The Padres finally put themselves back on the map in 2020. Emboldened by last year’s success, president of baseball operations A.J. Preller spent the winter attempting to assemble a championship-caliber roster. Preller had plenty of money to play with, evidenced by the Padres’ franchise-record $174MM Opening Day payroll.
Major League Signings
- Ha-Seong Kim, INF: Four years, $28MM (mutual option for 2025)
- Jurickson Profar, INF/OF: Three years, $21MM
- Mark Melancon, RHP: One year, $3MM ($5MM mutual option or $1MM buyout for 2022)
- Keone Kela, RHP: One year, $1.2MM
- Brian O’Grady, INF/OF: One year, $650K (split contract)
- Total spend: $54.05MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired LHP Blake Snell from the Rays for RHPs Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, C Francisco Mejia and C/1B Blake Hunt
- Acquired RHP Yu Darvish and C Victor Caratini from the Cubs for RHP Zach Davies, INFs Reginald Preciado and Yeison Santana, and OFs Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena
- Acquired RHP Joe Musgrove from Pirates in three-team trade for OF Hudson Head, LHPs Joey Lucchesi and Omar Cruz, and RHPs Drake Fellows and David Bednar
- Acquired LHP James Reeves from the Yankees for OF Greg Allen
- Claimed RHP Jordan Humphreys from the Giants
Notable Minor League Signings
- Nabil Crismatt, Patrick Kivlehan, Parker Markel, Jacob Rhame, Nick Burdi, Nick Ramirez, Wynston Sawyer
- Patino, Mejia, Lucchesi, Trevor Rosenthal, Garrett Richards, Jason Castro, Kirby Yates, Mitch Moreland, Luis Perdomo, Greg Garcia
At 37-23, the Padres finished with the majors’ third-best record last season, but that still left them six games behind the Dodgers – their NL West rival and the reigning World Series champions. With that in mind, Preller and his front office cohorts used the past few months seemingly leaving no stone unturned in an effort to overthrow the Dodgers, who have ruled the division for eight consecutive seasons. The Padres showed interest in a variety of household names both in free agency and trades, and they were successful in reeling in a few big fish.
The always aggressive Preller’s main headline-grabbing acquisitions addressed the Padres’ rotation, which was terrific last year. However, the Padres saw a couple of their top starters – Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger – go down with injuries late in the season, while Garrett Richards then exited in free agency. Lamet hasn’t yet returned from the elbow issues that ended his season in September, though he doesn’t seem far away from his 2021 debut. On the other hand, the Padres learned in November that Clevinger, who was a blockbuster in-season pickup, required Tommy John surgery. He’s not going to pitch at all in the current campaign, but that didn’t stop the Padres from signing Clevinger to a two-year, back-loaded deal with the hope that he’ll factor in come 2022.
In the wake of the Clevinger news, the Padres went to work in a major way. They showed interest ranging from mild to serious in free agents such as Trevor Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka, Tomoyuki Sugano, Adam Wainwright, Kohei Arihara and Martin Perez. Trade targets included Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn, though the Padres instead landed three other high-profile starters via that route.
The first domino to fall for San Diego was the acquisition of former AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell from the Rays. Snell has three years and $39MM of control left, so as you’d expect, the Rays didn’t give him away for cheap. Rather, the package headed to Tampa Bay centered on 21-year-old righty Luis Patino, who ranks among the premier prospects in the sport. The Padres also had to surrender two other quality prospects – righty Cole Wilcox and catcher/first baseman Blake Hunt – as well as a once-heralded farmhand in Francisco Mejia. Acquired from the Indians in the teams’ Brad Hand trade in 2018, Mejia was never able to establish himself with the Padres at catcher, nor did his offense come close to matching the hype.
The Snell swap wasn’t the only late-December present for the Padres or their fans. Shortly after swinging the trade with Tampa Bay, Preller & Co. pried 2020 NL Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini from the Cubs. It didn’t cost the Padres nearly as much this time, in part because they ate all but $3MM on the $62MM Darvish is owed over the next three years. The Padres did have to give up one of their best 2020 starters, Zach Davies, but he’ll be a free agent next offseason. Plus, it’s hard not to view Darvish as a clear upgrade over Davies. Along with Davies, San Diego parted with four prospects – shortstops Reginald Preciado and Yeison Santana and outfielders Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena – but all of those players are at least a few years from the majors. That’s if they make it at all.
The addition of Caratini came as welcome news for Darvish, as the former is his personal catcher. Caratini played second fiddle to Willson Contreras in Chicago, but he has typically blended passable offense for his position with well-graded defense. Once Austin Nola returns from a fractured finger, he and Caratini should give the Padres a solid one-two behind the plate with Luis Campusano also in the mix.
No one would have blamed the Padres had they stopped at Snell and Darvish, but they decided there was more to accomplish. Just a few weeks after scooping up those two, the Padres executed yet another eyebrow-raising trade, this time hauling in righty Joe Musgrove from the Pirates. While Musgrove doesn’t carry a Snell- or Darvish-like track record, he did give the Pirates useful mid-rotation production for multiple seasons. Now back in his native San Diego, Musgrove has thrived, having already thrown the first no-hitter in franchise history. He has also yielded just one earned run in his first 19 innings in a Padres uniform.
To pick up Musgrove’s two affordable remaining years of team control, the Padres again sent away a bunch of non-elite prospects (Hudson Head, Drake Fellows, David Bednar and Omar Cruz). The only major leaguer they said goodbye to was Joey Lucchesi, whom the Mets acquired in the three-team deal. Like going from Davies to Darvish, Musgrove gives the Padres an obvious improvement over Lucchesi.
All said, the Padres acquired two front-line starters and another who may be turning into one while moving only a single star prospect (Patino). So, even in spite of dumping double-digit prospects in these deals, the Padres’ farm system is still pretty loaded. In fact, according to MLB.com, it’s the game’s sixth-best system – one that still boasts four top-100 players in lefty MacKenzie Gore (No. 6), shortstop CJ Abrams (No. 8), Campusano (No. 45) and outfielder Robert Hassell III (No. 62).
Along with finding outside starting pitching, taking care of key inside business was among the primary items on the Padres’ offseason checklist. They and the face of their franchise, 22-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., made it clear entering the winter that they wanted to hammer out a contract extension. Tatis wasn’t on track to reach arbitration until after 2022 or become a free agent until the end of the 2024 season, but the Padres weren’t going take a chance on losing him in his mid-20s. Instead, in late February, they succeeded in locking up Tatis into his mid-30s.
The agreement with Tatis is historic – a 14-year, $340MM pact that shattered Mike Trout’s previous record guarantee of $144MM for a pre-arb player. It’s also the second $300MM-plus contract the Padres have doled out over the past couple years, as they previously signed third baseman Manny Machado to a decade-long deal in free agency. The club now has the left side of its infield under wraps with two superstar-caliber players for the foreseeable future.
The rotation improvements and the Tatis extension represented the offseason heavy lifting for the Padres, but they were active in other areas. Most notably, they signed former Korea Baseball Organization standout Ha-Seong Kim to a four-year, $28MM guarantee with a $5.5MM posting fee paid to the Kiwoom Heroes. Kim isn’t an upgrade over Tatis, Machado or second baseman Jake Cronenworth, but the team felt it was a worthwhile risk to spend on a versatile 25-year-old whom many regard as a top-1o0 prospect.
The Kim signing wasn’t the last of the Padres’ depth-bolstering moves in free agency. A few weeks after they won the Kim sweepstakes, the Padres re-upped Jurickson Profar on a three-year, $21MM guarantee. The contract includes a pair of opt-outs, so if Profar plays well enough this year or next, he could elect to return to free agency. For at least another year, though, he’ll continue to give the Padres someone who can play multiple positions and offer league-average or slightly better offense at a reasonable annual cost. Profar’s fourth on the Padres in plate appearances this year, and he has already lined up at four spots (first, second and both corner outfield positions).
The bullpen was also a matter of some offseason importance for the Padres, who faced the losses of relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates in free agency. San Diego showed interest in bringing both back, but they departed for higher paydays elsewhere. The Padres seem to have dodged bullets in both cases, as Rosenthal underwent thoracic outlet surgery earlier this month and Yates had a Tommy John procedure in March.
Rosenthal and Yates signed for a combined $16.5MM in guarantees, but the Padres spent far less on their relief corps, inking Mark Melancon and Keone Kela for a total of $4.2MM. It’s early, but the always steady Melancon has been a bargain for the Padres so far. He’s 5-for-5 in save opportunities and hasn’t allowed a walk or a run in six innings of one-hit ball. Likewise, Kela has been flawless in the runs allowed department, having surrendered none in 5 2/3 frames. The hard-throwing Kela had an impressive three-year stretch of run prevention and strikeouts with the Rangers and Pirates from 2017-19, but a positive COVID-19 test and forearm troubles held him to two innings last season. If healthy, though, he also has a chance to end up as a steal for San Diego. So far, so good.
Although it’s only mid-April, the Padres look as if they’re going to be a force again this year, thanks in no small part to Preller’s offseason moves. So impressed with his work, Padres ownership decided in February to upgrade Preller’s title from general manager to president of baseball ops and extend him through 2026. It appears the Padres are in capable hands with Preller at the helm, but how would you grade their offseason?
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