The Padres are monitoring the market for outfielder Yoenis Cesepedes, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, though his source characterizes a fit between San Diego and the Roc Nation client as unlikely.
San Diego has a vacancy in left field with the departure of Justin Upton now all but official, and Cespedes would fill that void more than capably. The Friars aren’t without in-house options at the position, of course, as prospects such as Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano are nearly MLB-ready, and oft-injured but still-promising Wil Myers could slide back into the outfield from his currently projected role at first base (in theory, anyhow).
While the reserved nature of Lin’s connection between the two should temper speculation to an extent, it’s interesting that he points out ownership’s willingness to spend as much as $120MM on payroll, considering the fact that the team’s reported one-year deal with Alexei Ramirez will only push the 2016 payroll to about $100MM. Additionally, Cespedes won’t cost a draft pick, meaning the Padres wouldn’t have to forfeit one of the six picks they now possess in the top 100 selections of this June’s draft to sign him. From a purely speculative standpoint, the Padres wouldn’t even need to backload a contract too significantly in order to shoehorn Cespedes’ salary onto the 2016 ledger.
Then again, as Lin notes, there are longer-term payroll ramifications to consider. Matt Kemp is owed $21.75MM annually through 2019, and while the Dodgers are picking up $3.5MM of that commitment each year, that’s still an $18.25MM annual payout for San Diego. James Shields is owed $21MM this year and could command that same amount in both 2017 and 2018, depending on whether or not he exercises the opt-out provision in his contract following the upcoming season. (While such a scenario isn’t impossible by any stretch of the imagination, especially given the weak crop of starting pitching next winter, Shields would need to recover from some of the homer troubles that plagued him in 2015 to make such an outcome appear likely.) Additionally, the team has Melvin Upton Jr. on the books for $16.45MM in 2017 and will pay a portion of Jedd Gyorko’s contract to the Cardinals in the 2017-19 seasons. If Shields declines to opt out of his contract, the Padres would run the risk of spending nearly half their payroll capacity on three players in 2017-18 following a Cespedes signing.
On the other hand, if Shields does take his release, the only money the team will have on the books beyond the 2017 campaign is that which is owed to Kemp and the fairly modest contributions they’ll be sending to St. Louis for Gyorko. That’s a much clearer long-term outlook than much of the league can claim. On paper, it would seem to create some degree of financial fit for Cespedes in the long run, though adding a second 30-something corner outfielder still carries risk. Cespedes is considered a plus defender in left field, though, quite unlike Kemp. His floor has to be considered significantly higher than that of Kemp at this stage of their respective careers.
While all of this is highly theoretical, the interest — however faint — does in some ways highlight the difficulties that this offseason’s rash of opt-out clauses could create for the teams that issued them in the future. A hypothetical decision on whether or not to pursue Cespedes would be made considerably easier if the Padres knew exactly what type of financial commitments are going to be on the books beyond the 2016 season. However, the aforementioned risk of allocating 50 percent of its payroll to just three individuals could potentially be a huge detriment to any pursuit.