One possible option for the Padres is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder/designated hitter Austin Meadows.
Meadows, who will be 27 in 2022, is a powerful hitter against right-handers. The left-handed hitter was an All-Star in 2019, hitting an outstanding .291/.364/.558/.922 with 33 home runs and 29 doubles and hitting .298/.384/.576/.960 against right-handers. Meadows wasn’t nearly as good in 2021, hitting .234/.315/.458/.772 with 27 home runs and 29 doubles. Despite this overall regression, Meadows still crushed right-handed pitching and slashed .251/.336/.536/.871 against them.
Despite always being significantly less effective against left-handers, Meadows’s overall regression seems partially fueled by more extreme splits in 2021. In 2019, Meadows hit .275/.316/.521/.837 against left-handers, which is still very good despite not being nearly as good as he was against right-handers. In 2021 however, Meadows only hit .198/.270/.293/.563 against left-handers, making his splits between right-handers and left-handers far worse than in 2021. Defensively, Meadows is right around average, posting -1 defensive runs saved in 615.2 innings in left field.
Meadow is entering the arbitration years of his contract and is slated to earn around $4.3 million in 2022, a price the Rays are notorious for not wanting to pay. There is an excellent chance Meadows will be available this offseason, and he shouldn’t be particularly costly for the Padres to acquire. If acquired, it might suit the Padres if Meadows was platooned with Wil Myers or another strong bat against left-handers in left field. With only one catcher, Jurikson Profar and Ha-Seong Kim, projected for the 2022 bench, the Padres currently have an open roster spot to allow for a platoon in a corner outfield spot, with the player not starting that specific day serving as a backup outfielder off the bench. Myers’s experience at first base and center field would make him more suited for this role, though his defense in center was too poor to warrant anything other than emergency playing time there.
While they would cost a combined $25 million, a Meadows/Myers platoon would be extremely valuable offensively. Meadows had a .871 OPS in 402 plate appearances against right-handers in 2021, and Myers had a .828 OPS in 140 plate appearances against left-handers. Combined, that’s a .859 OPS and 28 home runs over 542 plate appearances, which would’ve made that platoon the second most productive spot in the lineup in 2021, with Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth posting a .836 and .800 OPS, respectively.
The combination of Myers and Meadows would’ve been better offensively than current targets like Kris Bryant, Max Kepler, and Tommy Pham, better defensively than targets like Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, and overall better than targets like Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler. Castellanos, the Padres top target of this group, is poised to receive a five to seven-year deal for over $20 million a year following a season in which he hit .309/.362/.576/.938 with 34 home runs, 38 doubles, -7 defensive runs saved, and a 4.2 fWAR in 2021. It’s important to note that Castellanos has extreme home and away splits, hitting .359/.407/.702/.1.109 with 23 home runs in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark and only hitting .260/.319/.454/.772 with 11 home runs on the road. It’s also important to note that not only would signing Castellanos lock the Padres into a long-term commitment with a soon-to-be 30-year-old player, but it would also cost them a draft pick in 2022 because of Castellanos receiving a qualifying offer from the Reds.
In comparison, the Meadows/Myers platoon would’ve hit around .255/.346/.512/.858, 28 home runs, 31 doubles, and -1 defensive runs saved in left field. Current free agent Michael Conforto posted very similar numbers to this in 2019 and was worth 3.9 fWAR, so it can be assumed that this is roughly what this platoon would’ve put up.
So the question is, what would be better for the Padres? Signing someone like Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, or Michael Conforto would lock the Padres into another long-term deal with an aging player. They’d lose a draft pick and incur a potential financial penalty under the current luxury tax rules. They would give up at least one prospect to move Myers to afford such a move. On the other hand, acquiring Meadows would only see the Padres giving up a few prospects for Meadows and only paying a significant amount of money in 2022 before Myers can be bought out in 2023. While an argument can be made either way, significantly if the current luxury tax penalties are changed, it’s clear to see the positives of trading for Meadows and putting together a platoon between him and Myers.
So, if the Padres decide to do this, how does it affect the rest of the offseason? Well, the Padres are currently bumped up right next to the luxury tax threshold, so it’s reasonable to assume they wouldn’t want to spend much more from their current position. With the acquisition of catcher Jorge Alfaro, it seems highly likely that the Padres will use top prospect Luis Campusano (and potentially a bit more) to unload Eric Hosmer’s contract.
With Myers and Meadows taking up two roster spots and neither possessing strong enough defensive skills to regularly handle center field, A.J. Preller would likely lean toward a stronger defensive starting right fielder that can backup Trent Grisham in center field. Japanese superstar Seiya Suzuki could fit this mold, as he’s a multi-time winner of the NPB’s equivalent of MLB’s Gold Glove Award in the outfield and likely could handle all three outfield spots with ease.
According to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, some in the Padres front office are particularly high on Suzuki, and Suzuki has stated his desire to play for a west coast team with a warm climate. With the Dodgers outfield seemingly full and no reported interest from the Angels, this seems like a good match.
There are some interesting options to cheaply fill this role on the trade market as well. The White Sox Adam Engel and the Brewers Tyrone Taylor were decent offensively last season and don’t appear to have a spot in their respective outfields. Both Engel and Taylor feature plus speed and strong defensive abilities, which combined with adequate offensive outputs like they flashed last year would give them similar value to Padres center fielder Trent Grisham.
Engel, who has stepped up his offensive output significantly the past two seasons, is particularly intriguing. Engel hit .252/.336/.496/.832 with seven home runs, nine doubles, stole seven bases, and seven defensive runs saved last season, good for an impressive 1.2 fWAR in just 140 plate appearances. Had Engel kept this pace over 600 plate appearances, he would’ve been a 5.0 fWAR player last season. Another player with a similar skill set is Orioles left fielder Austin Hays, who, despite not being the best hitter, still holds good value by combining his strong defense with a .250 bat that possesses 20+ home run power. Suzuki will be looking for a multi-year deal in the $8-11 million per year range, Engel is in his second year of arbitration, and both Taylor and Hays are pre-arbitration eligible, making all of these options affordable.
With strong offensive production coming from left field and a strong defender in right field, Preller would likely next add a pair of middle-of-the-order sluggers to fill the first base and designated hitter spots. Matt Olson and Nelson Cruz are available options that have been previously tied to the Padres, while Luke Voit, Josh Bell, and Anthony Rizzo are also available to fill these roles.