every year from all across the country to start a new life among the Southern California palm trees.

Many outsiders view San Diego as a west coast haven of relaxation and good vibes where nothing bad ever happens, but these people are clearly not followers of San Diego’s sorry sports scene.

While the weather and beaches remain a steady source of happiness for San Diego residents, the professional sports franchises that inhabit the city provide a dose of gray to an otherwise sunny lifestyle.

The past year has been no exception to that gloomy history, as both the Chargers and Padres have failed to meet expectations, with the former reportedly on the brink of leaving town for a new stadium in Los Angeles County.

The NFL offseason is typically the time for teams to lay low, stay out of the spotlight, and let the other major sports dominate the news cycle. Unfortunately for the San Diego Chargers, their name has constantly been in the headlines.

The chatter about the team bolting for LA began as early as last November, when the team was still in the middle of its season. Perhaps this uncertainty about the team’s future served as a distraction, because the Chargers’ performance on the field started to diminish as the season wore on.

After a promising 5-1 start to the year, the men in powder blue stumbled down the stretch, lost three of their last four games, and finished the 2014 season with a 9-7 record that left them short of the playoffs.

It was the fifth year in a row in which the Chargers won between seven and nine games. This has been a common occurrence for the Chargers for most of the 21st century. The team often boasts a talented roster on paper, but fails to live up to expectations on the field. Winning between seven and nine games every year typically places the team in the dreaded middle portion of the NFL Draft’s first round.

Another unfortunate turn of events for the Chargers came in early July, when it was reported that future Hall of Famer and franchise legend Antonio Gates had been suspended for four games.

Gates, who has the second most touchdowns of any tight end in NFL history, was punished for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances. He will be eligible to return in Week 5 when the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for Monday Night Football.

The first touchdown he catches from quarterback Philip Rivers, who just signed a four-year extension to stay with the only team he’s ever played for, will be the 100th of Gates’ career. Every pass the 35-year-old tight end has ever caught in the NFL has come in a Chargers uniform.

Despite the Chargers’ recent misfortune, milestones like the one Gates will eclipse give them something that the Padres currently don’t have.

One of the only consistent parts of the San Diego Padres’ recent history is how often their roster has been overhauled. This prevents the fans from building any sort of real attachment to the players, and also leaves the Padres without any iconic players on the squad similar to Philip Rivers or Antonio Gates.

In fact, general manager A.J. Preller just traded outfielder Will Venable, who was drafted by San Diego in 2005 and was the longest tenured Padre on the roster. Preller stepped into the role of Padres general manager last summer and made a Shamu-sized splash in his first offseason in charge.

He was dubbed the “rockstar GM” by Padres fans for his willingness to make aggressive trades that excited the fan base and put San Diego near the top of 2015 preseason projections. Fast forward nine months and many of Preller’s moves appear to be a little short sighted.

His  worst move so far seems to have been dealing Yasmani Grandal, a 26 year-old switch hitting catcher from Cuba. The trade sent him to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for aging outfielder Matt Kemp.

While Kemp has the stardom and name recognition that comes from playing in Hollywood, his best playing days are clearly behind him. After leading the National League in home runs, RBI and runs scored in 2011, Kemp’s career has started on a slow and grueling descent.

He battled injuries and natural regression, averaging just 17 home runs and 67 RBI per season from 2012 to this year, his first with the Padres. Kemp’s defensive abilities have also started to decline, so much that the Padres moved him from his usual position in center field to a less challenging spot in right field.

Meanwhile, the player he was traded for has been one of the best catchers in the National League this season. Grandal has made a name for himself in LA by hitting for a .275 average with 15 home runs and 44 RBI while impressing enough people to be named a National League All-Star.

The young backstop has also reached base at a tremendous rate this season; his .383 on-base percentage leads all MLB catchers with at least 330 plate appearances.

Among other moves that Preller made during the eventful 2015 offseason, acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel from the Atlanta Braves has the chance of making him look back with regret.  Kimbrel has converted over 35 saves for the fifth season in a row, while roughly striking out one third of the batters he faced in that time.

However, the team gave up starting pitcher Matt Wisler, a 22 year-old right hander, to acquire him in their deal with the Braves. Wisler was ranked as the 34th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America magazine prior to the 2015 season and has already cracked the starting rotation in Atlanta.

Given the Padres’ abysmal record, having a top-tier closer like Kimbrel is a bit of an unneeded luxury, while a developing pitching prospect is something that every team could use.

If history repeats itself, the Padres will most likely miss out on the postseason this autumn for the ninth consecutive year. As a result of their poor play, manager Bud Black was fired earlier this summer.

Despite all of the dysfunction that surrounds the team, Padres games are still a great experience because of Petco Park, the delightful downtown stadium which is a manageable 20 minute drive from campus.

Padres games are by far the most reasonable sporting events for students to attend given the ridiculously high prices of NFL tickets these days.

However, good news is on the horizon for anyone trying to witness pro sports firsthand without breaking the bank. The San Diego Gulls, a minor league hockey team, are set to begin their inaugural season in San Diego this fall.

The Gulls are a minor league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks and will compete in the American Hockey League. The team plans on playing its home games at nearby Valley View Casino Center and will offer student discounts for anyone with a USD ID card.

As always, September brings a spark of hope that this will be the year that the Chargers finally win their first Super Bowl trophy. Fans better cross their fingers extra hard this time around, as it could be the last season for the Chargers in their San Diego home.