In the span of roughly 24 hours, the San Diego Padres added two ace-caliber starters and a highly regarded young infielder to a roster that had the third-best record (37-23) and second-best run differential (plus-84) in baseball in 2020. The Padres are zigging toward competitiveness while just about every other team zags toward austerity.
"Everybody in the organization is fired up, from top to bottom," Padres GM A.J. Preller told MLB.com's AJ Cassavell earlier this week. "Again, it's all part of, really, the last-five-year plan."
Trading for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, and signing Ha-Seong Kim, would have made for an exciting offseason even if you spread the three moves out across the four months of winter. Instead, Preller closed all three deals in one day. What a whirlwind. Here, just to lay it all out, is what the Padres added and what the Padres gave up in their recent machinations:
- Padres get: C Victor Caratini, RHP Yu Darvish, IF Ha-Seong Kim, LHP Blake Snell
- Padres give up: OF Owen Caissie, RHP Zach Davies, C Blake Hunt, C Francisco Mejia, OF Ismael Mena, RHP Luis Patino, SS Reginald Preciado, SS Yeison Santana, RHP Cole Wilcox
The Padres also assumed $123 million in salary obligation ($59 million for Darvish, $39 million for Snell, $25 million for Kim) spread across 10 contract seasons (three each for Darvish and Snell, four for Kim). Prior to the trade MLB.com ranked Patino, Hunt, Preciado, Caissie, Wilcox, Mena, and Santana the Nos. 3, 7, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 16 prospects, respectively, in San Diego's stacked farm system.
"If we're going to look to move quality, talented prospects, young players, etc., there may be times where you want the short-term rental fit," Preller told Cassavell. "But in general, with most of these deals, the attractive part for us is that they're players who fit in the short- and long-term."
With all due respect to Davies, who is a rock solid MLB starting pitcher, the Padres did not part with anything they're going to miss in the Darvish and Snell trades. Catchers Austin Nola and Luis Campusano (and then also Caratini) made Mejia expendable, and while Patino is supremely talented, the Padres are not short on young starters with high-end ability. They still have Mackenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon, Chris Paddack, and Ryan Weathers, among others. They also added that Snell guy.
The Padres are behaving exactly how teams should behave. They're spending money (Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado), trading for impact talent when it becomes available (Darvish, Snell, Mike Clevinger), and they're not playing service time games (Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr. were on the Opening Day roster in 2019). It's refreshing. It really is. Baseball is in the entertainment business and no team is as entertaining as the Padres right now, on and off the field.
Did the Padres do enough to close the gap with the powerhouse Dodgers? I'm inclined to say no -- I'm a bit worried about Dinelson Lamet's biceps injury, especially after Clevinger's biceps injury was more serious than initially reported -- but the case can definitely be made they have, and there's no doubt this current Padres team will be the greatest threat Los Angeles has faced since its run of eight straight NL West titles began in 2013.
Preller and the Padres don't have much remaining on their offseason to-do list now. The heavy lifting is done. All that remains is minor tweaks and opportunistic upgrades. Here are three things Preller & Co. may want to accomplish before spring training.
1. Add a reliever
When the Padres needed bullpen help at the deadline this past season, Preller acted decisively, bringing in four relievers (Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, Trevor Rosenthal, Taylor Williams) in three separate trades in a 48-hour span. Rosenthal is a free agent but Adams, Altavilla, and Williams remain with San Diego.
Manager Jayce Tingler's relief crew looks something like this at the moment:
- Closer: LHP Drew Pomeranz
- Setup: RHP Pierce Johnson, RHP Emilio Pagan
- Middle: RHP Austin Adams, LHP Tim Hill, RHP Craig Stammen, LHP Matt Strahm
- Depth: RHP David Bednar, LHP Jose Castillo, RHP Dan Altavilla, RHP Javy Guerra, RHP Taylor Williams
The Padres have been very willing to use top pitching prospects out of the bullpen the last few years (Patino, Morejon, etc.), so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Gore, Weathers, Michel Baez, or even the oft-injured Anderson Espinoza letting it fly in relief at some point in 2021. There is definitely something to be said for learning how to get outs at the MLB level, regardless of role, rather than dominating as a starter in the minors.
Although I would not call it a top priority, adding a bullpen arm is never a bad idea, and the Padres are in position to roll the dice on a reliever with some questions but also a lot of upside. They don't absolutely need another lockdown reliever the way some other contenders do. The Padres aren't desperate and that allows them to be picky. They can let the market play out, see what shakes loose, and jump on anything that makes sense.
To me, a Kirby Yates reunion makes all the sense in the world. Yates was arguably the best reliever in baseball from 2018-19, when he had a 1.67 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings, but a bone spur in his elbow sabotaged his 2020 season. He allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings before undergoing season-ending surgery in August. Yates is now a free agent and, for what it's worth, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reports a reunion is possible.
Yates is expected to be ready for spring training and he's likely looking at a one-year "prove yourself" contract. What better place to prove yourself than with than San Diego? The two sides already know each other and the Padres would give the soon-to-be 34-year-old Yates as good a chance to win the World Series as any team. Seems like a win-win situation.
If not Yates, the Padres could look into other reclamation project relievers with upside like Keone Kela (coming off a flexor strain), David Robertson (Tommy John surgery), and Ryne Stanek (bad 2020). All carry risk and all have been excellent in the not-too-distant past. San Diego can roll the dice. If it works, great! If not, no big deal.
2. Add a bench bat
Yeah, we're nitpicking. That's what happens when you have a roster as strong and as deep as the Padres. In fact, San Diego's roster is so stacked that Jake Cronenworth, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting this past season, does not have an obvious starting spot. He's been pushed to the bench by Kim.
Here is San Diego's projected starting lineup:
- CF Trent Grisham
- SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
- 3B Manny Machado
- 1B Eric Hosmer
- LF Tommy Pham
- RF Wil Myers
- 2B Ha-Seong Kim
- C Austin Nola
- Pitcher's spot
The universal DH is not yet official -- MLB is playing hardball for no good reason -- though that is expected to happen before spring training, which would open a starting lineup spot for Cronenworth. The easy move would be putting Cronenworth in right and Myers at DH, though Cronenworth is so versatile that the Padres could simply use the DH spot as a revolving door. They could put Myers there one day, Pham the next, Hosmer the next, etc. with Cronenworth moving around as necessary.
For now, the bench beyond Cronenworth includes Caratini, speedy utility man Jorge Mateo, outfielder Greg Allen, and either utility man Brian O'Grady or outfielder Jorge Ona. I suppose the Padres could go with Campusano and carry three catchers -- Nola has played first, second, third, left, and right in addition to catcher in his MLB career -- though the 22-year-old could use a little more minor-league seasoning. He jumped from High Class-A to MLB this past season.
Mateo and Allen are out of minor-league options, meaning they can not go to Triple-A without passing through waivers next season, which may ensure them a spot on the Opening Day roster. The Padres may want to evaluate them during the regular season before potentially losing them on waivers. Caratini isn't going anywhere, so the O'Grady/Ona/maybe Campusano bench spot is the spot San Diego could look to upgrade before spring training.
Jurickson Profar was sneaky good this past season (113 OPS+ and 1.4 WAR) and a switch-hitter who can play just about anywhere fits well on every bench. He'd be the ideal fit, though there's very little chance he returns to the Padres as a free agent. Profar turns only 28 in February and he'll go to team that offers him a chance to play every day, not sit on the bench. Profar is a great fit for the Padres but the Padres aren't a good fit for Profar, if that makes sense.
The same applies to Enrique Hernandez, a lefty masher who plays all over, though he figures to seek more playing time than the Padres can reasonably promise. Other possible bench targets could include Marwin Gonzalez, Brock Holt, Brad Miller, Eric Sogard, and personal favorite Daniel Robertson. Robertson has quietly been a league average hitter while playing every position other than center field and catcher the last three years.
Upgrading the final bench spot -- literally the last spot on the 26-man roster -- is hardly a top priority at the moment. And if O'Grady and Ona flame out, finding a bench player on the in-season trade market is not the most difficult thing in the world. Similar to the bullpen, the Padres can be opportunistic and see whether they stumble into something that makes sense. If not, that's fine too.
3. Lock up Tatis
Now that the Darvish and Snell trades (and Kim signing) are complete, signing Tatis to a long-term extension is the No. 1 item on Preller's agenda and will be for the foreseeable future. Tatis can not become a free agent until the 2024-25 offseason, so this is not a super urgent matter, but the sooner the Padres locked him, the greater the discount. That's how these deals work.
"(2020) was just such a short season and such a sprint to the finish line that I don't think there was a lot in the middle of all of that for trying to put a contract negotiation in there," Preller said. "We'll start to look more seriously at that here this offseason, and it sounds like there's interest on both sides, so we'll see where that goes."
February and March is usually extension season. Teams spend November, December, and January addressing their roster through free agency and trades, then they work to sign their own players in February and March. This offseason is moving incredibly slowly and maybe that will change the usual timeline, though we're still a few weeks away from when extensions are typically handed out.
The Braves gave Ronald Acuna Jr. an eight-year extension worth $100 million in April 2019. That may seem like a natural reference point for a Tatis extension, except Acuna signed his deal when he was still six years away from free agency. Tatis is only four years away from free agency because the Padres did not manipulate his service time last year (unlike the Braves, who kept Acuna down just long enough in 2018 to push his free agency back one year).
The more appropriate comparison is Alex Bregman. He signed a six-year deal worth $100.6 million in March 2019, when he was four years away from free agency. That contract valued his arbitration years at $13 million apiece and his free agent years at $30.5 million apiece. Tatis is three years younger now than Bregman was when he signed his extension, which gives him more leverage. Tatis is currently scheduled to become a free agent at age 25. Golly.
Six years and $120 million or so may be the sweet spot for both sides. The Padres would gain cost certainty over Tatis' arbitration years and buy out two free agent years. Tatis would lock in an enormous guaranteed payday and still be able to hit free agency at age 27, which is far younger than most free agents. He could take the $120-ish million now and still be looking at $300-plus million as a free agent in six years. Maybe it'll be $400-plus million by then.
Clearly, the Padres are prioritizing the short-term. They brought in Darvish and Snell to help them win right now, while Machado and Lamet are in their primes, and while Tatis is on the upswing. Preller still must be cognizant of the long-term, of course, and locking up Tatis is imperative. He is the franchise's most important player since the late Tony Gwynn, and the Padres want him to spend the rest of his career in San Diego. Extension talks should begin in earnest soon, if they haven't already.