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The Padres are tired of waiting to contend. But they face a tricky path to compiling a competitive roster in 2020.
- Manny Machado: $270MM through 2028
- Eric Hosmer: $99MM through 2025
- Wil Myers: $61MM through 2022 (including buyout on 2023 club option)
- Garrett Richards: $8.5MM through 2020
- Ian Kinsler: $4.25MM through 2020 (including buyout on 2021 club option)
- Kirby Yates – $6.5MM
- Greg Garcia – $1.7MM
- Austin Hedges – $2.9MM
- Luis Perdomo – $1.0MM
- Matt Strahm – $1.5MM
- Manuel Margot – $2.1MM
- Hunter Renfroe – $3.4MM
- Dinelson Lamet – $1.7MM
Recently Removed From 40-Man Roster
- Robbie Erlin – $2.0MM (outrighted; elected free agency)
- Travis Jankowski – $1.2MM (traded to Reds)
- Carl Edwards Jr. – $1.6MM (outrighted; elected free agency)
- Adam Warren: team paid $500K buyout, declined $2.5MM option
- Aaron Loup: team paid $200K buyout, declined $2MM club option
- Pre-arb players: Brett Kennedy (outrighted), Seth Mejias-Brean (outrighted), Jacob Nix (DFA limbo), Eric Yardley (DFA limbo), Robert Stock (claimed by Phillies)
Other Free Agents
It wouldn’t be terribly productive at this point to go into detail on the Padres’ recent struggles. The bottom line is that the team hasn’t cracked .500 since 2010, meaning that another losing season would make a full decade of futility. Chairman Ron Fowler is fed up. Manager Andy Green was canned. GM A.J. Preller’s seat is as hot as any executive in baseball.
The Friars kicked off their offseason by bringing in Jayce Tingler as skipper. He’s unproven, but plenty familiar to Preller from their time together with the Rangers. Preller spoke of his new manager’s “ability to develop talent and help players reach their potential at the Major League level.” Whether Tingler is the right man to drive progress remains to be seen.
Otherwise, Preller has been hard at work doing some 40-man bonsai pruning in advance of another winter full of tough Rule 5 decisions. The balancing act is especially fraught this time around given the clear mandate to win. It’s awfully difficult to carry armloads of intriguing but largely future-oriented players on the 40-man when you need to max out the 25-man roster. Ever-injured youngster Anderson Espinoza would be the poster boy here, but the Pads have a laundry list of others.
What’s most important to know about the situation for our purposes is: first, that the Padres have limited 40-man roster space to work with in adding players and, second, that the team has every reason to explore trades involving some of its marginal 40-man talent. Recall the club’s major summer move, in which Franmil Reyes and Logan Allen — MLB talents, both, but clearly not top priorities for the San Diego organization — were swapped out for a high-ceiling, near-majors youngster (Taylor Trammell) who doesn’t need to be protected until next winter.
That prospect capital will come in handy, but it remains to be seen how other organizations will view the long-heralded wave of talent that Preller has summoned. We don’t really even know how the organization views all of its young talent, as it’s still sifting through the margins of the 40-man in advance of the November 20th deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. It stands to reason that Preller will look to deal some of the pieces he can’t protect rather than risking them in a year in which some teams will be emboldened to utilize their newly minted 26th roster spot to poach talent.
There’s one other reason to expect Preller to cut loose from a dealmaking perspective this winter: payroll constraints. The Padres have only once topped $100MM in Opening Day payroll, in Preller’s first full year on the job. Entering 2020, the club already has nearly reached nine figures in commitments, including the rest of what it owes Hector Olivera, before tabulating an arbitration class that could add another $20MM or so to the books. In other words, the Padres are already positioned to make a big move north in player expenditures, even before bringing in any new faces to the organization. Having added Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in successive offseasons, after inking a long-term commitment to Wil Myers, this is a team that has by and large already taken most or all of its shots when it comes to top-of-the-market spending.
That’s a lot of background chatter before we get to looking at the actual roster pieces, but it’s necessary framing for the winter to come. Visions of hometown hero Stephen Strasburg are dancing in the heads not only of fans, but also of some within the Padres organization. There’s an obvious need on the roster and enormous marketing potential. But the organization will have to take a long, hard look at its balance sheets before it begins wooing Strasburg.
Adding that level of talent is sure to cost upwards of $25MM annually. But drop Strasburg on top of the rest of this roster, and you have an ace to lead a staff that’s suddenly dripping with upside. Strasburg, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Garrett Richards, Joey Luchessi. There’s a blend of depth and upside in the other youthful starter candidates available, including Cal Quantrill, Nick Margevicius, Adrian Morejon, Michael Baez, and Ronald Bolanos. One or two of the overfill arms could be dealt; others could end up in the pen or at Triple-A. There are some injury and performance uncertainties here. But the summer trade market can help plug gaps. And who’s to say that premium prospects Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patino won’t force their way into the picture?
Trouble is, will that be enough? And is there room to add other pieces after ramping payroll into a whole new stratosphere? The Padres could get creative with shedding other obligations. The obvious target to move is Myers, who just hasn’t hit and doesn’t quite fit. It was never entirely clear why the team decided he was the right piece to fix on the roster, only then to make an investment in Hosmer that never seemed particularly likely to pay off on the field. But the die is cast. Now, the Friars can only seek to move as much of the Myers contract as possible. Surely some teams would have interest in a player with his established level of hitting ability, but his open-market value falls well shy of the $61MM he’s still owed. Getting another organization to take on cash would mean effectively selling some of that prized young talent that the Padres have been gathering in as much abundance as the tallies in the loss column.
Getting out from under some of the Myers money will be painful, but it is perhaps more plausible than some have suggested. Teams have managed such feats before. (Vernon Wells, anyone?) Otherwise, it isn’t as if it would be difficult to move on from several of the arbitration-eligible players. The Padres could cash in some pieces for far-away prospects, then re-commit some of the salary to shorter-term, presently better veterans in free agency or trades. Navigating that sort of approach will be tricky, to be sure, but it’s possible to imagine some creative moves that deliver an immediate performance boost without really adding much salary or even harming the future outlook. In some cases, the Padres might prefer the outlook of other, still-rising talent in 2021 and beyond.
The biggest single arb hit comes in the form of Yates, who has morphed into one of the game’s most dominant relievers. If there’s a truly interesting scenario that could allow the Padres to make monster additions, it might well involve the 32-year-old. It is hard to part with an exceptional late-inning pen piece when you want to contend, but this winter will be all about balancing priorities. Contenders would line up for Yates, whose $6.5MM salary would be a pittance to many other organizations. The Pads could put that cash to use elsewhere. And (much more) importantly, they could name their price, perhaps while also packaging other pieces in some kind of blockbuster arrangement. The San Diego contract asset mix screams three-team deal, particularly with Preller at the helm. Perhaps there’s a way he can land a Strasburg-level player by orchestrating a multi-faceted roster re-working that isn’t really even specifically foreseeable.
Or, perhaps, another major, concentrated expenditure isn’t the way to go. The Padres have a lot to lose in a blockbuster signing of an older starting pitcher. And they still have some obvious needs in other areas of the roster that might go largely unaddressed if they spend much of the winter and much of their available funding to lure Strasburg. What’s the alternative vision?
The desire to add a high-quality starter would still be present, of course. But it’d have to be a player that doesn’t check all the boxes. The Padres could be a part of the bidding war we forsee for Zack Wheeler, take an injury risk with Hyun-jin Ryu, or perhaps even bring in Madison Bumgarner to lead the staff. Those players will all still cost big money. Working out a trade makes better sense for the pocketbook, but figures to be complicated. Robbie Ray (pure rental), Matthew Boyd (multiple arb years), and Caleb Smith (still pre-arb) could perhaps be had. These lefties possess intriguing, strikeout-driven ceilings but are hardly surefire top-of-the-rotation fixtures. Ditto Corey Kluber, who isn’t cheap and is coming off of an injury-wrecked season. Prying loose Jon Gray or German Marquez from the Rockies might hold appeal, but it’ll be tough to structure a trade with the division rivals unless it helps alleviate their payroll woes and delivers real talent back to Colorado. Unless a surprise hurler comes available, it doesn’t appear as if there’ll be much star power to be had via trade.
A more modest approach to the rotation won’t fully satisfy in that arena, but would leave more organizational resources to work with in boosting a tepid offensive unit. The left side of the infield is in excellent shape with Machado and young centerpiece Fernando Tatis, who’ll hopefully return with his customary vigor after an unfortunate injury. There isn’t much the Padres can do at first base but hope that Hosmer somehow breaks out of his moribund performance to date.
Otherwise? Not much is locked down. It’s a similar story in most every other area of the position-player mix: the Padres have dabbled with several players, in some cases for multiple seasons, but still can’t really be sure whether they have a key piece or a middling performer that needs to be replaced. There’s an argument in each situation to stick with the internal piece or to dump that player in favor of an upgrade.
Let’s start with the outfield group, which no longer includes Franmil Reyes and Travis Jankowski but does still have plenty of other players who have intrigued, disappointed, grown, and/or stalled at various points in time, but not yet fully established themselves as steady MLB regulars. That’s especially true of Myers, who’ll have to fit somewhere in the corner unit if he isn’t dealt. Hunter Renfroe has power for days and even graded quite well with the glove last year, but his on-base skills remain highly questionable and he wasn’t even quite a league-average hitter in 2019. Manuel Margot is the top option in center but has never shown he can hit right-handed pitching. Josh Naylor has an interesting lefty bat, even after a tepid MLB debut, but he’s a work in progress in the field. It’d be fun to see what Franchy Cordero can do, but the left-handed hitter hasn’t stayed healthy. Edward Olivares? Your guess is as good as mine. That covers the existing 40-man options. There’s also Trammell, who’ll be given more time to grow at Triple-A, and a group of players that are candidates for 40-man roster space (and Rule 5 protection): Buddy Reed, Jorge Ona, Michael Gettys. The tools are intriguing, but it’d be a huge reach to assume that any of these players will be ready for a significant contribution in a must-win season.
Despite the abundance of internal possibilities, MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell has stated that he believes the Pads could add two new outfield pieces to the roster. It’s not hard to see why, as this organization can’t just rotate through players to see what sticks if it really wants to ensure contention. Viewed through this lens, you can see why we picked the Pads to land on Corey Dickerson in free agency. While we named the San Diego organization as a viable landing spot for a number of top-fifty free agents, the reliable left-handed hitter is the only player we predicted them to secure. That’s a reflection of both the fact that the Padres will need to do a lot of work on the trade market and the team’s clear need for a trusty bat. Much as the team may wonder if Nick Martini could provide something similar at a fraction of the cost, he didn’t manage a single home run in 96 plate appearances last year with the Padres. Dickerson has a history of injury woes, but there’s depth on hand if a need arises and the team would do well to secure the services of such a potentially cost-efficient, high-quality hitter.
It would certainly be preferable for the Padres to add a regular center fielder, perhaps bumping Margot into a reserve role (if not out of the picture altogether). But pickings are slim, especially in free agency. The trade market features Starling Marte, first and foremost, though there are a few other potential targets. Jackie Bradley Jr. stands out as a rental possibility. Perhaps the Rays would discuss Kevin Kiermaier. There are some other names that are more of the bounceback/platoon variety. No doubt Preller and co. are familiar with Japanese star Shogo Akiyama; he’d be a sensible target if the club’s scouts think he can hit in the bigs.
In the infield, there are still questions as well — though perhaps more in the way of existing solutions. The Pads have dabbled with changing things up behind the dish, though a Francisco Mejia-Austin Hedges tandem still seems like a solid enough choice. If the team is ready to move on from Hedges, it could seek to cash him in and replace him with a low-cost veteran. Or the club could just rely on Luis Torrens and Austin Allen to fill things out behind the dish, with a non-roster veteran or two brought into camp to compete, mentor, and add depth.
At second base, 22-year-old Luis Urias has probably shown enough in the upper minors to warrant a further MLB trial, even if his first 302 plate appearances at the game’s highest level haven’t gone as hoped. The club has Ian Kinsler under contract for a veteran infield piece, though he’s coming off of a tough year, with Greg Garcia, Ty France, and others available as well. You can certainly advocate for a change at second base, particularly with a market flooded with options, though it’d likely only make sense to add here if the team intends to utilize Urias as a trade piece.
That leaves the bullpen. As noted already, there is some potential for spillover arms to function in a relief capacity. And Preller has shown an affinity for finding real treasure in unusual places, though for every Yates and Brad Hand there has been a Bryan Mitchell or an Aaron Loup (among others) that just hasn’t worked out. Still, you’d hate to rely too much on getting more for less when it comes to securing winnable games. There’s little question the Padres will need to capitalize on every opportunity if they’re to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card in a National League that’s full of contending outfits.
Thing is, the relief unit — even beyond Yates — was a pretty good group in 2019. As a whole, it rated tops in all of baseball by measure of SIERA and second in terms of xFIP. Yates had a big role in that, without question, but he couldn’t do it alone. The club will need to replace the solid innings from the departing Craig Stammen and Robbie Erlin, but it can add back a sturdy veteran without breaking the bank while also trusting that the bevy of internal possibilities — led by Matt Strahm, Trey Wingenter, Andres Munoz, and Luis Perdomo but featuring quite a few others with intriguing cases — can continue to improve. Trading away Yates will only make sense if there’s a truly compelling return, but it would also open opportunities. No shortage of free agent relievers would love a shot at throwing high-leverage innings in a relatively low-stress, low-run-scoring environment. (They say the weather is pleasant in San Diego, also.)
There’s still a lot to like about the volume of talent in the San Diego organization. But Preller needs to show that he can make that into a major-league winner — and fast. Anything shy of an exciting campaign that ends at or above .500 would be a marked disappointment, and could lead to a front office change. It’ll be fun to see this outfit tackle the challenge.