(Gregory Bull, Associated Press)
San Diego Padres
by Zachary Betron
2020 Record: 37-23 (.617 win%, 2nd in NL West)
2020 Payroll: $172,393,765 (11th)
Projected 2021 Lineup (All projections from Steamer and Rotochamp):
1. CF Trent Grisham, .252 AVG/.350 OBP/.447 SLG, 3.6 fWAR
2. SS Fernando Tatís Jr., .284 AVG/.362 OBP/.545 SLG, 5.8 fWAR
3. 3B Manny Machado, .274 AVG/.352 OBP/.516 SLG, 4.6 fWAR
4. 1B Eric Hosmer, .257 AVG/.324 OBP/.432 SLG, 0.5 fWAR
5. LF Tommy Pham, .267 AVG/.365 OBP/.453 SLG, 2.4 fWAR
6. RF Wil Myers, .237 AVG/.317 OBP/.438 SLG, 0.9 fWAR
7. 2B Jake Cronenworth, .271 AVG/.343 OBP/.405 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
8. C Austin Nola, .252 AVG/.329 OBP/.397 SLG, 1.9 fWAR
Projected 2021 Rotation:
1. Yu Darvish, 189.0 IP/3.34 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 4.8 fWAR
2. Blake Snell, 151.0 IP/3.26 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 3.5 fWAR
3. Joe Musgrove, 169.0 IP/3.82 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 3.2 fWAR
4. Dinelson Lamet, 137.0 IP/3.40 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 3.2 fWAR
5. Chris Paddack, 107.0 IP/3.81 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR
Very rarely does a team maintain or improve the quality of each position over a single offseason, especially after winning over 60 percent of their games the prior season. However, the San Diego Padres have done just that. After finishing with MLB’s third-best record in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Friars had joined the postseason field for the first time since 2006. They defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the postseason before being swept by the juggernaut of the Los Angeles Dodgers, their NL West counterpart and the eventual World Series champions.
Despite the postseason failure, Padres general manager A. J. Preller was able to pinpoint the team’s deficiencies more effectively as a result. During their second-round loss to the Dodgers, injuries to number-one starter Dinelson Lamet and newly-acquired Mike Clevinger exposed their lack of starting pitching depth, prompting Preller to attack the trade market for top-tier arms. In the waning days of the 2020 calendar year, San Diego executed a pair of blockbuster trades to add two premier aces to their pitching staff: Blake Snell, the recipient of the 2018 AL Cy Young Award, was acquired from the World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Francisco Mejía, Luis Patiño, Blake Hunt, and Cole Wilcox, and Yu Darvish, who finished second in the 2020 NL Cy Young Award voting, was acquired from the Chicago Cubs along with Victor Caratini and cash considerations for Zach Davies and four lower-level prospects.
Snell and Darvish join a rotation that carries over Lamet and Chris Paddack from last season, as well as Joe Musgrove, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in January. Mike Clevinger also re-signed with the Padres on a two-year, $11.5 million agreement, but is unfortunately out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Snell played well above average in 2020, posting a 3.06 xFIP over 11 regular season starts, and the hope is that he can rekindle some of the magic from his masterful 2018 season. Darvish, on the other hand, was undoubtedly dominant this past season, starting 12 games in the regular season and finishing with a 2.82 xFIP. While Snell and Darvish were the big-name acquisitions this offseason, the Padres’s trade for Musgrove flew somewhat under the radar. The ex-Pirate didn’t post great numbers on the surface (1-5 record over eight starts), but his advanced stats show he performed relatively well (3.19 xFIP) and will be a key piece in San Diego’s rotation this upcoming season.
Amid the frenzy of the Snell and Darvish acquisitions, Preller also signed this offseason’s top international free agent – Ha-Seong Kim, a 24-year-old shortstop from the KBO – to a four-year, $28 million deal. Kim is known for his speed, and although he will likely not be placed in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, the Padres envision that he will get his reps in throughout the year as a solid utility infielder coming off the bench. He fills the void left by the departure of first baseman Mitch Moreland in free agency, who signed with the Oakland Athletics. Furthermore, the Padres re-signed Jurickson Profar to a three-year, $21 million deal. After acquiring the him in a trade with Oakland prior to the 2020 season, Profar started over half of San Diego’s games, posting a respectable 1.3 fWAR. He is projected to play most of the season in a substitution role, making spot starts where needed, as he can play every position sans pitcher and catcher. Profar and Caratini can also serve as dangerous switch-hitters off the bench if a pinch-hitting situation arises for second-year manager Jayce Tingler.
Finally, the Padres concluded their offseason shopping spree with a deal aiming to lock up one of their franchise cornerstones for the foreseeable future. At only 22 years of age, Fernando Tatís Jr. was rewarded with a 14-year, $340 million contract extension, making it the third-largest contract in MLB history behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Over the past few offseasons, the Padres have been no strangers to handing out enormous contracts, penning first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year deal worth $144 million before the 2018 season and gifting third baseman Manny Machado a 10-year deal worth $300 million in 2019. So far, Hosmer has supremely underperformed his contract, accumulating a total of 0.4 fWAR over his first three years with the team. While Machado also struggled in his first year under the new contract, he rebounded with a season worthy of third place in 2020 NL MVP voting.
Tatís’s deal was met with mostly positive reception at the time it was announced. The fourth-place finisher in the 2020 NL MVP race accumulated 2.9 fWAR in the 60-game season, launching 17 home runs with 45 RBIs. Tatís certainly looks poised to take over as one of the faces of the MLB, and the Padres wanted to ensure that he drives revenue through the stadium for years to come. The main criticism, however, stemmed from concerns about the sustainability of his success. Tatís has only played 143 games at the major-league level, less than the conventional 162-game MLB season. The Padres are certainly hoping that he can keep up his exciting style of play, or else they could easily be regretting this contract if he falters over the next few seasons.
We often hear the phrase “winning the offseason” thrown around media circles prior to the start of the ensuing major league season, but the moniker seems to fit the San Diego Padres at this juncture in their franchise’s history. With only a few, but significant moves this offseason, A. J. Preller built a World Series contender in San Diego. The Padres’ offseason spending demonstrates that they are going all-in this season and the ensuing years to come, as they look to turn into a perennial threat to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy come October.
2021 Season Preview:
The road to the World Series will almost certainly run through the NL West this season. The Padres and the Dodgers both finished with top-three records in the abbreviated 2020 regular season, and both improved over the offseason. San Diego’s trades for Snell and Darvish prompted an arms race (no pun intended) between the two teams, with Los Angeles countering by signing the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and activating 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price from the COVID-related opt-out list. The two teams will meet 19 times over the 162-game slate, many of which will likely be nationally televised.
The key to San Diego’s success last year was their reliance on star power in the batter’s box. Their propensity for the long ball led to their nickname “Slam Diego,” and they are hoping to carry over their power into the upcoming season. Much like last year, the health and consistency of the Padres’s two MVP-caliber infielders will play an enormous role in influencing the success of their season. For the Padres to maintain pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they must ensure that Tatís and Machado are healthy on a nightly basis. While the heart of the lineup is comprised of Tatís, Machado, and Hosmer, that should not take away from the value of other players in the lineup, notably leadoff man Trent Grisham. He mostly batted ninth to serve as a feeder to the top of the order in 2020, but that opportunity has been virtually eliminated with the National League readopting the designated-hitter rule. As such, Tingler moved Grisham to the leadoff position, hoping that his .349 wOBA and team-leading 31 walks last year carries into 2021. When he gets on base, the Gold Glove center fielder is also a proven stolen-base threat, swiping 10 bags in 2020. Bearing that in mind, Grisham expects to be a solid candidate for a 20-20 season.
With how successful San Diego was last year considering their extreme dependence on their bats, one can only imagine how well the Padres will be this year after adding two aces to their rotation. The team lived and died by the success of Tatís and Machado in 2020; if both went cold at the same time, the Padres would struggle to formulate anything at the plate. In their three-game postseason loss against the Dodgers, the two combined to post an abysmal .174 batting average. Simply put, the Padres could not afford to have both of their star players disappear at once. Fortunately, now they have a backup to their backup. If both players go cold, the Padres have the ability to rely on their starting pitching night-in and night-out. While last year there were questions of consistency and the ability to show up on a start-to-start basis, Jayce Tingler and Co. know exactly what to expect from each starting pitcher this season. If one or two players in the group of Tatís, Machado, and the game’s starting pitcher are having an off night, then the hope is that the remaining individual can help lead the team to a win. In terms of league-wide value, Fangraphs has projected the Padres’ starting pitchers to lead the majors with 17.3 fWAR. Although the team suffered from a lack of depth across position groups in 2020, it looks as though A. J. Preller has resolved that issue with his big-name trades over the offseason.
If one were to look for a potential weakness of the team this season, it would be the bullpen. Although Fangraphs projects their relief pitchers to accumulate 4.5 fWAR, good for fifth in the league, this bullpen suffers from a dearth of left-handed pitchers. Right now, the only southpaw coming out of their bullpen is Drew Pomeranz, their closer. While he has proven himself to be relatively reliable and consistent, the Padres could find themselves in trouble if they are forced to make a move on the mound with multiple left-handed batters coming up. At the trade deadline, look for A. J. Preller to add one or two left-handed relief pitchers, possibly in a mid-relief to setup role, to help Pomeranz finish out the game.
The Padres may also look to possibly add a rental bat for the second half of the season. Myers and Hosmer are not projected to do very well this year, and if they continue to struggle in the first half, the Padres may go after the best available right fielder or first baseman on the trade block. When the trade deadline rolls around and they find themselves challenging Los Angeles for first place in the NL West, then they would likely make a move to push themselves ahead. San Diego is in win-now mode, and that may mean sacrificing some of their best prospects in favor of immediate reward.
Record Prediction: 99-63
Yes, the Padres were one of the best teams in the league last year. Yes, they drastically improved over the offseason. But no, the Padres will not catch the Dodgers in the regular season standings by October. Currently, Fangraphs predicts that the Padres will finish second in the NL West with 95 wins. This seems to underrate them slightly, but not enough to the point where they would overcome the Dodgers’ win total for this season. With Los Angeles likely to cross the century mark, San Diego will presumably enter the postseason claiming the best record in the National League for a non-division winner. Under the notion that the 2021 MLB postseason will return to its pre-2020, non-expanded playoff format, that would land the Padres squarely in the fourth seed for a wild card matchup. Despite that, the team could make a deep run in October, possibly threatening to make its way to the Fall Classic barring any health concerns.
Player to Watch #1: SS Fernando Tatís Jr.
It feels redundant to call Tatís a “player to watch,” because you are already watching him anyways. He is the most electric player in baseball. He has the defensive skill. He has the offensive pop. He has the swagger. He hits grand slams up seven runs in the eighth inning. (Never apologize for doing your job, Fernando. Never). From the moment he steps on the field, all eyes are on him, and he rises to the occasion. In his 143 regular season games at the major-league level, he has amassed 6.5 fWAR and maintained a 150 wRC+. Oh, and he is still only 22 years old. As exciting as he is now, he is only getting better.
Player to Watch #2: CF Trent Grisham
It is easy to forget about Grisham with the immense amount of the star power that surrounds him in San Diego’s lineup. This year will be his first full season batting leadoff, and his speed is what makes him such an attractive option for Jayce Tingler ahead of the superstars Tatís and Machado. After eclipsing double-digit steals in 2020, he will have his fair share of opportunities to get on base by virtue of batting ahead of Tatís, where he will receive better pitches to hit. He is projected to have the third-best fWAR for a position player on the team with 3.6, and his value doesn’t just come from the batter’s box. His speed and route efficiency in center field rewarded him with a Gold Glove in 2020, an honor he certainly looks to achieve once more this year.
Player to Watch #3: SP MacKenzie Gore
Lost in much of the hype around the Padres is their farm system. MacKenzie Gore, the third overall selection in the 2017 first-year player draft, is scheduled to join the major league roster sometime in early-to-mid 2021. Gore is MLB.com’s number one pitching prospect and is the sixth-ranked prospect in baseball. The 22-year-old left-hander spent 2020 at their alternate training site but will make a strong case to contribute to the team’s success in the latter half of the year, especially if the rotation struggles with injuries. At 92-95 mph, his fastball is known for challenging hitters into high swing-and-miss rates, and his slider has been touted as one of his best off-speed pitches. However, if he falls into issues of inconsistency in the minors and the major league rotation is doing well, then don’t expect A. J. Preller to force a call-up for Gore until the moment is right for him.