The Padres’ season has been an abject disappointment, but despite a 10-game deficit in the NL West and a six-game gap in the NL Wild Card chase, they apparently remain intent on keeping the roster together. ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes that the Friars have received and thus far rebuffed interest in lefties Blake Snell and Josh Hader.
Both southpaws are free agents at season’s end. Snell is wrapping up the final season of a five-year, $50MM contract extension originally signed with the Rays. He’s earning $16MM this season. Hader is in his final season of arbitration eligibility and being paid $14.1MM.
After a rocky start to the season, the 30-year-old Snell has rediscovered the form that helped him win the American League Cy Young Award in 2018. Dating back to mid-May, Snell has pitched to a preposterous 0.78 ERA and 35.9% strikeout rate in 69 innings. He’s walked an ugly 13.4% of his opponents during that time, although that number is at least partially skewed by one anomalous start in which he issued seven free passes. Overall, Snell carries a 2.61 ERA. He’s running a strikeout rate north of 30% for the sixth consecutive season.
Hader, similarly, has rebounded this season. Much was made of the lefty’s struggles prior to last July’s trade to San Diego and subsequent rough patch early in his Padres tenure. However, he closed out the year with a dominant stretch and was excellent throughout the postseason as well. He’s backed that up with 38 innings of 0.95 ERA ball, 24 saves and a massive 38.4% strikeout rate in 2023. Like Snell, he’s too prone to free passes (13.2% walk rate), but Hader’s penchant for missing bats has helped to mitigate any potential damage.
Both pitchers would be clear candidates to receive qualifying offers at season’s end, and both would surely reject in search of a lucrative multi-year deal in free agency (barring a notable second-half injury or collapse). As such, the Padres can feel confident that they’ll at least come away with a pair of compensatory picks in next year’s draft. However, since they’re luxury-tax payors, those picks would land after the fourth round rather than the standard slotting between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of the draft.
The luxury tax comes into play in another regard for the Padres, too. San Diego is currently about $4MM north of the third line of luxury penalization ($273MM), per Roster Resource. That’s the point at which a team’s top pick is pushed back by 10 selections in the following summer’s draft. Trading Snell and the remainder of his $10MM luxury hit ($3.655MM, as of this writing) wouldn’t drop the Padres under that threshold. Hader ($5.154MM still owed to him) would do so. To be clear, there’s no indication the Padres are endeavoring to drop below that line at this time.
For much of the offseason, the Padres appeared reluctant to cross that third luxury barrier. Many of the team’s late-offseason dealings were structured in convoluted ways designed to tamp down their luxury-tax implications, including their extension of Yu Darvish and signing of Michael Wacha. They’ve nevertheless wound up north of that line and are currently on pace to have next summer’s top pick dropped by 10 spots.
If owner Peter Seidler’s comments earlier this month are any indication, the loss of draft capital isn’t likely to be a deterrent. On July 2, when the Padres were eight games under .500, 11.5 games back in the division and 8.5 games out of the Wild Card chase, Seidler pledged that his team would not “reverse course.” San Diego has played better since that time, going 11-7 and trimming that Wild Card deficit by two and a half games.
There’s an argument to be made that the Padres could explore deals for Snell and/or Hader, prioritizing near-MLB help and simultaneously looking to back-fill the roster with lower-cost rentals. I explored as much in a piece for MLBTR Front Office subscribers a couple weeks back. Doing so could net talent that would help in 2024 and beyond while simultaneously improving their 2024 draft outlook and at least loosely keeping their 2023 postseason aspirations afloat. That’d be a fine line to walk, however, and the Padres’ postseason chances are obviously greater if they simply hold onto Snell and Hader.
At least for now, that appears to be the front office’s plan. Passan suggests the Padres could look to add to their bullpen and perhaps turn to the farm system if those efforts come up empty.
The remaining handful of games between now and next Tuesday’s trade deadline remain worth monitoring. The Friars have their series finale against a free-falling Pirates club right now and will play the last-place Rockies next Monday, the final day before the deadline. That pair of favorable matchups bookends a pivotal three-game set against the AL West-leading Rangers.
If the Padres can pull themselves up to .500 or at least pick up another game or two in the Wild Card hunt, it stands to reason they’ll continue their all-in approach to the current season. On the other hand, a series of losses could conceivably make the front office give more consideration to a soft sell of rental pieces. As with so many clubs around the league, the next few games will be critical in shaping the Padres’ approach to the deadline.