Are the Padres punting on 2024?

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All the major moves the Padres have made this offseason have cut their payroll down. What is actually the plan for 2024?

You’ll have to forgive any lifelong Padres fan for experiencing even the slightest bit of sports-induced post-traumatic stress disorder regarding the moves made this offseason.

Padres fans are a damaged bunch.

Yes, this is still an unprecedented time in Padres history with historically large contracts for Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts. However, all this talk of shedding payroll has gotten fans up in their feelings. Yes, the Juan Soto/Trent Grisham deal benefitted the Padres with more depth in pitching (albeit mostly young and unproven).

It also shrunk their payroll for 2024.

They also moved Matt Carpenter to the Braves and essentially freed up another $4-plus million. Although, you likely won’t meet a single Friars fan who shed a tear over that deal.

This leaves fans wondering- is that money just going to be pocketed or poured back into the roster?

After the Soto trade, A.J. Preller said, “There are a lot of good players out there, both trade and free agency, that we want to at least be able to participate and see if we can add to our team. This deal kind of enables us to move on with the off-season.”

Now, that messaging seems to have changed.

The Padres were massively outbid for KBO MVP outfielder Jung Hoo Lee, who heads to the Giants. Their most notable free agent signing to this point is utility man Tyler Wade and his -0.6 career WAR. They are yet to sign a free agent to a major league deal.

The top three free agents in baseball this offseason per projected fWAR have all found teams (Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Nola, Jung Hoo Lee).

It seems a reunion with Blake Snell is nearly impossible, with his asking price likely higher than $25 million annually.

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A reunion with the savvy moves of yesteryear in Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha is confirmed impossible, as they both signed with the Kansas City Royals.

The Padres desperately need thump in the outfield, and the Royals also just signed old friend Hunter Renfroe for less than $6 million.

All seems quiet at 100 Park Boulevard in downtown San Diego.

So what’s the plan?

Even with unmatched star power and mega-contracts on the roster, the fans still had flashbacks of previous penny-pinching regimes when Dennis Lin of The Athletic released a concerning piece Saturday. It detailed the Padres’ desire to lower payroll even more than previously thought.

Credit: AP Photo

Lin expounded.

“(Further cutting payroll) would help with another potential objective. Team officials have recently indicated they would prefer to stay under Major League Baseball’s $237 million luxury tax threshold in 2024. FanGraphs’ projections have the Padres carrying a $152 million payroll and a luxury tax figure of $205 million, which is determined using the average annual value(AAV) of each rostered player’s contract.”

If the Padres’ goal is to reset the tax penalties and get out from under the thumb of  the CBT, it provides little room to improve the roster. The first threshold current sits at $237 million.

If they just wanted to stay under the threshold, that still only leaves around $20 million of usable payroll to fill several large holes around the roster. If they are wanting to go even further as to be under $200 million, there is little else they can do besides ride with non-roster invitees and prospects in important places.

The article did expound on the Padres’ desire to be active for the loaded pitching class of the 2024-25 offseason.

There’s one problem with that- there’s an entire baseball season to be played before that happens.

Are the Padres punting away 2024 to reset and gear up for 2025?

It feels like the team is already selling the idea to fans of riding with untested, talented youth instead of proven veterans.

Touted prospects Jackson Merrill and Jakob Marsee likely will get extended looks during Spring Training to fill holes in the lineup on the cheap. Neither player has played more than 46 games at the Double-A level. That might mean Pedro Avila or Matt Waldron in the Opening Day starting rotation.

That’s hardly an inspiring idea for a team and a fanbase just one year removed from a run to baseball’s equivalent of the Final Four. This off-season seems like a giant step back and even an adjustment in philosophy.

The fans got spoiled with the past few seasons of splashy moves. But perhaps that’s what got the Padres into this mess in the first place. Now, they are almost forced to reset financially.

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Think the top-heavy roster of the remaining “Big Three” is enough? Ask the Angels how having two multi-MVP winners in the same lineup in, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout went.

The blame for the poor roster construction in San Diego should be pointed towards the president of baseball operations and general manager, A.J. Preller.

Fans also see their rivals to the north, the Dodgers and Giants, making big moves to get better. The Diamondbacks just won the NL pennant and continue to sign quality free agents. Are the Padres even the third-best team in their own division?

The Padres don’t appear to have the rotation or depth in the lineup to compete for a championship in 2024.

How can the Padres compete? Yes, they have Tatis, Machado and Bogaerts but now the projected 2024 team seems wildly less formidable than the epically disappointing 2023 squad when accounting for the free agency departures, especially in the pitching staff.

The Padres still need two-thirds of a big league outfield, at least one more quality big league starting pitcher, and depth pieces along the bench and bullpen.

Now we are hearing the Padres want to continue to reset financially and be frugal, at least for this offseason. It seems like that is counterproductive to improving the team during the peak prime years of Tatis, Bogaerts, and Machado.

Instead of sensing urgency after freeing up money from the Soto/Grisham and Carpenter deals to pour that back into a World Series-contending roster, it feels like they are content sitting around and letting this free agent frenzy pass them by and wait for the next ship to come in.

This is the Padres window. And it won’t be open forever. As it stands now, whether by choice or by handcuffs brought on by their own sins, it feels like the Padres are set to waste one of those precious prime years in 2024.

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