The Padres have preached for multiple years that 2020 is the opening of the contention window. It’s time to put up or shut up.
It’s been a long time for Padres fans. Thirteen seasons have now come and gone since the last time there was playoff baseball in San Diego, and fans are way past restless. This is a new era of Padres baseball with a superstar in Manny Machado and a ridiculous amount of top prospects, a few of whom have transitioned to legit major league studs in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack.
There is a core forming, a championship core even. Along with the players mentioned above, and despite his less-than-inspiring numbers, Eric Hosmer has “been there” and “done that” in the playoffs, reaching back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015 and winning a title with the Kansas City Royals.
Let’s not forget that Manny Machado is no stranger to leading a team to the playoffs while navigating around behemoths in his division. He helped the Orioles make the playoffs three times between 2012 and 2016, in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
The Padres now enter an offseason where they cannot afford to sit idly by. The National League West is one of the toughest divisions in baseball as the Los Angeles Dodgers seemingly have a death grip on the top spot. If the Padres are serious about opening their window of contention this next season, it’s not going to open unprovoked spontaneously. It’s going to need to be thrust open forcefully.
San Diego has only been to the playoffs five times in 51 seasons, reaching two World Series but only winning one game between the two. They have been more or less one of the more laughable franchises in baseball, maybe even all of the American sports.
It’s time for that to end.
This is the most crucial offseason in team history for multiple reasons.
First, A.J. Preller has a truck-load of ammo by way of prospects to wheel and deal to bring essentially any current ballplayer under contract he so desires, if he is willing to pay the price. Despite guys like Tatis, Paddack and Luis Urias graduating, the Friars still boast one of, if not the best farm system in baseball. Very few of those prospects should be considered untouchable. Guys in Low-A ball will not contribute on this team until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest while the Padres are looking to contend now.
Aside from MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño and perhaps CJ Abrams, anyone can be dealt for the right piece. The Padres are in the best position of any team in Major League Baseball to deal prospects and bring in a player of their choosing. The franchise has never had this much talent up and down their organization, and it’s time to take advantage of that.
A.J. Preller has no excuse not to be active this winter, especially with the need of starting pitching talent. The Padres were 18th in starter ERA in 2019. He needs to add depth to all positions, including the bullpen (19th in bullpen ERA) and the outfield (20th in fWAR among outfields).
Plus, several Padres prospects will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft that either need to be dealt or forced onto the 26-man roster (MLB teams will hold 26 instead of 25 players in 2020).
Secondly, the Padres won just 70 games in 2019. That was a four-game improvement from 2018. However, another marginal improvement in 2020 may cost Preller and others their jobs. 2020 needs to be a jump, not a mini-step. Padres owner Ron Fowler did not mince words during this week’s Social Summit, saying “heads will roll” if they do not contend in 2020. The lowest win total for a playoff team since the inception of the Wild Card Game is 85. That means if the Padres are to contend in 2020, it will require at least a 15-win jump.
It sounds like Ron Fowler is growing impatient and will be turning up the heat as the weather gets colder this winter, putting a lot of pressure on A.J. Preller to field a winner finally.
That will start with hiring the right manager. There are a lot of names out there, but only a few have what it takes to take this club to the next level. Making the right hire is crucial.
Also, the Padres have a few players they should move on from if they are to progress to the next level. Wil Myers’ contract will hamper this team moving forward as the yearly salary moves from $5 million this year to $20 million in 2020 while his production has gone the other direction, as he posted -0.4 WAR this past year. Fowler also hinted at the Social Summit that they would be trying to move on from Myers and will likely have to eat money to do so. Freeing themselves of the majority of his three years, $60 million remainings would be a huge boost in their ability to sign another big free agent.
All-Star starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Madison Bumgarner will all be on the market this winter, but will not come cheap. Being able to free up salary will increase San Diego’s odds at landing one of the big fish in the sea of free agency.
Lastly, this is the most important offseason in team history because the team has never been in this position before. They have the best farm system in baseball with legitimate superstars already on the MLB roster. The winter after the Padres went 91-71 and won the division in 1996, a lot was up in the air with Greg Vaughn’s contract being up, and the aging Fernando Valenzuela leaving town, leaving a hole in the rotation.
An argument can be made for the 1997-1998 offseason where the Padres still had a strong core but wanted to reshuffle the deck for ultimately what would be a pennant-winning 1998 season.
However, this organization has been beaten down for so long. Every other divisional opponent has at least reached the World Series, with the Giants and Diamondbacks winning it, since the last time the Padres went to their World Series in 1998. Each divisional rival has even made the playoffs since the last time the Padres went to the postseason. It’s downright embarrassing.
While the Padres have certainly entered other offseasons with more championship hopes than this one in their history, none are bigger than this winter will be. It’s time for the Padres to put their money, and prospect capital, where their mouths are and get other pieces to create a playoff-contending roster.