The San Diego Padres can consider the offseason a victory if they make these five moves.
Coming off a 37-23 record and the team’s first postseason berth since 2006, the Padres enter unfamiliar territory this offseason with a much shorter to-do list than usual. The last decade in San Diego has generally been a struggle to watch, but the acquisition of Fernando Tatis Jr. and the signing of both Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado brought a sense of hope to a team overshadowed by the team in blue just up the 5.
Of course, that team won the World Series in the shortened campaign, but the future in San Diego remains bright. Not only are the Padres generally a young team, but they also boast one of the league’s top farm systems, even after the Mike Clevinger trade. Eventually, general manager A.J. Preller will need to make some tough decisions, either parting with a proven veteran or prospects to free-up what figures to be a log-jam in the making at several positions.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no minor league system, the Padres will have at least one more year before some of those scenarios become real problems. For now, the team’s offseason to-do list will be considered a victory if these five events occur.
1. Address the back-end of the bullpen
The Padres’ bullpen was heavily taxed in the 60-game schedule. The group took a blow when Kirby Yates was lost for the year in mid-August. The 33-year-old struggled to the tune of a 12.46 ERA in six appearances. He collected only two saves in 2020 after leading the league with 41 a year ago. After Yates went down, Emilio Pagan did little to convince the Padres’ brass that he was “the guy” to close games. Instead, they utilized a closer-by-committee until the front office acquired Trevor Rosenthal at the trade deadline.
Rosenthal, 30, was excellent in half a season, collecting four-of-five saves in nine appearances without yielding a run. Of course, the Padres could turn to Pagan as the team’s closer in 2021. He served in that role with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019, racking up 20 saves to go along with a 2.31 ERA in 66 appearances. But he didn’t look anything like that player in the abbreviated season, although he suffered some of the same bicep tightness that put both Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet on the shelf.
Yates may have pitched his last inning in San Diego. He rejuvenated his career with the Padres, but it might be time for the two to go their opposite ways. Rosenthal embraced the City of San Diego in such a short amount of time. He doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his arm either, but that also will make him one of the more coveted bullpen arms on the free-agent market. If the Padres can’t retain Rosenthal, they need to find a reliable back-end of the bullpen guy. The 2020 season proved you can never have too many arms.
2. Address depth at second base and in the outfield
Could one player achieve both? Ideally, that person would be Jurickson Profar. He started dreadfully slow at the plate this year but had a strong finish. Profar, 27, was pushed off second base when Jake Cronenworth emerged. But the former played well in Tommy Pham‘s absence. Profar’s arm at second was a major concern among the Padres’ front office, committing 13 errors at second in 2019. But in 39 games in the outfield, Jurickson Profar had a perfect fielding percentage in 2020.
Did he price himself out of San Diego? Perhaps. But he also hasn’t proven to be consistent in his seven-year career. He posted a career year in 2018 but followed that with a .218 average in 2019 with Oakland. Which version would the Padres or any other prospective team be getting over the course of a full schedule in 2021? Either way, Greg Garcia is not an ideal backup at second base.
The Padres may non-tender him this offseason, leaving depth at second base thin. If Profar doesn’t return, there are several names on the free-agent market to consider bringing in that would be good fits in a utility role.
3. Sign a fifth starter to the right contract
The Padres have recently been linked to Trevor Bauer as a potential suitor. The connection makes sense as Bauer and Clevinger pitched together in Cleveland. Bauer stated, via Zoom meeting, that he’d check in with his former teammate about the potential of playing in San Diego. However, every team will have some level of interest in the soon-to-be 30-year-old. If the Padres have any advantage here, Bauer could sign a one-year deal until the league figures out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Given how difficult it was for the MLB and MLBPA to negotiate on the 2020 schedule, it’s a foregone conclusion the two sides will not budge on their desires. Bauer on a one-year deal makes a lot of sense, assuming minor league seasons return in 2021. MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino would have the opportunity to get a full year of starts under their belt before joining the Padres’ rotation in 2022.
Internal candidates include Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez, sliding into the vacant spot by unrestricted free agent Garrett Richards. Morejon’s future looks bright in San Diego, but a full year of starts at Triple-A El Paso could put him in a favorable spot for the 2022 season. He still has two minor league options left as well.
If not Bauer, the Padres should sign another top-tier pitcher on a one-year deal.
4. Add a designated hitter, assuming the league carries it in 2021
The Padres were one of 15 teams in the National League who got a boost when the league implemented the designated hitter for the 2020 season. Even with a crowded roster, guys like Francisco Mejia, Pham, and Wil Myers, among others, were expected to spend time in the DH role. But after Mejia failed to show anything offensively, Pham’s hand injury and the outfield depth thinned out via trades; the position became a black hole in the batting order.
At the trade deadline, the front office acquired Mitch Moreland from the Boston Red Sox. When Moreland was acquired, he was hitting .328 with eight home runs and 21 RBI’s. The Padres hoped that kind of production would carry over, but Moreland hit a measly .203 with two home runs and eight RBI’s in 20 games. The Padres declined his $3M option in 2021, which in large part, had to do with the uncertainty of the DH in 2021.
A.J. Preller may revisit Moreland, but given how poorly he hit at Petco Park (.186), that doesn’t bode well for 81 games in the Padres’ home ballpark. Someone like Myers could slot into the role next year, but that would leave a gaping hole in right field. The Padres, as well as the rest of the National League, will be paying close attention to the league’s final say in the DH. After that, they’ll need to add a high-caliber player.
5. Sign Fernando Tatis Jr. to a long-term extension
The topic of a Tatis long-term extension came up last offseason. At the time, A.J. Preller noted that the Padres were in a “wait-and-see” mode, given their budding superstars’ injury concerns in his rookie year. But the 21-year-old posted gaudy numbers in the shortened season. If not for a week-long slump at the end of the regular season, Tatis would have a strong case to be the league’s MVP.
Tatis is under team control through the 2024 season. But with every season that passes, he’s only going to be that much more expensive to sign to a long-term deal. Look around the league at players like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert with the Chicago White Sox. Tatis’ former team locked both guys up to long-term extensions before either took a major league at-bat.
Signing Tatis to a long-term extension now does two things. It keeps him in San Diego for the foreseeable future, and it assists the front office in fitting the financial puzzle pieces together. Assuming something gets done, Tatis, along with Myers, Machado, and Eric Hosmer, are the big money makers on the club.
In a perfect world, every one of the Padres’ prospects will reach their full potential, with no help from outside the organization. However, that’s not realistic. Myers’ contract comes off the books after the 2022 season, and Hosmer’s AAV drops from $21M to $13M beginning in 2023. Sign Tatis to a long-term deal this offseason so that the role pieces can be financially viable in the future.