We’re continuing with our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. Let’s check in on the Padres, who desperately need to make some tangible gains in the standings after finishing in the cellar for the third time in four years. This offseason will require a delicate balancing act, and a thoughtful reallocation of resources, but there are paths to contention.
1. Trade Kirby Yates … For A Big League Asset
The Padres aren’t fully in win-now position. Yet they possess a high-end closer who’s entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. They shouldn’t give away Yates unless there’s fair value coming back. And they ought not go searching for far-away, high-ceiling prospects at this stage of their rebuild.
But that doesn’t mean Yates shouldn’t be marketed. It’s worthy considering extension talks as well, a la Brad Hand, but Yates is already 32 years of age and just one season away from the open market. He’s already sure to pick up a big arbitration raise. That could make it hard to get a true bargain.
Instead, the best option may be to dangle Yates — who will be of keen interest to any number of clear contenders — in a search for a quality, MLB-ready position player or starting pitcher. The bottom line is that the the organization has a really nice asset that can be turned into another really nice asset that better suits its needs. That may be tough to pull off. But think a bit more creatively and you’ll start to see avenues. The Friars’ last big swap was a three-team affair, so that’s always a possibility. Perhaps the Pads can take on salary as part of the arrangement, possibly helping big-market teams trying to stay under the luxury tax line. And attaching some other prospect pieces would help boost the value … while also helping with another notable need …
2. End The Prospect Trials
It’s great to have lots of prospects, even when many of them are pressing for the bigs at about the same time. And perhaps it was sensible to rotate many of them through the majors in recent years, when the club wasn’t likely to contend and it was useful both to give them a taste and get a look. But the Padres can’t just keep trying things on; it’s time they pick an outfit and wear it with confidence.
The constant up-and-down, mix-and-match approach has begun moving towards a conclusion. The big summer swap resulted in the departures of Franmil Reyes and Logan Allen, two youthful players that were part of the churn. For better or worse, the Padres have made sizable commitments to some players (Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers). And emergent superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. is now ensconced at shortstop. The rotation seems to be coming into focus, with Chris Paddack joining Tatis as a potential centerpiece (and extension candidate).
In some ways, the difference here is subtle. It’s not just about how many plate appearances everyone gets — though, notably, a dozen players got more than 200 in 2019 while only two topped 500. That isn’t inherently concerning. It’s just a question of role and purpose. If the Friars want to set up a platoon, then do it. But shuffling through guys for a look and to see who sticks? It’s hard to do that and win. The focus must be on installing pieces that can, when deployed as intended, allow this team to top .500 for the first time since 2010. If they’re lacking, then they must be found, unless another losing campaign is deemed acceptable.
3. Work The Middle Market In Free Agency
Since taking over the San Diego front office in the fall of 2014, GM A.J. Preller has given out three whopping contracts that promised over $500MM in total. Otherwise, he has only twice gone over $4.5MM in a free agent deal: $8MM to Ian Kinsler and $18MM for Garrett Richards.
To an extent, you appreciate the concept of pursuing elite talent and filling in the gaps for cheap. But the broader market does offer some relatively low-risk, sometimes reasonably high-upside opportunities as well. For a team that needs to make rather significant strides just to get into the Wild Card picture — it’s tough to imagine the Dodgers being reeled in — there’s good cause to explore that segment.
Petco Park played very small this year. Perhaps that’ll make it easier to draw solid relief pitchers without having to promise them a worrisome number of years. There’s a good number of interesting, relatively youthful outfielders available, along with some veteran catching. It’d be much easier to take on a few reasonably hefty salaries now had it not been for the questionable decision to sign Hosmer, but the Friars can still plug in a few pieces without hamstringing future payroll too badly — at least, that is, if ownership is willing to approve a move past the $100MM mark in Opening Day payroll for the first time since the club snuck across that line in 2015.