Is Jake Cronenworth’s future cloudy with Padres?

Padres Jake Cronenworth

Credit: Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

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Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

‘The 2023 season was a total failure for the San Diego Padres.

There is no way to get around it. With a roster full of superstars, the Padres should have easily coasted into the playoffs. Instead, they are in fourth place, and it does not appear the team will finish this much-anticipated season with a record above the .500 mark. That is tragic on so many levels.

It is difficult to put your finger on exactly what the issue was for the Padres.

In 2023, they failed to hit with runners in scoring position and fell to pieces in close games and during extra-innings. Despite owning the best ERA in all of the National League, the Padres sit 20 games behind the Dodgers once again. It was a total team effort to reach this low. The team just could not pick one another up in any facet of the game.

Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, and Xander Bogaerts come with a great reputation for offensive numbers. Each of this foursome is at the tail end of a down year. Machado is banged up, and his .773 OPS is the lowest it’s been since the 2014 season when Machado was 21. Tatis is currently at a .784 OPS, which is over .100 points than his previous three seasons in the league.

Xander Bogaerts signed a massive $280 million deal in the winter and hasn’t lived up to expectations. His .755 OPS is his second-worst production in the major leagues. Not since the 2017 season (.764 OPS) has the shortstop suffered so much with the bat. Though Soto is sporting a .894 OPS, his year has been full of peaks and valleys. He has had the most productive season of the top four, though you expect more from the left-handed hitter.

Padres Jake Cronenworth
Credit: AP Photo

The fifth member of the Padres main offensive group is Jake Cronenworth, who is currently out for the year with a broken wrist.

With the signing of Xander Bogaerts, the Padres moved Cronenworth to first base for the 2023 season. Defensively, the former University of Michigan standout looked solid, but his offensive numbers slipped again for the fourth straight year. That is quite concerning. Factor in the Padres extended him in the winter, and you see a possible problem developing.

With a $253 million payroll, the Padres do not have the money issues that once plagued the franchise. They have cash in hand and invested over a billion dollars in a handful of players on the roster. However, these investments must bear fruit. The Padres are in a lower-tiered market, and though the fans are knocking down the door to go to games, the organization needs to be wise. They do not want to ruin the good thing they created at Petco Park.

Blake Snell and Josh Hader are free agents this winter. Both pitchers will likely explore the open market. One would think the Padres will trim some payroll somewhere, and Jake Cronenworth could be one area where the team could lighten their overall commitments. The left-handed hitter is due $80 million through the 2030 season. That is roughly $11.4 million per season. The annual value is not overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination, but the Padres will want some flexibility in the future. Especially if they wish to bring back Snell or Hader.

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Cronenworth is a two-time All-Star who likely has name value around the league. His true worth lies as a middle infielder, though. The Padres simply do not have room for him with the emergence of Ha-Seong Kim and Xander Bogaerts locked up for ten more years. Cronenworth just does not have the offensive prowess needed to be an everyday first baseman. Something may have to give.

Then there is Jackson Merrill, who tore it up in the minors this year, making it all the way to Double-A. The 20-year-old produced .796 OPS in 179 at-bats for the Missions to close out the year. The left-handed hitter is capable of playing multiple positions, including outfield (he logged 45 innings in leftfield this year). He is very close to major league service time.

Cronenworth is replaceable if the Padres can find someone to take on his contract. A fresh start may help the infielder, and the Padres surely could use financial flexibility. Keep a watchful eye on this situation this winter. The Padres will adjust the roster. That you can count on. Jake Cronenworth may very well be a causality.

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