People with even a remedial knowledge of Major League Baseball will tell you the 2023 iteration of the San Diego Padres was a failure. A team with a superstar core that made massive moves over the last two years failed to even make the playoffs. That fact alone makes it a tough one to argue.
This is, after all, a team that spent and added in a way that their market would never have indicated in that quest for a championship. The team added Juan Soto, Josh Hader, and Xander Bogaerts in a little more than a calendar year. To say nothing of Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, or extensions for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado. A title is not what happened, obviously. The team struggled to find their footing for much of the season. While the pitching and defense were among the league’s best in numerous ways, their vaunted lineup couldn’t string together enough consistent production.
The lack of production combined with rumors of organizational dissension from the front office on down is the sexier rationale for why the Padres are looking more sellers than buyers this winter. But — as is seemingly always the case in this game — it is cost alone that will serve as the catalyst for major change. Even with massive attendance numbers, the club struggled to compensate for the finances of such a bloated roster, to the point where it was reported they took out a $50 million loan in order to cover themselves in the shorter term.
So while the absence of one of the most popular World Series picks from the 2023 postseason is perhaps the most notable story to emerge from A.J. Preller’s historic aggression, what comes next could serve as a cautionary tale that almost no average fan should desire to hear because the Padres are going to be just as busy in the 2023-24 offseason as in those past. Just not in the way that maybe fans anticipated coming off the last couple of years.
Regardless of how justifiable even a modest sell-off would be, all indications are that the San Diego Padres are going to be shedding some money this offseason. Blake Snell likely won’t return as a free agent. The team had already signed Robert Suarez to a long-term deal likely with the expectation that Josh Hader would walk as well. Wacha and Nick Martinez have had options declined. Oh yeah, they also let manager Bob Melvin walk to a division rival despite having another year on his contract in the name of finances.
In order to shrink the payroll to about or under $200 million — as is reportedly desired — current contracts will have to be moved, too.
Legitimate Trade Candidates
(We’ll Hear Their Name Frequently)
Among current contracts, Soto seems most likely to move. He has one arbitration year left and is projected a decent raise of a $23 million salary in 2023. He’s coming off a season in which he played in 162 games, walked and struck out at nearly identical clips, and had a 155 wRC+. As a free agent, he’s going to command historic years and dollars. While the team has voiced a desire to keep him in the past, their current financial woes could force their hand in moving him this winter.
It’s not ideal circumstances, of course. San Diego traded the bulk of the top of their farm system in order to acquire a generational talent. You prefer to keep said talent around. But given the context of impending free agency, it makes the most sense on paper. Should they look to move him, there is (obviously) no shortage of teams that could line up to acquire him. The Chicago Cubs have a rather robust farm system and a need for a big bat. The New York Yankees already have a well-documented interest. Everybody will want a Juan Soto if and when he’s made available.
It would be a wild thing for the Padres to turn around and move an upper-tier shortstop one year into an 11-year pact. But Bogaerts’ name is already proving to be out there from the jump. With the team interested in moving money, getting out from under a $25 million salary early in the contract would likely justify the negative attention such a move would receive.
Bogaerts did have a fine season, even with a decreased walk rate (and subsequently lower OBP). He went 19/19 with homers and steals and struck out at his lowest clip since 2015. He continued to showcase top-end defense, as well. The thinking here — beyond, you know, moving a hefty contract — would likely be to move Fernando Tatis Jr. back to his original position and look for cheaper options to fill out the outfield. In longer-shot thinking, perhaps they’d rather hammer out a new deal for Soto free of the Bogaerts money. That’s pure, fantastical conjecture on my part, however.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to see a trade of Bogaerts coming to fruition so soon into such a long contract. But with his name already noticeably across the internet within this context, we’re going to see it consistently until the Padres are satisfied with their finances.
Three years into his Major League career, Kim undeniably had his best season. He posted a 112 wRC+ and experienced a dramatic increase in walk rate (12.0 percent). He was also a benefactor of the new bases and pitcher engagement rules, with 38 steals. Kim also played stellar defense. In logging time at second base, shortstop, and third base, he was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the National League utility player.
Kim is heading into his last fully guaranteed season off his original contract. He and the Padres have a $7 million mutual option for 2025. However, another season like this one and it’s assuredly going to be declined on his end. Moving him now would give the Padres an opportunity to maximize his value a year ahead of likely free agency. Of course, when you discuss “value”, there’s also something to be said about an elite defensive player at multiple positions, who boasts an improving bat, and an overall affordable contract. If Bogaerts ends up moving, then Kim’s name immediately falls off this list, perhaps even to the point of an extension.
Set to hit free agency this winter, the Padres instead signed Yu Darvish to a six-year extension that included 2023. So he has another five years and roughly $83 million left in a contract that was expected to take him to the end of his Major League career. Darvish could be moved based on his contract status alone. Trading him, however, would present a trickier roster solution for the Padres.
The team heads into the winter with a ton of work to do on the pitching side. Martinez, Wacha, Lugo, and Snell are all free agents. The only clear arms locked into the rotation are Darvish and Joe Musgrove. A trade would free up money in order to fill out the rest of the rotation. But that also comes at the expense of a guaranteed arm, even if that guaranteed arm isn’t an innings-eater and is making regular IL appearances with nagging issues over the last few years.
Longshot Trade Candidates
(Their Name Will Be Out There, Probably)
The 2023 season got off to an inauspicious start for Musgrove when he dropped a kettlebell on his foot in the spring. He was shut down early with shoulder inflammation. He has another four years and $80 million on the books. We’ll likely see his name in rumors based on the contract alone. Coming off an injury-riddled 2023 and being a native son of San Diego, however, it’s highly unlikely anything real develops. His name will be mentioned in passing, nothing more.
Speaking of not moving guys coming off of down years: Jake Cronenworth. He was never going to be as valuable with the bat at first base as he was at second. But turning in below-average offensive production and losing much of his limited power didn’t help.
The team signed Cronenworth to a seven-year, $80 million deal because they believed him to be a strong complementary bat at multiple positions. If someone like Bogaerts or Kim is moved, then the team can shift Crone back to the keystone. From there, you hope he settles into that role and the bat returns. The return in a trade — with the down year and how other teams may view his bat — makes more than a passing mention unlikely.
They’ll Be in San Diego in 2024
(No Reason to Think They’re Going Anywhere)
I struggled as to whether Tatis belongs here or in the section above. He brought a lot of negative PR to the team in the middle of a contention window. He also reestablished himself as one of the game’s most exciting young talents. The bat didn’t quite come all the way back to form, but he was elite defensively in his first year in the outfield. Could the Padres’ financial peril give them a chance to move him before he does something silly off the field again?
I landed here: it’s an absurd thought. Tatis is one of the most exciting players in baseball. His bat should get closer to that original form with a season back under his feet. And they now know they can either move an infielder and move Tatis back or leave him excelling on the outfield grass. He’s a face-of-the-franchise, ticket-selling type. There’s almost zero chance the team will move him. Almost.
San Diego did a lot of work in the spring to ensure Machado was a Padre for life. He’s not going anywhere.
The Roster Paradox
The interesting part of this isn’t the finances. It’s the roster construction taken into account while doing it. The Padres could absolutely move someone like Bogaerts or Kim because they have the roster flexibility to do it, while also freeing up payroll. This isn’t true in all positions, of course. They don’t have immediate outfield or pitching solutions in the event they move a Soto or a Darvish. But it will be intriguing to see if they lean on trading from high-salary positions where they have flexibility.
Ultimately, though, one hopes the San Diego roster doesn’t collapse in on itself completely and they abandon the spending, not that we have any indication of that. But we have seen it in recent history: “We took our shot, it didn’t work out, let’s retreat.” The National League is top-heavy. There is room for new contenders. They don’t have to abandon their spending ways. It’s clear they just need to be smarter about it moving forward with complementary pieces, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Ironically, more like the Texas Rangers.