In conjunction with the Padres’ offseason review, we’ll be hosting a Padres-focused chat on March 21. You can submit a question in advance, and check back to participate tomorrow.
The Padres have been extremely aggressive in recent years, taking their payroll to levels it’s never reached before. It finally paid off in 2022, as the club made the playoffs in a full season for the first time since 2006. They doubled down on that aggression this winter, signing multiple free agents and locking up a couple of players with notable extensions.
Major League Signings
- SS Xander Bogaerts: eleven years, $280MM
- RHP Robert Suarez: five years, $46MM, Suarez can opt out after 2025
- RHP Nick Martinez: three years, $26MM (Padres have two-year, $32MM option after season; if declined, Martinez has a two-year, $16MM player option)
- RHP Michael Wacha: four years, $26MM (Padres have two-year, $32MM option after season; if declined, Wacha has a $6.5MM player option for 2024 and $6MM player options in 2025-26)
- RHP Seth Lugo: two years, $15MM, Lugo can opt out after 2023
- IF/OF Matt Carpenter: two years, $12MM, Carpenter can opt out after 2023
- DH Nelson Cruz: one year, $1MM
- OF Adam Engel: one year, $1MM
- RHP Brent Honeywell Jr.: one year split deal, $725K in majors, $200K in minors
2022 spending: $68.7MM
Total spending: $407.2MM
- RHP Robert Suarez opted out of one year and $5MM remaining on contract for $1MM buyout, later re-signed
- OF Jurickson Profar opted out of one year and $7.5MM remaining on contract for $1MM buyout
- Club declined $20MM option on OF Wil Myers in favor of $1MM buyout
- RHP Nick Martinez opted out of three years and $18MM remaining on contract for $1.5MM buyout, later re-signed
Trades And Claims
- Claimed RHP Sean Poppen from Diamondbacks, later outrighted off 40-man roster
- Selected LHP Jose Lopez from Rays in Rule 5 draft
- 3B Manny Machado: five years, $170MM (on top of preexisting six years, $180MM)
- RHP Yu Darvish: five years, $90MM
Notable Minor League Signings
- David Dahl, Preston Tucker, Drew Carlton, Aaron Brooks, Eric Hanhold, Anderson Espinoza, Pedro Severino, Tim Lopes, Max Schrock, Domingo Tapia, Wilmer Font, Craig Stammen, Alfonso Rivas, Ángel Sánchez, Julio Teheran, Rangel Ravelo, Cole Hamels, Rougned Odor
- Sean Manaea, Mike Clevinger, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, Pierce Johnson, Jurickson Profar (still a free agent), Wil Myers, Jorge Alfaro
Going into the 2018 season, the Padres decided it was time for change. It had been over a decade since their last trip to the postseason and they had never been huge players in free agency. They started to flip that narrative by signing first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144MM contract. That deal didn’t end up going well, but it nonetheless sent the message that the club meant business. That was followed up with the club signing Manny Machado and extending Fernando Tatis Jr., as well as trading for players like Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell.
Despite all those bold moves, the club still found ways to struggle. Though they qualified for the postseason in the expanded field of the shortened 2020 campaign, they finished below .500 in each 162-game season from 2011 to 2021. Things finally clicked in 2022, with the Padres stealing all the headlines at the trade deadline by acquiring Juan Soto, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury. It resulted in the club finishing 89-73 and grabbing a Wild Card spot. They knocked off heavyweight teams like the Mets and the Dodgers before ultimately falling to the Phillies in the NLCS.
Though they finally broke through and had the success that long eluded them, the club quickly made it clear that they had little interest in taking their foot off the gas as they continue their pursuit of a World Series title. The first order of business was retaining a few in-house players. Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez each opted out of their respective contracts to become free agents. Within a few days, they were already back in the fold on eight-figure guarantees. Suarez was excellent in 2022, but it was his first in the majors at the age of 31 after many years in Japan. It was a somewhat similar situation for Martinez, who was also 31 and had been in Japan for three years following a rough MLB stint from 2014-17. The fact that the club made such large guarantees to relatively unproven pitchers signaled that they would have few financial obstacles in their path this winter.
From there, the Friars set their sights on a big splash. They reportedly offered both Trea Turner and Aaron Judge larger guarantees than they eventually accepted from the Phillies and Yankees, respectively. That’s not to say that either player turned up their nose at a chance of joining the Padres, as Turner seemingly preferred to be on the East Coast while Judge preferred to remain a Yankee for life.
After missing on two big swings, the club finally connected on the star signing they sought with Xander Bogaerts. The deal shattered most predictions, including ours. MLBTR pegged Bogaerts for a seven-year, $189MM deal, but he ended up soaring past that both in terms of the years and the guarantee. It was also surprising to see the Padres pursue a shortstop, as that didn’t seem to be their primary need. Ha-Seong Kim had a fine season replacing Fernando Tatis Jr., who missed all of 2022 due to injuries and an 80-game PED suspension. Tatis still has 20 games left on that but should be back in action early in 2023. The fact that the club initially set its sights on Judge perhaps indicates there was a chance Tatis could stick at short, but the acquisition of Bogaerts also showed they weren’t committed to letting him retake his spot there.
With Bogaerts now set to take over at the club’s everyday shortstop, Kim will get pushed over to second, nudging Jake Cronenworth to first. That will leave Tatis in the outfield, alongside Soto and Trent Grisham. That reduced the need for a big splash in the outfield, but the club did bolster their options on the grass by signing Matt Carpenter and Adam Engel. The latter is a glove-first option that was non-tendered by the White Sox and should make for a solid fourth outfielder. The former was awful from 2019 to 2021 but rebounded tremendously last year. He re-emerged with the Yankees and was one of the best hitters on the planet for a stretch before a foot fracture slowed him down. He finished the year with 15 home runs in just 47 games and a batting line of .305/.412/.727, wRC+ of 217. He played the four corner positions last year and could do so again, though the eventual return of Tatis should diminish the need for him to take any outfield reps.
All of this shuffling is necessary to get Bogaerts into the shortstop position and, more importantly, his bat into the lineup. Over the past five seasons, Bogaerts has hit 105 home runs and slashed .300/.373/.507 for a wRC+ of 134. That latter number places him in the top 20 among all qualified hitters in the league. He’s been remarkably consistent, keeping that figure between 129 and 141 in each of those five campaigns. His defense has been a little less consistent, but he did get positive grades from all three of Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average last year. The Padres made a significant investment to get a deal done, but there’s every reason to expect they got a premier player for it.
With Bogaerts in hand, the next stage of the offseason continued to be busy, though at a lesser tier of free agency. Though they had retained Martinez, the rotation was still in need of bolstering with the departures of Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger. Offseason rumors suggested that clubs were interested in Seth Lugo as a starter, despite the fact that he’s been pitching out of the Mets’ bullpen for the past few years. The Padres decided to be the team to give Lugo that shot, signing him in mid-December. Lugo has been a fine reliever but is generally pretty unproven in the rotation. The last time he made more than seven starts in a season was back in 2017.
After that Lugo deal, the Padres had a front-loaded rotation. It was headlined by three great hurlers in Musgrove, Darvish and Snell, but they were followed by two unestablished starters in Lugo and Martinez. They decided to add some security as the offseason went along, eventually adding Michael Wacha, who posted a solid 3.32 ERA last year. He’s no sure thing either, as recurring shoulder issues have prevented him from tossing 130 innings in a season since 2017. But the Friars also added a few strands to the safety net by bringing in Brent Honeywell Jr., Wilmer Font, Cole Hamels and Julio Teheran. Those extra options will likely be important all season long, even in the beginning, as Musgrove recently fractured a toe and seems likely to miss a couple of starts.
The lineup was also in a good place, with Bogaerts joining Soto and Machado as the key threats. The Padres would go on to add some complementary pieces in Carpenter, Engel and then Nelson Cruz. It’s been a rough stretch for Cruz lately, as he struggled with the Rays at the end of 2021 and then hit just .234/.313/.337 for the Nats last year. Given that he’s now 42 years old, it would be fair to wonder if his age was finally catching up with him. However, Cruz underwent eye surgery in the offseason, telling reporters that some inflammation has been blocking his vision over the past year and a half. Perhaps he can bounce back, perhaps not, but the Padres only put down $1MM to find out. If the gamble pays off, it will add yet another potent bat into the mix.
With the calendar showing February and the roster looking fairly set, the focus shifted to long-term concerns. The rotation had some uncertainty over the horizon, as both Darvish and Snell were slated for free agency after 2023. Lugo, Wacha and Martinez also aren’t guaranteed to be back next season, as all three of them either have options or opt-outs that could potentially result in them returning to free agency. That left Musgrove as the only starter locked in for 2024, so the Padres decided to get a bit more clarity by extending Darvish. The deal was surprising in that it came out of nowhere, but also in its length. Darvish is already 36 and his new deal will run past his 42nd birthday. It seems likely that this is a tactic to reduce the club’s competitive balance tax calculation.
We’ll circle back to that CBT conversation in a moment, but the Padres weren’t done with the extensions just yet. Manny Machado still had six years remaining on his ten-year deal, but he had an opt-out opportunity coming up at the end of 2023. Given that he had an MVP-caliber season last year and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement had seemingly improved the free agent market for players, Machado would have been justified in heading back to the open market. He was quite open about his intent to do, but the Padres decided they didn’t want to see that happen and locked him in with a new 11-year, $350MM deal. Since Machado already had six years and $180MM in hand, this tacked on five years and $170MM to prevent him from departing.
This new era of aggressive spending for the Padres has resulted in the club paying the luxury tax in each of the past two years. Their continued spending this year will result in them paying for a third straight season and that will come with elevated tax rates. A third-time payor faces a 50% tax for any spending over the lowest threshold, which is $233MM this year. That jumps to 62% over the $253MM tier and 95% over the $273MM tier. It was reported about a month ago that the Padres were narrowly below that third tier, but that was before the Machado extension came down. His new deal bumped his AAV from $30MM to $31.81MM, perhaps nudging them over that line. If they can manage to get back under the $273MM figure, they’ll avoid the unwelcome penalty of having their top pick in the 2024 draft pushed back 10 spots.
Regardless of which side of that threshold the Padres ultimately fall, it seems the lengthy deals are an attempt to at least moderately mitigate their CBT hits, for this year and the future. As mentioned, the Darvish extension will run past his 42nd birthday, while Bogaerts and Machado will each turn 41 in the final seasons of their respective deals. The annual values on the Bogaerts and Darvish deals, in particular, are lower than the per-year market rate for players of this caliber. Time will tell whether subsequent extensions might follow; the team is reportedly interested in extending both Soto and Hader.
Ultimately, these are all footnotes to the larger story of owner Peter Seidler deciding that he didn’t want the Padres to be a small-market team anymore. The Friars are currently third in the league in terms of both pure payroll and CBT, with only the two New York clubs ahead of them. It’s already resulted in one trip to the NLCS, and the hope is for even more to come. When asked if his spending was sustainable, Seidler told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, he preferred a different question. “Do I believe our parade is going to be on land or on water or on boat?”
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