The bullpen, comprised of several good arms that profile mostly as middle relief sans Drew Pomeranz, who had a dominating 2020, deserves the most attention. The back end of the bullpen, long a strength in San Diego, lacks a true stopper, and swing and miss relief arms may make or break 2021. There are some appealing options on the free-agent market. The most useful options are likely Brad Hand (2/$14M), Trevor Rosenthal (2/$14M), and Kirby Yates (1/$5M). Each former Padre has had success in Petco. But, Yates’s struggles in 2020 before his season-ending injury do not inspire hope in the type of complete physical and performance turnaround needed for a championship run. Hand and Rosenthal can be approximated with lower-cost talent.
The best fit for this philosophy comes in exploring the trade market because these short-term free-agent contracts are stopgaps for value and ceiling. Only AJ and the teams involved know what will be fair deals, so I won’t even suppose specifics. But, there is no way the second or third industry-rated farm system can’t acquire them.
Targets are potentially many. Three pitchers sit at the top of the list. Kansas City Royals right-hander Josh Staumont has two pre-arb years and five total years of control. Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Diego Castillo has another pre-arb season with four years of control. To balance out the back end, Josh Hader, the tremendous left-hander for the Milwaukee Brewers, has a $5.6M contract in 2021 with two additional years of control. These moves will cost a lot, but the point is less about those deals and more about making a move with prospects to acquire these pieces to win today per the philosophy. Pairing these three high-ceiling back end pieces with Drew Pomeranz gives the Padres a lights-out bullpen for years to come.
These additions would give San Diego four elite back of the pen options that could have a numerical pecking order or be used a la the Rays bullpen of 2020 with many players getting saves. The system would rely on matchups and being fresh more than attaching a player to an inning.
DIEGO CASTILLO, RELIEVER: $576,000 1 pre-arb year + 3 years of control
JOSH HADER, RELIEVER: 1 year/$5.65 MILLION + 2 arb years
JOSH STAUMONT, RELIEVER: $565,000 + 4 years of control
Leftfield belongs to Tommy Pham if he can secure it. But, his 2020 health, defense, and batting numbers create a quandary heading into 2021. Pham carries capable offensive production as well as street cred from his history, but he seemed fawn-like in the outfield at times, missing even an easy pop fly on occasion. His off-season stab wound seemed, at least momentarily, to cloud his role even further. His guts and toughness, as well as his ceiling, make him a potential difference-maker, but that is less than certain.
Jurickson Profar surged in the final month of the 2020 season, approximating his own ceiling. Is that a sign of his future? Was it an aberration just as his abysmal start to 2020 turned out to be? Aside from Profar, there are prohibitive contract option players, and the way he was used down the stretch implies the Padres may have been moving away from him. Someone new should be sought.
Who else could be a bargain, impact-free agent in left if those options are not the perfect fit? Many options exist, of course. The best fit may be a rebound year from World Series champion Adam Eaton. He hits lefty, can play a solid left field, having been a longtime center/right fielder, and has the pedigree to grind out at-bats against great pitching, having hit second in order for the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals. If he’s interested in a value-building one-year deal with a winner, he may be the perfect fit, and in this market, he becomes much more affordable than his previous contract.
But, with this philosophy, there are better assets to sift through. With the emergence of other options in Tampa, left-handed hitting Austin Meadows may be had, as he had a slump of a year though his ceiling is high. In San Francisco, Mike Yastrzemski went off with a tremendous season, and he carries many years of control. In Boston, could Andrew Benintendi be pried after a poor performance? Ian Happ, Alex Kiriloff, Dylan Carlson, Lourdes Gurriel, Brandon Nimmo, and Jeff McNeil are potential targets as well.
But, if the farm is currency, and San Diego has plenty of it, the at-bats Carlson gave during the playoffs against the Padres as a clean-up hitter showed his talent and moxie. He only hit .200 in 110 at-bats, but it’s just a matter of time. He’s controllable through 2027, and the switch-hitter from Elk Grove can become a fixture in the outfield in his home state. His acquisition seems akin to a Grisham add both for the near term and the long term.
DYLAN CARLSON, OUTFIELDER: 1 year/$569,000 + 6 years of control
The rotation could easily stay as is, banking on the rise of players named Luis Patino, Adrian Morejon, MacKenzie Gore, or Ryan Weathers. With a trade-prospects philosophy, though, some of these pieces (all?) could be moved. It’s very possible one or more of these pitchers matures into a fixture of the Padres rotation as early as 2021. The problem is they all have significant improvements to make, and Covid-19’s limitations make their growth a less-than-projectable bet in a year where practice and development are hampered. Minor league reorganization and disbanding are in full flex. Also, the current returning rotation options are all balky to some degree.
The loss of great hope, Mike Clevinger, for the 2021 season certainly rearranged thoughts on the starting rotation in San Diego. At least one low-cost veteran is certainly a need, and ideally, that choice should occupy one of the top three spots in the rotation on a shorter-term deal. If an add is here, it can only come in the form of the one perfect pull: Charlie Morton. In my first draft of this piece, Charlie was the ideal target, but he’s now a Brave. So, the theme simply diverts itself to acquiring Lance Lynn from the Rangers. With only one year of control and a fitting base salary, he becomes a reliable innings-eater, capable of playoff-caliber performance. Lynn may not come with the same postseason resume as Morton, but his acquisition isn’t the only one needed in the “Prospects are Cool” plan.
Lance is likely only a one-year add, and he doesn’t give the Padres a lefty either. For the long haul, prospects, including No.1 pitching prospect Mackenzie Gore, are on the table. With this philosophy, six years of control of what may be in a guy like Gore, who wasn’t developmentally ready to even take a start during the postseason, is not as valuable as three years of a Cy Young winner like Blake Snell. Snell seems to have tired of the almost maniacal analytics-first focus of his Rays. He’s gettable, and his three seasons, starting at $11.1M in 2021, are probably more than Tampa will choose to pay. These two trades give the Padres a championship-worthy 2021 starting rotation, and Lynn’s likely leaving after the year is filled by Clevinger.
CHARLIE MORTON, STARTING PITCHER: 1 year/$8 MILLION
LANCE LYNN, STARTING PITCHER: 1 year/$8 MILLION base salary
BLAKE SNELL, STARTING PITCHER: 1 year/$11.1 MILLION + 2 YEARS OF CONTROL
At catcher, the Padres arm themselves with a quality Nola/Campusano mix in theory. Francisco Mejia gets another opportunity to earn a roster spot in a utility type of role, and this positional threesome costs next to nothing. It’s an almost perfect scenario in the talent/cost/production matrix. However, if there is legitimate concern over Campusano’s immediate future, or it appears that the alleged infractions could limit his season in some significant way. The team may have to reluctantly alter the personnel. Jason Castro, James McCann, Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, and Mike Zunino are names that stand out as possible matches. In that unenviable scenario, the Padres would benefit from a veteran with at least a partially left-handed swing who could fill a designated hitter role if called upon. With a “cap” of $27 million, the cost will be a significant factor here as this isn’t the most important area of need. But, imagine a worst-case scenario with a season without Campusano and a significant injury to Nola. The position needs to be addressed.
The wisest choice, Matt Wieters, is a switch-hitter who performed well in limited duty in St. Louis at a contract of $2 million. He wields a veteran voice and has successfully played in the same lineup with Manny Machado for a period of years. He’s the best fit, albeit more short-term, as the Campusano scenario runs its course.
MATT WIETERS, CATCHER: 1 year/$1.5 MILLION
That’s seven players coming in slightly over budget that create a parade similar to the 2020 Padres, who operated at a higher winning percentage for the season than any other Padre roster. Would ownership balk at such moves because of $1.2 million? I don’t get that vibe. Depth and playoff quality reign. Youth and playoff experience abound. And, most importantly, sticking to the philosophical concept: this group is now retooled, ready to give a legitimate run at the World Series title.
The designated hitter position may not return to the National League this year, and even if it does, the preceding decisions give the Padres several possible options. Luis Campusano, Dylan Carlson, Austin Nola, Jorge Ona, Tommy Pham, and Matt Wieters all could claim the spot on this roster as constructed if the right circumstances existed. The team would be “under budget” and be ready to hunt bear. But, if the organization wanted to add one more piece, if they wanted to address the designated hitter role, if they wanted to really get the band back together, they’d splurge for one last roster piece.
If another piece were needed, it would be a left-handed bat with all-around hitting potential (average, power, grinder, clutch). They’d have to be cheap, and they’d have to fit. Though I’m sure the Red Sox will at least kick the tires, as they say, that perfect fit is now-former Padre Mitch Moreland, and his $3 million tag from 2020 will likely be lower, so this roster could add potentially him for a $2M cost and finish only slightly over budget.
MITCH MORELAND, Designated Hitter/First Baseman: 1 year/$2 MILLION
The dream never dies for loyal fans who sit by the off-season fire, warming themselves with dreams of a ticker-tape parade for the season ahead. The roster and lineup following this philosophy may look as follows:
2021 San Diego Padres Lineup and Roster: The Prospects are Cool, but Parades are Cooler Philosophy
Additions are shown in bold (Depth options shown in italics), Potential Platoon shown underlined
SS Fernando Tatis, Jr. R
CF Trent Grisham L
3B Manny Machado R
1B Eric Hosmer L
RF Wil Myers R
LF Dylan Carlson L
C Austin Nola R
2B Jake Cronenworth L
DH Tommy Pham R
C/1B Matt Wieters S
C Luis Campusano R
1B Mitch Moreland L
OF Jorge Ona R
IF Greg Garcia L
(Depth Options unless traded)
OF Greg Allen S
C/3B/OF Francisco Mejia S
IF/OF Jorge Mateo R
1 Charlie Morton R
1 Blake Snell L
2 Dinelson Lamet R
4 Mike Clevinger R
3 Lance Lynn R
4 Zach Davies R
5 Chris Paddack R
(Depth Options unless traded)
SP Adrian Morejon L
SP Mackenzie Gore L
SP Luis Patino R
SP Joey Lucchesi L
CL Josh Hader L
8 Diego Castillo R
7 Drew Pomeranz L
Mid Josh Staumont R
Mid Jose Castillo L
Mid Emilio Pagan R
Mid Pierce Johnson R
LR Matt Strahm L
LR Adrian Morejon L
(Depth Options unless traded)
Mid Tim Hill L
Mid Craig Stammen R
Mid Javy Guerra R
Mid Dan Altavilla R
Mid Ryan Weathers L
Could this crew earn a parade after taking the big cake? Regardless of responses that will inevitably be all over the board, with some worrying about some fabled trade machine while others obsess over a given player number, in the coming days, two other philosophies will be investigated and plotted out for comparison and contrast. Dream on till the dream comes true.