Once the Major League Baseball owners and players can come to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller will have work to do.
The Padres already added arms to the starting rotation and bullpen. Now, Preller can focus on the starting lineup. Addressing the serious lack of output from 2021 should be his number one priority. On paper, last season’s Padres seemed to be destined for a deep playoff run.
Starting pitching injuries and an overworked bullpen didn’t help. However, the offense didn’t bail them out like they are capable of. Injuries played a small part in it, but underperformance was the most significant portion of the problem. The team simply didn’t hit enough last season.
The most glaring hole in the lineup is in left field. Tommy Pham’s contract is up, and the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster is Jurickson Profar, who is best suited coming off the bench rather than starting every day. At least one major league-caliber outfielder is needed.
There is also a large output deficit compared to the money spent at first base. Eric Hosmer will receive a $20 million base salary for 2022 and $13 million the following three seasons. That is a lot for a first baseman that was worth zero fWAR and had a wRC+ of 102 in 2021, according to Fangraphs. The Padres already have over $200 million committed to 2022 in salary.
If the rumors are true, the team can still add as much as $30 million to that total. However, the next CBA will likely include a designated hitter for the National League. A.J. Preller will have to fill two roster slots and potentially upgrade at first base for $30 million or less.
Let’s play a little game called “If I were GM” and see what I can do for the 2022 San Diego Padres, on paper at least.
The first target is Seiya Suzuki. The Japanese outfielder was posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and will have 20 days to reach an agreement with a team once the lockout ends. The market for Suzuki is said to be fierce, as the 27-year-old hit .317, had an OBP of .433, and slugged .639. He hit 38 home runs and 88 RBI in 132 games, according to the NPB official website. Suzuki has a bit of a drawn-out leg kick. It looks like he uses it to time the pitcher. However, once he gets his foot down, it’s a short and powerful swing.
Here’s Seiya Suzuki, the superstar outfielder that will be posted.
The 27-year-old hit .319/.436/.640 with 38 home runs and more walks (88) than strikeouts (87) in 2021.
He led the NPB league at 8.4 WAR.
— Michael Mayer (@mikemayer22) November 5, 2021
He has excellent hand-eye coordination, showing the ability to hit the ball out of the yard and to shorten up and hit line drives to right field. He doesn’t sell out for power and since 2019 has more walks than strikeouts. The outfielder has an above-average arm clocked in the mid-’90s off the mound. He also has excellent speed, but it has not translated into stealing bases at a high rate. Suzuki fits exactly what the Padres are looking for. His contract is rumored to be in the $10-12 million range for four to five years.
Now it’s not going to be as simple as offering Suzuki a contract, he has many suitors, and he’ll need a bit of convincing to lock him down.
There is a wild plan for this. If an A.J. Preller-esque blockbuster trade is made within days of the season-opening, that should entice Suzuki to choose San Diego over any other team.
One position in much need of upgrading is first base. Unfortunately, Eric Hosmer hasn’t come close to living up to his lofty contract. Even if his teammates like him, it’s time to move on. The Chicago Cubs were reportedly very interested in acquiring Luis Campusano and were willing to take on Hosmer to do so. The Cubs may see Campusano as a replacement for Wilson Contreras, who only has one more year on his contract. The Cubs are in a rebuilding phase, and Campusano would be well suited to go to a non-contender that would be willing to let him improve defensively, even if it has negative results early in his career. The issue with trading Campusano with Hosmer is that they don’t even each other out. It’s likely still around a $20 million deficit. The Padres are trying not to spend any money and rather not send more prospects and still get nothing in return. The better option is to get a third team involved in the trade, so we’ll come back to this trade.
Thinking ahead, Eric Hosmer would need to be replaced at first base. The cheapest option is to slide Jake Cronenworth from second base over to first and then start Ha-Seong Kim at second. There are a couple of issues that come with this potential move.
First, it really devalues Jake Cronenworth. He is a terrific, up-the-middle defender. Moving him to a corner takes away a huge portion of his game, and thus his value. He also isn’t a typical first base style power hitter. His value and his bat just fit better at second base.
Secondly, it takes Kim away from the bench. With Fernando Tatis Jr.opting to go without surgery on his shoulder, it would be wise to keep a higher than normal level player on the bench. He’s a fantastic insurance policy if you will. Not only could he play defense at shortstop, but at second and third base as well. Those three positions just happen to be occupied by the three most important hitters on the current roster. Should anything happen to any of these players, it would be devastating to the team, but the presence of Kim would soften the blow. One could argue that due to the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) Kim accumulated last season with very limited playing time, he is the best infielder on the team. However, he was easily the worst hitter of the four men. Kim made major swing adjustments and seemed to be improving toward the end of the season. He should be able to build on that and at least be an average major league hitter next season. The right-handed hitter is a luxury to be able to keep on the bench.
The Padres don’t have any prospects that could play first base, so options are limited to trades and free agency. Freddie Freeman would be a great addition, but he’s a bit out of the price range for this situation. Anthony Rizzo would make for a nice homecoming story, although it looks like he’s asking for money based more on his previous accomplishments and not so much for his future value. One sneaky-good first baseman would be Kyle Schwarber. The lefty is an offensive juggernaut and has shown to be competent at first base. He just hasn’t had many opportunities to play there. With Manny Machado, Tatis Jr., and Cronenworth throwing 90-plus mph across the diamond, it would be better to go with a more established defensive first baseman.
That leads me to the trade market. Josh Bell could be a nice addition that wouldn’t require a top prospect. Luke Voit from the Yankees would require even less value, but he comes with substantial risk. The most coveted option is Oakland’s, Matt Olson.
The left-hander is one of the best first basemen in all of baseball. He had a career year last season with a slash line of .271/.371/.590 with 39 home runs and accumulated 5.0 fWAR. He also hits left-handed pitching equally as well as right-handed pitching. Matt Olson is the type of player that a manager can count on every day to be an all-star level player.
As such, many teams will be contacting the Athletics to make a trade, and his already high value will rise even higher. The Padres have a history of keeping top prospects while trading lesser but still high valued players. Unfortunately, after doing just that so many times, the Padres don’t have the prospect capital to keep that up. Any trade with multiple prospects will be easily beaten by another team.
The only way the Padres can land a player like Matt Olson is to have a top prospect involved in the trade. MacKenzie Gore’s value has taken a hit since struggling over the past two years, so he wouldn’t be enough. Luis Campusano is theoretically going to the Cubs, not to mention the A’s are set at catcher, which leaves Robert Hassell III and CJ Abrams. Both are extremely high-value prospects that could eventually turn into All-Star caliber players. For me, it’s pretty simple. One player is blocked, while the other has a clear path to playing time. I do understand that Abrams is a phenomenal athlete and could reasonably play any position on the diamond. However, he has the highest value and would contribute the most to any team by staying up the middle. Even though he has the ability to play left field, he hasn’t shown the type of power typically associated with a corner outfielder. So I’m going to maximize his value and offer him to the A’s.
If David Forst and the Athletics knew that C.J. Abrams was available for trade, they would be falling over themselves trying to pick up the phone. Not only is a player of Abrams’ caliber rarely traded, but the A’s are in need of a shortstop. Currently, they have an underperforming Elvis Andrus and a couple of prospects that aren’t near the level of Abrams. Acquiring a potential All-Star shortstop will go a long way toward a rebuild, so the Athletics line up nicely for a big trade.
However, Abrams for Olson is a massive overpay for the Padres, at least a $20 million overpay. The choice here would be to either get more in return from the Athletics or make a wild three-way trade with the Cubs. This is all fun and games, so let’s be on the bolder side.
The proposed trade would send C.J. Abrams to the Oakland Athletics, Eric Hosmer and Luis Campusano to the Chicago Cubs, Matt Olson to the San Diego Padres. Finally, the Athletics would be responsible for satisfying the Cubs, taking on the entirety of Eric Hosmer’s contract.
It would certainly appear all three parties get exactly what they want. The Padres get out from under a bad contract while gaining one of the league’s best first basemen. The Athletics get their shortstop of the future while lowering payroll. The Cubs end up “buying” a few prospects from Oakland by taking on Hosmer’s contract, supporting their rebuild.
If this trade did happen, it would take the baseball world by storm. The Padres would once again be the talk of the offseason. All that attention would be used to get the aforementioned Seiya Suzuki to sign.
Suzuki may not need much convincing to want to come to San Diego. The Padres would boast a 20-plus WAR infield, a clear path to starting in right field with Wil Myers moving to left field. The starting rotation and bullpen are solid and have depth. There would be a clear expectation for the team to win immediately and be World Series contenders for at least three years. A four-year, $50 million or a five-year $55 million deal should get Suzuki to sign with the Padres.
After subtracting Eric Hosmer’s $20 million salary, adding approximately $12 million for Olson and $11 million for Suzuki, it’s an addition of $3 million to the $30 million budget while only needing to add a designated hitter and potentially a backup centerfielder.
Even after acquiring Olson, there’s still a need for a left-handed power hitter as the DH. At the top of that list is Kyle Schwarber. Last season Schwarber belted 32 home runs, drove in 71 RBI, and had a wRC+ of 145. Schwarber has been mostly an offensive player his entire career, being below average defensively in the outfield. Although one plus is he can play first base and maybe even catcher if needed in a pinch. His contract is projected to be three years and $60 million, well within the theoretical budget.
If a more frugal move is needed, signing Jorge Soler for one or two years at $10-12 million per season would be a good short-term gamble. A trade for the previously mentioned Josh Bell or Luke Voit are also options, but Schwarber is certainly the preference.
With these plans set in place, the potential starting lineup looks very enticing.
It may not be the new “Murderer’s Row,” but it’s certainly a lineup that can not only compete for the National League West but beyond. The expectations for this team would be off the charts.
The entire roster may not even been done at this point, given the surplus of catchers and only one center fielder. However, the main pieces are set, and I’d be ready to hand this team back over to A.J. Preller and his team to make those final moves.