When Padres team chairman Peter Seidler recently discussed his vision for the club ahead of the coming trade deadline, he made clear he believed in the current iteration of the club and seemed to have no desire to sell at the trade deadline. That confidence comes in spite of an ugly first half of the 2023 season. In 88 games so far this season, the Padres have gone just 41-47, leaving them ten games back looking up at three teams in the NL West. The club’s Wild Card outlook isn’t much better, as San Diego is 8.5 games back with five teams standing between them and the final Wild Card spot
Of course, club ownership rarely directly makes baseball operations decisions. Given that, the decision on whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline in three weeks will likely be made by Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller. A notoriously aggressive GM, Preller has built a star-studded roster with a massive payroll in recent years. Since the end of the 2020 campaign, when San Diego first made the playoffs under Preller, the club has added Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Josh Hader, and Juan Soto in blockbuster trades while signing Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year deal and signing each of Darvish, Musgrove, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. to big money extensions.
To reverse course completely would be near impossible. Musgrove and right-hander Robert Suarez are both signed through the 2027 campaign, while Darvish is signed through 2028. Infielder Jake Cronenworth is signed through the 2030 season, Machado and Bogaerts are both signed through 2033, while Tatis is signed through the end of the 2034 campaign. Between those seven players, the Padres are on the hook for roughly $107.5MM in terms of actual dollars and just over $137MM for luxury tax purposes, per RosterResource. With so many big money contracts on the books not just for next season, but for the better part of the decade or longer, trading long-term assets seems both unwise and difficult.
Given the club’s position, it’s possible that the front office will decide to double down and hope the team’s performance will improve in the second half. Suarez has yet to pitch this season and could help stabilize the bullpen upon his return, while each of Darvish, Machado, and Bogaerts are multi-time All Stars with lengthy track records of success; it’s surely not hard for Preller’s front office to talk themselves into that group improving upon their current 2023 performance going forward. With plenty of talent on the roster and glaring holes behind the plate, at DH, and on the bench, San Diego could retain their key players and deal for moderate upgrades to the weakest areas on the roster in hopes of things improving during the season’s final two months.
On the other hand, the club could look to retool for the future. Snell and Hader would immediately be among the most coveted rental arms on the market if the Padres listened on the pair, while Seth Lugo would surely interest a variety of contenders given his ability to swing in and out of the rotation. Lightly selling would allow the Padres to recoup value on their pending free agents and bolster a farm system that’s been raided by years of aggressive buy-side deals. What’s more, it would allow San Diego to take advantage of a trade market with few clearly established sellers.
Of course, the club could opt to take a middle ground option as well, dealing some of their pending free agents while also adding big league pieces with multiple years of control in hopes of giving themselves a chance to bounce back during the second half while attempting to maximize the club’s odds of winning in 2024, Soto’s last year of team control. Such an approach comes with its own unique risks, however. Dealing away key players can have impacts in the clubhouse, as the Brewers saw when dealing Hader to San Diego last year and Seattle saw after trading closer Kendall Graveman in 2021.
With just three weeks left until the trade deadline, the Padres will be forced to make a decision in the near future. How should San Diego approach this trade deadline? Do they need to stay the course and give themselves the best chance to win while Soto is under team control? Should they try to rebuild their farm system and look toward 2024 and beyond? Or perhaps they should try to do a bit of both?
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