Where are the Padres?
Thursday passed, and general manager A.J. Preller did not make a trade. Thursday passed, but not before the Padres rallied for a stirring 8-7 victory over the Mets, making it 10 wins in their last 14 games.
The Pads, mind you, are still four games under .500, still 7Â½ games back in the wild-card race. But their next six series are against sub-.500 clubs. Preller, according to major-league sources, is still deciding which direction to take his team.
The entire sport is waiting for him to move.
The Tigers actually chose to sell while in better position than the Padres, but no two clubs are at the same stage of the competitive cycle. If anything, the Padres are in a particularly unusual spot, needing a shortstop, needing a center fielder, yet also needing to unload.
Yet, the Pads do not figure to be classic sellers as the non-waiver deadline approaches. This likely will be a retooling, rebooting, restructuring, whatever you want to call it. And with so many pieces in play, practically anything can happen.
The difference is, this isn't the winter meetings, when Preller operated without a deadline. Any deals he makes must be completed by 4 p.m. ET. Effectively, he must finish even earlier on his first July 31 as GM; medical records cannot be reviewed after the deadline.
Preller, then, cannot simply pull everything together in the final hour. He will need to be quick and decisive, and he and his staff met late Thursday night and into Friday morning, sources said, devising their plan.
An argument can be made that the Padres are just now playing to expectations, that the players, slapped together so quickly -- some would say haphazardly -- simply needed time to jell.
Some part of Preller believes that, sources say. Some part of him -- and some part of ownership -- surely wants to prove that the initial plan wasn't as sloppy as it appeared.
Could the Pads possibly adjust in a way that puts them in better position to compete not just this season, but also beyond? That would seem to be the logical course if, as ownership insists, the team is not hell-bent on reducing payroll.
By Friday at 4 p.m. ET, the truth will emerge.
If the Padres trade left fielder Justin Upton, the most attractive of their potential free agents, they almost certainly will retrench. At that point, they might as well trade their other players on expiring contracts -- right-hander Ian Kennedy, reliever Joaquin Benoit and outfielder Will Venable.
The more intriguing questions surround their players under control -- right-hander Andrew Cashner (through 2016), righty Tyson Ross (through '17) and closer Craig Kimbrel (potentially through '18).
Ross is the most attractive of that group, and the Cubs are the hottest on him, according to one source. Venable and other Padres players also appeal to the Cubs, raising the possibility of a blockbuster; the Pads have been chasing a shortstop for a month, and the Cubs could send them Javier Baez, Starlin Castro or even both.
Venable and other Padres players also appeal to the Cubs, raising the possibility of another blockbuster; the Cubs could fill the Pads' need for a shortstop by offering Javier Baez, Starlin Castro or even both.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are one of the teams after Kimbrel, and who knows? Maybe they would be willing to part with one of their big four prospects if they also could get Ross.
The Pads are well-positioned to target teams with deep farm systems and try to undo some of the damage that Preller inflicted last offseason, when he traded too many of the organization's top youngsters.
It's a fine line -- the Padres' aggressive ownership is sensitive to the perception of a fire sale. Their fan base, scarred by previous deconstructions, will rebel at the first sign that the team is taking a major step back.
Preller, then, needs to strike the proper balance, even while he is stuck with the burdensome contracts of outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., second baseman Jedd Gyorko and right-hander James Shields.
The GM was quiet Thursday, sources say; almost too quiet. Perhaps Preller was undecided. Perhaps he was simply waiting for the deadline to create the urgency he needs to pull off a series of a major moves.
Thursday passed. Friday awaits.
Where are the Padres?
They're coming. They can hide no more.