The Padres, by most measures, are a solid offensive club. San Diego ranks tenth among MLB teams in total runs scored (428) and in wRC+ (101). They’re 13th in team batting average, eighth in team on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage. Throw out the pitching staff to focus only on position players, and they jump to 11th in average, sixth in OBP, 11th in slugging and sixth in wRC+. There’s room for improvement, but the lineup isn’t some kind of fatal flaw for this club.
Despite a mostly solid offense, however, general manager A.J. Preller suggested he’ll be looking for areas to bolster the lineup in the coming weeks (link via AJ Cassavell of MLB.com). Preller, while noting that some players on his club have enjoyed “real good performances” so far in 2021, noted that the group as a whole has yet to “click” in the same manner it did in 2020. “Those will be the things we’ll be talking about over the next couple weeks,” Preller told the Padres beat this weekend.
It’s certainly not an impassioned declaration that major changes are coming, but it’s notable this time of year when any top decision-maker publicly cites potential areas of improvement. Preller didn’t list a specific position of focus, but looking up and down the lineup, there are a few spots that are obviously of greater need than others.
Chief among them is at first base, where Eric Hosmer is again in the midst of an underwhelming showing at the plate. The 31-year-old is hitting .266/.323/.375, which isn’t egregiously poor but is still below league average (95 wRC+). In right field, Wil Myers is hitting .253/.330/.428, which is solidly above-average, but his bat faded after a monster showing during the season’s first month.
Meanwhile, Austin Nola has missed most of the season on the injured list, which has contributed to the Padres having one of baseball’s least-productive catching units in the game. The bench is also thin. Offseason multi-year deals for Ha-Seong Kim and Jurickson Profar have yet to pay dividends, and the Friars continue to dedicate a roster spot to the out-of-options Jorge Mateo despite the fact that he’s only tallied 88 plate appearances in 52 games (with a .195/.241/.280 batting line). Nola recently embarked on a rehab assignment, so the Padres may have some hope for reinforcements behind the plate sooner than later.
The rest of the Padres’ lineup has been excellent. Tommy Pham has shaken off a slow start and rebounded with a .301/.402/.526 showing in his past couple hundred plate appearances. Trent Grisham has continued his 2020 breakout, as has Jake Cronenworth. Manny Machado is hitting .267/.345/.479 with 15 home runs, and Fernando Tatis Jr. has clubbed 28 home runs while slashing .286/.364/.686. None are going to be displaced by a trade acquisition, barring some sort of injury.
It’s worth noting that Myers has been swinging a better bat over the past couple weeks as well, but inconsistent production has been a recurring theme throughout the life of his contract extension in San Diego. A player capable of splitting time between the outfield corners and first base would make plenty of sense for San Diego, as would a utility option that could at least be expected to provide something resembling average production.
This morning, Dennis Lin of The Athletic once again links the Padres to Rangers slugger Joey Gallo, noting that Gallo’s ability to play first base is part of his appeal for San Diego. The Rangers’ asking price on Gallo, however, is characterized as “daunting” and can only have increased after Gallo has become the poster boy for offense in the post-Spider Tack crackdown; since June 4, Gallo is hitting .308/.479/.838 with 15 long balls in 121 plate appearances.
Gallo surely isn’t the only potential trade target who could contribute at first base and in the outfield corners, of course. The Cubs are widely expected to shop Kris Bryant now that they’ve shifted to a deadline seller, and Baltimore’s Trey Mancini has been a possible trade candidate all season. The Marlins’ Adam Duvall is primarily an outfielder but has a few hundred innings of first base experience.
The list of potential offensive needs on its own would position the Padres as a potential feature team at this year’s deadline, but that’s only the beginning of their needs. Starting pitching was expected to be a strength for this club, but Padres starters are a more middle-of-the-pack unit than the dominant one expected after a series of flashy offseason pickups.
Blake Snell hasn’t pitched up to expectations, and Joe Musgrove has tailed off a bit after a dominant start. Yu Darvish is skipping a well-deserved All-Star nod to nurse a back injury that recently landed him on the injured list. Young Ryan Weathers just departed the team’s first-half finale with a leg/foot injury. Adrian Morejon had Tommy John surgery earlier in the year. And as Lin points out, top prospect MacKenzie Gore is back at the team’s Spring Training complex for further work on his mechanics after a rough start to the season in Triple-A.
While Weathers hasn’t technically been placed on the IL yet, the only healthy starters on the Padres’ roster at the moment are Musgrove, Chris Paddack and the recently promoted Reiss Knehr. Considering the veritable embarrassment of riches with which the Padres entered the season, from a rotation standpoint, it’s a bit remarkable to suggest they’ll be in the market for more starters at the deadline — but that indeed appears to be the case.
Preller indicated to Lin and others that the first steps in patching the rotation would be internal promotions (e.g. Knehr), but the GM also acknowledged that he and his staff will “keep talking to clubs” to see what’s out there in terms of upgrades. There’s no indication that payroll or the luxury tax would be any sort of issue, but it’s at least worth noting that after so many gaudy acquisitions in recent years, the Friars are sitting about $6MM shy of the $210MM threshold.
A year ago, the Padres were baseball’s most active deadline team, striking deals for Mike Clevinger, Austin Nola, Austin Adams, Mitch Moreland and Jason Castro. Preller followed that up with a trade-happy offseason as well, scooping up Darvish, Snell and Musgrove in an effort to create a dominant rotation that could pair with a deep lineup.
Given all that activity, it probably wouldn’t be a surprise to see yet another whirlwind trade season from Preller even with a healthy rotation and a fully operational lineup. However, the broad slate of setbacks on the starting staff and some uneven performances at first base, in right field and off the bench leave the Padres with a wide variety of paths to improve this club. And history tells us that Preller isn’t likely to sit back and hope his organizational depth will save the day.