Padres seem content in pocketing payroll savings

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Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres’ payroll has taken a nosedive compared to the last few seasons. With nearly $20 million in penalty-free payroll remaining, the Padres’ front office seems content to pocket the savings.

Actions speak louder than words, as they say. Yes, they have said they are still looking to add pieces to the roster. Padres CEO Erik Greupner, chairman Eric Kutsenda, and president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller have echoed that sentiment. However, their actions say otherwise.

Player after player has been taken off the “shelf” by signing with other teams. Most signed seemingly affordable deals. Yet the Padres, with their numerous roster flaws, have nearly bowed out entirely. Save for signings to boost the bullpen and bench; the Padres have made virtually no significant acquisitions outside of the Juan Soto/Trent Grisham deal.

All while the Padres insist that players who hardly have any experience higher than a few weeks in Double-A are ready for Opening Day in the big leagues. To be fair, Jackson Merrill looks great early on.

In the rotation, there are two spots wide open for any number of unproven, inexperienced, or fringe MLB talents.

Last season, the Padres had a payroll of around $255 million, with their tax number around $280 million, which was above the luxury tax threshold.

Understandably, the Padres wanted to get below the threshold to reset the penalty schedule. However, they are far below the threshold to  the point where it looks intentional. As in, not spending money to be as cheap as possible with 2024’s payroll. They currently reside in the $215 million range, with the first tax threshold at $237 million.

That essentially means the Padres have just over $20 million in payroll flexibility without invoking the tax penalty.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, as free agents come off the board in positions of need for San Diego, they have stood pat.

It’s one thing to want to reset the luxury tax penalty schedule. It’s another thing entirely to not even attempt to approach the threshold at all. If this current payroll remains the same, it would be their lowest true money number in four years (before luxury tax considerations).

Garrett Cooper, who was a serviceable acquisition midseason last year (.725 OPS, 102 OPS+), just signed with the Cubs on a meager minor-league deal. He could have filled several roles for the Padres, like DH or a first base platoon with Jake Cronenworth, with nary a dent in the payroll.

Hyun Jin Ryu seemed like the perfect fit as a veteran left-handed starting pitcher. The Padres do not have any lefty starting options with significant big-league experience. Yet he didn’t even sign with an MLB team, going back to the KBO in Korea.

Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo served big roles in the rotation last year. Both signed elsewhere for $16 million and $15 million per year, respectively.

Quality hitters like Jorge Soler, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Joc Pederson, and Joey Gallo all signed somewhere else for less than $15 million per season.

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The Padres still have large needs in the outfield, bench, and starting rotation to address. Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Michael Lorenzen, Johnny Cueto, and Eric Lauer all remain unsigned as viable starting pitchers.

Outfielders Tommy Pham, Michael A. Taylor, Adam Duvall, Robbie Grossman, and Eddie Rosario all do not yet have homes. Those bats seem to be within the Padres’ budget if they are willing to spend up to their supposed limit.

This week welcomes the month of March and three weeks until the Padres officially play games that count against the Dodgers in Korea. However, they remain well under the luxury tax threshold and seem unwilling to spend penalty-free payroll.

They saved roughly $30 million in the Soto/Grisham deal. That’s not counting letting players like Snell, Wacha, Lugo, Josh Hader, and Nick Martinez walk to other teams or remain unsigned.

In response, they have signed three relievers (Woo Suk Go, Yuki Matsui, and Wandy Peralta) and outfielder Jurickson Profar for a total of roughly $9.5 million.

Where is that other $20 million going? It seems like nowhere but in the Padres’ pockets. Their actions say that they care more about saving money instead of fielding a team ready to contend for a World Series in 2024.

If those are truly their intentions, it’s a massively disappointing shift from where the team was headed under the leadership of the late beloved owner, Peter Seidler.

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