Chris Bassitt agreed to a three-year, $63MM deal with the Blue Jays earlier this week, but Jon Heyman of The New York Post reports that the Padres were in on the bidding and were one of the finalists. It’s not known if they made a formal offer or what it looked like, but the fact that they were somewhat close is nonetheless noteworthy.
The Padres were never really a financial powerhouse in the baseball world but they have changed that reputation in the past few years. They had never run an Opening Day payroll reaching $110MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, until they shot up to $174MM in 2021 and $211MM in 2022, effectively doubling their previous franchise highs. It appears that we still don’t know where their limit is, as they have continued spending this winter.
After aggressive overtures to Aaron Judge and Trea Turner were turned down, the club pivoted and gave Xander Bogaerts a deal worth $280MM over 11 years. That’s brought the club’s payroll up to $235MM for next year, per Roster Resource, already more than $20MM beyond last year’s mark.
Perhaps more importantly, the club’s competitive balance tax figure is at $255MM, already beyond the second luxury tax tier of $253MM. The Padres paid the CBT in both 2021 and 2022, setting them up to be third-time payors in 2023. There are escalating penalties for teams that pay in consecutive seasons, with the Padres already looking at a 50% tax on all spending beyond $233MM with greater penalties at the three subsequent tiers that go up in $20MM increments. Going beyond $253MM, which they are already lined up to do, comes with a 62% tax while going beyond $273MM would come with a 95% tax hit and see their top pick in next year’s draft moved back ten spots.
We don’t know what kind of offer the Padres made to Bassitt, but if it was competitive enough to get near what he accepted from the Jays, it was likely at least near the $20MM range in terms of average annual value. That shows that the club has at least some willingness to add that kind of money to their payroll and CBT figure. Signing Bassitt, or any other player, to a $20MM salary would lead to the Padres also paying over $12MM in taxes.
If they do have that kind of money to spend, the fact they are considering a rotation upgrade is not surprising. They have a strong front three in Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, but the back end is a bit less certain. The club re-signed Nick Martinez, who began 2022 in the rotation but was eventually bumped to the bullpen, where he proved to be more effective. He posted a 4.30 ERA as a starter and a 2.67 as a reliever. There’s also Adrian Morejon, though he’s an unknown commodity after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2021. He returned in 2022 and tossed 34 innings over 26 relief appearances, which is encouraging but might make it hard for him to suddenly jump to 150 innings or more next year. There’s also the long-term picture to consider, as both Snell and Darvish are set to reach free agency after 2023, leaving Musgrove as the only true building block of the rotation. Adding a reliable starter makes plenty of sense for now and for the future.
Though Bassitt got away, the Padres still have options in free agency. If they truly want to go wild with the spending, Carlos Rodón is the top free agent pitcher available. Aside from him, other options include Nathan Eovaldi, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha, Corey Kluber, Drew Rucinski, Johnny Cueto, Drew Smyly and others.