The Los Angeles Rams are celebrating their first Super Bowl victory.
Why is this good news for California’s only baseball franchise never to win a World Series?
Because in one underlying aspect to how they build their teams, the Rams and the Padres are identical in this respect: They insist on doing their own thing.
Be sure to be different; that’s what Rams football executives said of their fundamental strategy.
Padres boss Peter Seidler, likewise, has said his team aspires to “zig” while others “zag.”
The Rams certainly didn’t vanilla their way to the confetti shower that fell nine nights ago inside their $5-billion stadium.
See one Rams exec’s spicy T-shirt on display last Wednesday?
“(To heck with) draft picks,” the shirt read, using a word not printable here.
Rams GM Les Snead wore the shirt at the Super Bowl parade as three Rams stars — quarterback Matthew Stafford, edge rusher Von Miller and cornerback Jalen Ramsey — celebrated nearby in downtown LA
Snead got the three stars by dealing more premium draft picks — eight — than most NFL teams will trade in a decade when shopping for veterans.
To heck with draft picks?
Snead dealt so many first-round chips that LA hasn’t picked on Draft Night since taking quarterback Jared Goff in 2016 and won’t have a first-round pick for the next two years unless Snead trades for one.
Further raising eyebrows in NFL circles, the Rams issued a bunch of hefty player contracts.
“The Rams were the ‘Great Experiment’ in the NFL this season,” wrote Andrew Brandt, a former NFL player agent and Green Bay Packers executive, in his newsletter shortly before Super Bowl 56.
What happens to nails that stand out?
We would’ve found out, absent a win last Sunday.
“Many, including a few NFL teams, have been secretly hoping that they fail,” Brandt wrote. “Their ‘all-in, win-now’ strategy threw future planning to the wind, focusing more on the present; a different operating strategy than most teams take.”
Snead hedged some bets, accumulating non-premium draft picks.
Getting out of a bad contract, I dealt Goff last winter by including three premium picks. And even if they’d lost to the Bengals, the Rams would’ve entered the 2022 offseason as a top-tier team in a softening NFC, where Tom Brady and Sean Payton have retired in recent weeks.
But their underlying strategy of insisting on being different produced a unique outcome: the first of 35 Los Angeles Rams teams to win the Super Bowl.
A purposeful aversion to groupthink paid off.
“We don’t think we’re smarter than everybody else,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told Bally Sports last month. “We don’t think we’re better than anyone else. We’re just willing to think in a different way. And by the way, I don’t know if our model is right or replicable or sustainable.
“This league is designed for you to be .500,” Demoff added. “The draft is; the schedule is; the salary cap is. So you have to try to find your advantage any way possible. But the best way to do it is to do something different that other people aren’t doing and then hope that actually works.”
The Padres are no less strenuous in striving to be different.
Seidler, who co-founded a Los Angeles private equity firm in his 20s, began his Padres stewardship by deciding not to adopt the “tank and rebuild” approach that was fairly popular among MLB franchises that had no realistic shot of imminent World Series contention.
Instead came a series of “win now” moves orchestrated by AJ Preller, hired as GM in August 2014, two years after Seidler’s group assumed majority ownership of the club.
The trade flurry stunned the baseball world and excited a fan base that hadn’t seen the Padres advance within a postseason since 1999.
The zigging and zagging had only begun.
In the 2016 international amateur market, Preller invested nearly $80 million, a splurge that outpaced large-market rivals and obliterated franchise norms.
The summer of 2020 brought another buck-the-trend move. Preller in effect drove the bulk of MLB’s summer trade market, at a time when most of the 30 GMs were standing pat because of the pandemic-shortened 60-game season and expanded playoff format.
The $300-million contract the Padres issued three Februarys ago to Manny Machado? It was the biggest free-agent contract in American sports history at the time.
And the 14-year, $340-million contract extension Seidler-Preller handed Fernando Tatis Jr. a year ago this week?
It was an MLB record to a player before he reaches arbitration.
The Padres’ zigging and zagging hasn’t produced a winning record in a full season.
But it has commanded the attention of local fans and MLB’s national TV partners. The Padres finished third of 30 MLB teams in attendance last year. For years to come, Tatis and Co. likely will continue to appear on national telecasts.
The San Diego analogy of Rams star Aaron Donald chasing down Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, as he did to clinch the Super Bowl victory, would be Tatis hitting a World Series-winning home run at Petco Park.
The Rams’ team was built around Donald, who got the largest NFL’s largest contract to a non-QB after he rewarded Snead for drafting him 13th overall in 2014.
The Padres are trying to build a World Series champion around Tatis, who was 17 when Preller traded for him.
Preller seemed to understand a few months ago that — unlike the Rams — the Padres weren’t thriving in player development and at big-league manager. To his credit, his offseason hires of manager Bob Melvin, pitching coach Ruben Niebla and developmental man Mike Shildt have earned praise from MLB sources.
Will the day come when Preller (465 wins, 567 losses) attends a World Series parade while rocking a “Hot Lava Talent” T-shirt?
Win or lose, Seidler and Preller can say they did it their way.