Padres whiff on Lee as outfield situation turns dire

Jul 21, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena (56) runs to first base during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres were unable to sign Korean star Jung Hoo Lee as he goes to the Giants. Now, the situation in the outfield is the most urgent matter.

When the Padres swung the megadeal to send Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees, it blasted an enormous hole in the lineup, particularly in the outfield. It’s not very often you see a team deal away two of their starting outfielders in the same deal.

Almost a week later, the Padres still do not have satisfactory replacements in line for the outfield.

KBO MVP Jung Hoo Lee seemed like a perfect fit. He is best friends with Padres Gold Glover Ha-Seong Kim, and the Padres have Korean baseball celebrity Chan Ho Park in the front office as an advisor. Lee plays an elite center field with good contact skills.

Unfortunately, not only did the Padres get outbid for his services, he goes to their rivals in the Bay, the Giants.

That now marks the Dodgers (Shohei Ohtani) and Giants (Lee) with sizable acquisitions to improve their lineup. The Diamondbacks just made the World Series. The Padres are well behind.

FanGraphs’ Roster Resource tool projects the Padres outfield to be…

RF- Fernando Tatis Jr.

CF- Jose Azocar

LF- Cal Mitchell

Yes, Cal Mitchell, who is currently a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, is slated as the projected starting left fielder. That is far from an ideal lineup for a team with postseason aspirations.

Arizona Fall League standout Jakob Marsee might get a look too. However, he has only played 16 games above Single-A.

Where do the Padres go from here?

In regards to free-agent outfielders, there are still some viable options.

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Cody Bellinger fits the bill as a lefty bat with some pop. There is some cautiousness with teams signing a player coming off of a stellar bounce-back season after two dreadful final years with the Dodgers. His price is likely too high for the Friars. FanGraphs projects him to command around $24 million per season, which is far more than the Padres would and, frankly, should pay. Yes, he had a .881 OPS with a 133 OPS+, finishing 10th in NL MVP voting in 2023. However, it’s hard to forget 2021-2022, when he was among the worst everyday hitters in baseball (.611 OPS, 66 OPS+).

A slightly cheaper option is Jorge Soler. The two downsides to this scenario are that he is yet another right-handed bat in a very righty-heavy lineup. Plus, he is your typical all-or-nothing hitter. He hit 36 homers for Miami last season but also struck out 141 times in 137 games. Also, he is a bat-first, defense-maybe-later kind of player.

Joc Pederson remains a free agent after two solid seasons in San Francisco with a combined .821 OPS. Like Soler, he certainly won’t make anyone forget about Ken Griffey Jr. on defense. In fact, he may opt to play somewhere where he can be a near full-time DH. However, he is a lefty power bat, perhaps the Padres’ current biggest need.

Credit: NBC7

Harrison Bader is one of the last true centerfielders on the market, a big hole for San Diego unless they move Tatis over. However, he would be an extremely underwhelming signing, given his shortcomings offensively. Since the start of 2022, he has a meager .635 OPS and 77 OPS+. He would be one of San Diego’s worst hitters in the starting lineup. At that point, Jose Azocar might be the better option financially for a similarly uninspiring offensive output (78 OPS+ last season).

Michael Brantley, Jurickson Profar, Kevin Kiermaier, and Hunter Renfroe also are still free agents.

If those options are not feasible or satisfactory, A.J. Preller must once again go the trade route. EVT recently explored the option of Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson. Like Bader, he is on the light-hitting side but plays great defense and is four years younger than Bader with more upside.

Max Kepler may be a more exciting acquisition. He is coming off one of his best seasons of his career in Minnesota. He hit 24 homers, with a .260 average, .816 OPS, and 121 OPS+. He was worth 2.9 WAR to the Twins in 2023, which was Manny Machado‘s mark with San Diego this season. He is also a much-needed lefty. Given that he has two years of control left, the package to pry him from the Twins will need to be noteworthy.

If the Padres decide not to care about the lack of lefties and just want to go for the big splash, they could swing a trade with Tampa for the cult hero Randy Arozarena. The Rays always want to sell off pieces before they become too expensive. He is due for a raise of around $3 million (totaling $7 million) in arbitration this season and has three seasons left of control. This definitely would require a sizable trade package that would take a chunk out of the farm system. But for an outfielder with that much swag, pizazz, and flair for the dramatic, it might be worth it.

It’s not all superfluous hype and swag with him, either. He has hit at least 20 homers in three straight seasons with a solid 124 OPS+ since the start of 2021.

The Padres need to do something dramatic to improve their outfield before Spring Training. The options are shrinking, especially now that the highly coveted Jung Hoo Lee is headed for San Francisco.

The clock is ticking.

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