With a little over a week until Opening Day, the Padres still have a highly uncertain outfield mix. Michael Conforto and Brett Gardner remain available in free agency, but the Friars are an estimated $6MM shy of the $230MM base luxury tax threshold and are reportedly reluctant to exceed that figure.
If they’re not content with their internal outfield options, a trade may be the better way for the front office to go. Dennis Lin of the Athletic reports the Padres are willing to entertain offers on some of their catchers or starting pitchers. Dealing from their depth in either area wouldn’t necessarily mean the Padres bring back a big league caliber outfielder in return, but it seems the front office is at least open to exploring those possibilities.
Neither development comes as a surprise. During the lockout, MLBTR noted the potential for San Diego to entertain trades from both the catching group and rotation depth. The Padres currently have four catchers on the 40-man roster, all of whom have reasonable claims to a spot on the MLB club.
Austin Nola is the presumptive starter. Luis Campusano is a top prospect who doesn’t have much more to prove in the minors after hitting .295/.365/.541 in Triple-A. Víctor Caratini is coming off a rough season, but he’s had success in the past and works well with Yu Darvish. Jorge Alfaro would appear to be fourth on the depth chart, but San Diego acquired him from the Marlins and he can’t be optioned to the minor leagues, meaning the Padres need to keep him on the active roster or designate him for assignment. The Friars presumably won’t carry all four on the Opening Day roster, even with rosters expanded from 26 to 28 players in the early going, so it’s natural they’d be open to dealing from that group.
On the pitching side of the equation, San Diego is set to open the year with a starting group of Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger and Nick Martínez. That wouldn’t leave spots for any of Chris Paddack, Reiss Knehr or former top prospects Ryan Weathers and MacKenzie Gore. All four of those pitchers have options remaining, and the Friars could certainly opt to stockpile depth after seeing a series of rotation injuries contribute to a second-half collapse last year. Lin doesn’t specify any names whom the Padres are particularly inclined to move, to be clear. Yet as with the catching surplus, there may at least be enough depth for president of baseball operations A.J. Preller to consider a move — particularly if one of those arms can bring back MLB-ready outfield help.
Trent Grisham is locked in as the center fielder, with Will Myers set to handle right field on most days. San Diego saw Tommy Pham depart in free agency, leaving Jurickson Profar and the newly-acquired Matt Beaty among the favorites for playing time in left. That’s not a great group of corner players for a hopeful contender, and the Pads have shopped both Myers and first baseman Eric Hosmer throughout the offseason. Lin writes they’re still exploring possible Hosmer deals, although moving much of the remaining four years and $59MM on his deal has proven too tough a task so far. It’d probably be easier to move Myers, but that’d just further thin the corner outfield group.
Aside from Myers, Profar, Beaty and Grisham, the Padres don’t really have outfield options on the 40-man roster. Lin writes that manager Bob Melvin has already ruled out the possibility of moving second baseman Jake Cronenworth off the position, something the organization considered but never tried last offseason. Alfaro has some experience in left field but shouldn’t be more than an emergency option there. Trayce Thompson and Nomar Mazara are in camp as non-roster invitees and could both get big league looks, but neither is necessarily an upgrade over Profar and Beaty.
More interesting than the possibility of any of those veterans getting a spot is the chance for top prospect CJ Abrams to break camp with the club. A consensus top 15 prospect, Abrams only has 42 games of Double-A experience. He impressed there last year, hitting .296/.363/.420 with a pair of home runs and 13 stolen bases, but his season was cut short when he fractured his left tibia in late June. That kept him from seeing his first Triple-A action.
Nevertheless, both Lin and Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune have written this week the organization is considering carrying the 21-year-old on the MLB roster. That’s certainly not a given, as both Lin and Acee hear that some with the Padres believe he’d benefit from more time in the minors. Not only does he have limited experience against high level pitching, Abrams has never played a professional inning outside of the middle infield.
Given his athleticism — evaluators credit him with top-of-the-scale speed — there’s a belief he could handle all three outfield spots. Melvin acknowledged this afternoon he might give Abrams some consideration behind Grisham in center field (Acee link). Keeping him in the majors would allow San Diego some cover behind Cronenworth and Ha-Seong Kim in the middle infield while Fernando Tatís Jr. is on the injured list. Yet there’d certainly be risk in putting Abrams into a major league outfield right out of the gate, even in a utility capacity, and there’s an argument to be made for the Friars starting him at Triple-A El Paso. It’ll be known soon enough what route Preller, Melvin and the rest of the San Diego brass choose to take with the Opening Day roster.