A bat and an arm- two players Padres should target with Soto savings

May 9, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Shane Bieber (57) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres saved roughly $38 million in the trade that sent Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees. Time to put those savings to good use.

Well, the Padres did it. They traded Juan Soto (and Trent Grisham), garnering a host of young pitchers in return. This did a few things. One, it freed up plenty of usable payroll to fill holes in the roster elsewhere. And two, it left major craters in the lineup behind San Diego’s now Big Three.

What should they do with that saved cash? Turn around and spend it, of course. Let’s take a look at two players, one hitter and one pitcher, that the Padres should target to bolster the roster for another run at the postseason in 2024.

Bat: Joc Pederson

Pederson is currently a free agent. FanGraphs estimates he will command around $12 million per season, likely in a multi-year deal. The Padres are too right-handed heavy. They need a lefty power bat to balance it out, you know since their previous best left-handed hitter is now in Yankees pinstripes instead of brown and gold.

The Palo Alto native makes a lot of sense. For the Giants last season, he was a designated hitter for 79 games and played 37 games in the outfield. That split might be heavier in the outfield if he were to come to San Diego. His fielding skills definitely leave something to be desired, but his bat doesn’t.

Credit: AP Photo

Over the last two seasons, both with San Francisco, he hit 38 total home runs with a .821 OPS and 129 OPS+ in 255 games. Last season, he was in the 96th percentile for hard-hit rate and 91st in average exit velocity. Simply put, the 31-year-old hits the ball hard.

He has a .885 career OPS with 10 homers in 59 career games at Petco Park to boot. In the current lineup, he slots in nicely in the cleanup spot after Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Manny Machado.

Arm: Shane Bieber

Obviously, this would have to be via trade, as Bieber still has one year of arbitration with Cleveland. Estimations put his arbitration number at around $12.2 million for 2024. Combined, these two signings cost just over $24 million, still significantly less than what one Juan Soto costs. Bieber isn’t exactly your middle-of-the-road innings-eater type, either.

You would struggle to name five starting pitchers better than Bieber in the total span of 2019 through 2022. In that timeframe, he earned two All-Star bids and won the AL Cy Young in the shortened 2020 season. In 93 games over that span, he owned a 2.91 ERA, a 148 ERA+, and a stellar 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The concern came in 2023. He made just 21 starts while battling elbow inflammation, which is a  scary phrase in the baseball world. He made just two starts after July 9.

Even with his lackluster 2023 season, he ranks seventh among all pitchers in fWAR since 2019.

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The encouraging sign is that his velocity and spin rates only dipped slightly before and after his injury. One might chalk it up to rust after a long layoff. Perhaps a fully healthy offseason gets him right back on track as one of the better starting pitchers in baseball.

Now, since this requires a trade, the Padres obviously need to pay up in prospects or players to acquire him. A.J. Preller will need to be prudent, as Bieber is a one-year rental fresh off an injury-riddled season. Perhaps the Padres could flip one of the players they just received in Jhony Brito, who could start right away, along with a mid-level prospect or two to acquire him. Players like Marcos Castañon (No. 25 prospect for SD) and Jagger Haynes (No. 29 prospect for SD) might be enticing enough.

Also, current Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla was on Cleveland’s staff in 2020 and 2021, two of Bieber’s best seasons. A reunion might spark another big year from the two-time All-Star and Cy Young winner.

The Padres need to add MLB talent right away with the funds they saved in the Soto/Grisham deal. These are two players that could become major contributors in San Diego in 2024.

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