Sports

Offseason In Review: San Diego Padres

Payroll limitations hung over the Padres’ offseason a bit, impacting their ability to make the kind of splash for which president of baseball operations A.J. Preller has become known. Still, the Friars managed to shuffle their pitching staff with a pair of rotation pickups and the acquisition of an All-Star closer.

Major League Signings

2022 spending: $15.25MM
Total spending: $43.5MM

Option Decisions

Trades and Claims

Extensions

None

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

The Padres entered the 2021 season as one of the league’s most talented and exciting teams. For a few months, they looked like a bona fide World Series contender, battling with the Dodgers and surprising Giants at the top of the NL West. No team had a more disappointing second half, though, and the Friars were out of playoff contention by the middle of September. Reports of clubhouse discord mounted alongside the losses, and it was obvious there’d be change afoot for a San Diego club that’s not afraid of making big moves.

Even before the regular season officially wrapped, reports trickled out the Padres would dismiss manager Jayce Tingler. They announced that decision in the early days of the postseason, with the managerial search being the Friars’ first big call of the offseason. After their hiring of a first-time skipper, Tingler, didn’t pan out as hoped, it was expected they’d search for a more experienced hand. San Diego was tied to Ron Washington, Buck Showalter, Luis Rojas, Mike Shildt and Ozzie Guillén, but their ultimate hire proved a shock. The Friars signed Bob Melvin away from the A’s on a reported three-year, $12MM deal, landing one of the league’s most highly-regarded managers in the process.

There was little indication Melvin was even under consideration before his hiring was reported, but Oakland allowed him to get out from under the final year of his contract to head south. Melvin would bring along Ryan Christenson as his bench coach, and San Diego went outside the organization to bring in positional coaches Michael Brdar (as hitting coach) and Ruben Niebla (as pitching coach).

Given the reports of behind-the-scenes discontent, a leadership overhaul seemed necessary. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to pin the blame for the team’s second-half collapse entirely on Tingler and his staff, and the Friars entered the winter needing some upgrades on the roster. Injuries to starting pitchers exposed the team’s depth last season, and San Diego’s biggest acquisitions on both the free agent and trade markets would prove to be in the rotation.

The free agent starter San Diego landed was right-hander Nick Martínez, who returned stateside after an excellent three-year run in Japan. That the former Ranger signed with the Padres — where Preller has brought in a ton of familiar faces from his Texas days — shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Yet the terms of the deal were certainly eyebrow-raising.

Martínez commanded a four-year, $25.5MM guarantee that gives him an opt-out possibility after each of the first three seasons. There’s not a ton of upside to the deal for San Diego, then. If Martínez carries over his mid-rotation production to MLB, he’ll likely hit the open market again next winter; if he scuffles, the Friars would be on the hook for multiple years. San Diego wanted to fortify the back of the rotation for this season, though. If Martínez pitches as well as Preller and company evidently anticipate, he’d be an immediate upgrade in a win-now campaign, and San Diego could reevaluate whether they want to keep him around if/when he opts out.

Also coming over from Japan was reliever Robert Suárez, a star closer in NPB who had never pitched in the majors. Like Martínez, he signed a multi-year deal that afforded him a post-2022 opt-out, although Suárez’s two-year, $11MM commitment isn’t as significant as the Martínez contract. Suárez has averaged 98 MPH on his fastball during his first few weeks in the majors, but he might not even be the Friars’ hardest-throwing bullpen pickup of the winter. San Diego also signed Luis García, owner an upper-90s sinker, to a two-year deal after he had a stellar second-half run with the Cardinals.

Each of Martínez, Suárez and García agreed to terms on December 1, as San Diego got three free agent deals in just before the lockout. (Martínez’s deal was technically finalized after the work stoppage but agreed upon beforehand). Little did anyone know at the time, that trio of signings would be it for the Friars in free agency. The rest of the team’s heavy lifting would be accomplished by trade.

Preller hasn’t been afraid to make notable moves on the trade market. Yet his pre-lockout deals didn’t bring in a ton of impact MLB help. Second baseman Adam Frazier was dealt to the Mariners in advance of the non-tender deadline. San Diego’s big acquisition last summer, Frazier had a rough second half and was a bit superfluous on a roster that already had a fair bit of infield depth. The deal brought back a big league ready southpaw reliever in Ray Kerr, but the payroll ramifications might’ve been the bigger motivation for not keeping Frazier and his projected $7MM+ arbitration salary around (more on that in a bit).

The Marlins found themselves in a similar position with catcher Jorge Alfaro as the Padres had with Frazier. After Alfaro had disappointed as Miami’s starting backstop, the Fish acquired Gold Glover Jacob Stallings shortly before the non-tender date. Alfaro was a virtual lock to be cut loose by Miami, but the Padres jumped in and acquired him for cash or a player to be named later. In so doing, San Diego prevented Alfaro — another former Rangers prospect — from shopping his services around the market. They instead signed him to a $2.725MM deal to avoid arbitration.

San Diego went into the lockout having landed a few players of interest, but they still faced some notable question marks. The corner outfield situation was up in the air, particularly with left fielder Tommy Pham hitting free agency. Eric Hosmer’s eight-year free agent contract hasn’t panned out as hoped, leaving first base as a real issue. The new collective bargaining agreement also added the designated hitter to the National League.

Lineup depth issues loomed all the more large when the team discovered that star shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. — who had been involved in a seemingly minor motorcycle accident during the work stoppage — had suffered a small fracture in his left wrist. The team hadn’t been allowed to communicate with Tatís during the lockout, but it quickly became apparent once he’d reported to camp that he required surgery. That’ll keep him out of action for the season’s first few months.

The Padres looked as if they could make another notable free agent splash, particularly with both the corner outfield positions and first base having myriad available free agent options. However, the front office evidently didn’t have a ton of financial maneuverability with which to work. The Padres shattered their franchise-record payroll last year, eclipsing the luxury tax for the first time in the process. San Diego went just narrowly above the $210MM base marker, with their final ledger checking in at $216.5MM. That ownership was willing to push spending forward as the team entered its contention window is commendable, but the decision to so marginally exceed the CBT ended up leaving the Friars in an unsuccessful middle-ground. It wasn’t enough to get last season’s team into the playoffs, while it set San Diego up for escalating penalties as a repeat payor in 2022 if they go past this year’s new $230MM base level.

That, seemingly, is something ownership isn’t prepared to do this time around. Throughout the offseason, reports emerged that San Diego was looking to find a taker for the remaining four years and $59MM on Hosmer’s deal and/or Wil Myers’ $21MM commitment this year (including a $1MM buyout on a 2023 option). Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweeted shortly after the lockout the Padres were “aggressively shopping” Hosmer and Myers. Ultimately, they didn’t find a taker for either player. San Diego and the Mets reportedly made progress on a deal that might’ve seen Hosmer packaged with starter Chris Paddack and reliever Emilio Pagán for first baseman Dominic Smith, but talks ended up falling through. (Jon Heyman of the New York Post wrote last week that Mets owner Steve Cohen killed the idea).

With Hosmer and Myers still on the books, San Diego didn’t wind up with enough payroll flexibility to make another impact free agent pickup. Reports linked them with various levels of interest in Freddie FreemanSeiya SuzukiNick Castellanos, Nelson Cruz and Jorge Soler, but they ultimately turned to the trade market to at least partially address some of the concerns on the roster.

San Diego’s first move was to bring in Luke Voit from the Yankees, sending pitching prospect Justin Lange in exchange. Voit looked like an odd man out in the Bronx after the Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo, and San Diego took a bounceback flier on a potential middle-of-the-order bat at first base/DH. Voit dealt with various injuries during a disappointing 2021 season, but he led MLB in home runs in 2020 and has generally been an excellent hitter over the past few years. Shortly after the Voit trade, San Diego picked up bat-first utilityman Matt Beaty in a deal with the division-rival Dodgers. Beaty had been designated for assignment by L.A., but he’s been a solid hitter during his MLB tenure and can bounce between the infield and corner outfield.

Even as the Padres explored dealing from their rotation to continue upgrading the offense, San Diego seized on the opportunity to land one of the trade market’s top available arms. In what proved arguably the Friars’ biggest addition of the offseason, they acquired Sean Manaea from the A’s in exchange for depth starter Adrian Martinez and infield prospect Euribiel Angeles. That was a lighter than expected return even for just one season of Manaea, who posted a 3.91 ERA/3.68 SIERA during his final year in Oakland.

The A’s were known to be moving many of their most notable players as part of a huge cost-cutting effort, though, reducing their leverage to extract peak value in any return. At a $9.75MM arbitration salary, Manaea struck an ideal balance for the Padres from a cost perspective. That tab was pricy enough the A’s were inclined to move him, but it’s still well shy of the going rate for a mid-rotation starter on the free agent market. San Diego could afford to take that on while keeping just below the CBT threshold.

Manaea steps into a rotation that also includes Yu DarvishJoe MusgroveBlake Snell and Martínez. Mike Clevinger is soon to rejoin that mix after recovering from 2020 Tommy John surgery, and one-time top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore has reached the majors and looked quite sharp through his first few starts. San Diego will still be without lefty Adrián Morejón for much of the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery last April, but players like Ryan Weathers and Reiss Knehr are a little further down the depth chart.

Between the addition of Martínez, Clevinger’s return and Gore moving back in the right direction after battling mechanical troubles in 2020-21, the Friars felt comfortable that last season’s rotation depth problems won’t be prevalent again. Even after the proposed Paddack/Pagán/Hosmer framework with the Mets fell-through, they pivoted back to trying to find a trade partner for the two right-handers before the start of the season.

That proved to be the Twins, who were on the hunt for another controllable starter. San Diego shipped Paddack, Pagán and a pitching prospect to Minnesota for star reliever Taylor Rogers and affordable corner outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker. The deal was an instance of two win-now teams having needs and roster surpluses that mostly lined up. The Padres were content to relinquish three years of control over Paddack and two seasons of Pagán — both coming off a difficult 2021 campaign — to bolster the late-game mix this season.

Rogers has been one of the game’s best relievers over the past four seasons. The 6’3″ southpaw missed the second half of last year because of a hand injury, but he’d returned to health by Opening Day. San Diego saw closer Mark Melancon depart via free agency, making it all the more appealing to land an elite arm for the final few innings. Rogers joins García, Suárez, former starter Dinelson Lamet, veteran Craig Stammen and the since-injured Pierce Johnson among the core of what could be one of the game’s better bullpens.

Making $7.3MM in his final year of arbitration control, Rogers was set to push the Padres across the luxury tax line. To facilitate the deal, Minnesota agreed to pay his salary down to the league minimum. That allowed San Diego to enter the season with a CBT number of around $229MM, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. They may not have virtually any room for in-season acquisitions of notable cost, but the Padres again head into the year with a star-studded roster that’ll be expected to compete for a division title.

The pitching staff is one of the higher-ceiling units around the league, and that’s also true (albeit to a lesser extent) on the position player side. Austin NolaLuis Campusano and Alfaro — who had a monster Spring Training — are on hand as the catchers. San Diego felt comfortable enough with that group to deal Víctor Caratini to the Brewers on the eve of Opening Day for minor leaguers Brett Sullivan and Korry Howell.

Around the infield, San Diego has a Hosmer/Voit pairing at first base and DH and stars at second base (Jake Cronenworth) and third base (Manny Machado). Tatís will join them at shortstop midseason, but the Friars called up their top prospect, C.J. Abrams, to open the year there. It was an aggressive assignment for a player with just 42 games of experience above A-ball, and Abrams has gotten off to a rough start. How long they’re willing to stick with the 21-year-old as he experiences growing pains is to be seen, but the Padres could turn to Ha-Seong Kim as a stopgap until Tatís returns if they send Abrams to Triple-A at any point.

San Diego took a few low-cost shots on the corner outfield, adding Beaty and Rooker to incumbent Jurickson Profar in left field. Myers, whom they never dealt, is back in right field (though he hit the injured list this morning). Trent Grisham holds down the center field job he’s had for the past two seasons.

The corner outfield is perhaps the area of the roster most affected by payroll constraints, as they forewent an impressive free agent class. The Padres also came up empty in bigger swings on the trade market, where they reportedly made runs at the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds and the Yankees’ Joey Gallo during Spring Training. Perhaps they could try for a midseason pursuit of Reynolds, Gallo or another outfielder if their in-house options scuffle, but both of those arbitration-eligible stars would push their payroll above the $230MM CBT number. If the luxury tax line is the organization’s cutoff — as the Twins’ paying down the Rogers trade suggests it might be — the current roster may be more or less what the Padres carry for the full 162 games. They’ll probably continue trying to deal Hosmer or Myers to clear space, but it’s even harder to imagine a trade like that coming together midseason than it was over the winter, Hosmer’s hot start notwithstanding.

Have the Friars done enough to overcome Tatís’ injury and hang with the Dodgers and Giants for six months? That’s to be determined, and some of the Padres’ past missteps on long-term deals for Hosmer, Myers and arguably Kim hampered their ability to make any earth-shattering moves over the offseason. Yet the talented core that had so many people excited entering 2021 is still intact. The pickups of Manaea and Martínez, as well as Gore’s emergence, help guard against the rotation injuries that forced the team to trot out the likes of Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez down the stretch last year. Coupled with a change in the manager’s chair, the Friars will hope that superior depth can carry them back to the postseason.

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