The San Diego Padres finally appear poised to spend some money and be competitive in the National League West. For the last 20 years, the Padres have ranked 16th or lower in payroll. Is the team structured to finally be a factor in MLB?
With recent discussions of 26-year-old superstars receiving offers of a quarter of a billion dollars or more from multiple teams in the coming weeks, we here at East Village Times look internally and ask- why not our team?
The Padres historically have been in the bottom third of the league in payroll and have skimped in many a different department from scouting and development, international signings (till recently), and the first year player draft, where we saw high school shortstop Matt Bush drafted over college pitcher Justin Verlander because he would accept a lower price to sign when Verlander was universally lauded the more talented player.
Being the preeminent penny-pinching Padres in the NL West has resulted in three playoff appearances over the last twenty seasons. While the team has been quite frugal previously, multiple ownership changes over that same period of time has not helped create stability and a financial plan moving forward to put the team back into contention until recently.
A quick look back at how we’ve arrived at our current ownership and how payrolls have looked over the last twenty seasons:
Originally purchasing the Padres back in 1994 for approximately $80 million from future Red Sox part owner Tom Werner, John Moores was the majority owner through one of the golden eras of Padres baseball, presiding over the team as they went to the World Series in 1998 and the creating of beautiful Petco Park. He was majority team owner from 1994-2012, which included a failed attempt to sell the team to a group of investors including current part-owner Ron Fowler and former player agent Jeff Moorad. The lack of overall funding internally from that group doomed the voyage from the get-go as the ownership tried to buy the team in installments.
Safe to say, the deal fell apart, but luckily for Padres fans, Fowler stuck in there and teamed with baseball family royalty when the heirs to the O’Malley family, who owned the Dodgers for nearly five decades, joined the newly formed group of Kevin and Brian O’Malley, who are the sons of former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, and nephews Peter and Tom Seidler. They bought the team for a total of $800 million, including the forfeiture of the $200 million signing bonus, the team was to receive in the new Fox Sports TV deal signed in 2012.
This new consortium finally had a vision of what baseball in San Diego should and would be. We’ll talk more about this later in the piece.
Now let’s look at the last twenty seasons of payroll to see where the team has stood within the scope of their peers:
Team Payrolls: (Opening Day) (# in millions) (Order of payroll league wide)
- 1998 – $53.00 (9th)
- 1999 – $45.83 (17th)
- 2000 – $54.82 (16th)
- 2001 – $38.33 (25th)
- 2002 – $41.42 (26th)
- 2003 – $47.92 (27th)
- 2004 – $54.63 (18th)
- 2005 – $62.88 (17th)
- 2006 – $69.89 (17th)
- 2007 – $58.11 (24th)
- 2008 – $73.67 (19th)
- 2009 – $42.79 (29th)
- 2010 – $ 37.79 (29th)
- 2011 – $45.86 (28th)
- 2012 – $55.24 (30th)
- 2013 – $67.14 (26th)
- 2014 – $90.09 (21st)
- 2015 – $100.67 (22nd)
- 2016 – $112.89 (17th)
- 2017 – $71.62 (28th)
- 2018 – $96.13 (25th)
The Padres peaked in 1998 with a World Series appearance, having the ninth-highest payroll in baseball on Opening Day. They have not reached the top half in any other season over the last 19 years.
In the above, you can also see the years where ownership issues caused calamity amongst the team with the lack of support.
Moores’ divorce proceedings, which began during the 2008 season, ultimately resulted in the necessity to sell the ballclub. That led to the attempted installment purchase by the Jeff Moorad group, which dragged on until the end of the 2012 season.
Finally, the new ownership group led by Ron Fowler and the O’Malley heirs ramped up payroll from 2013 and beyond, minus the 2016 season, which saw the beginning of a “retooling” program and that also saw the team invest an amazing $80+ million in international signings and another $16+ million during that year’s first-year-player draft-eligible players’ draft.
So even when seeing the team’s major league payroll drop during the 2017 season, the team spent almost $100 million on amateur talent, which created the foundation for what is currently the top-rated farm system and envy of all of baseball. This hot lava really was brought on by the tremendous investment that this ownership group gave the green light to.
On top of all this, the team has now given out the three largest contracts in team history in three successive seasons.
2016- James Shields Free Agent- 4-years/$75 million
2017- Wil Myers Extension- 6-years/$83 million including a $20 million team option for 2023
2018- Eric Hosmer Free Agent- 8-years/$133 million
Now let’s talk about the sheer amount of money and revenue in the game of baseball, and specifically, the amount for the San Diego Padres.
Forbes has recently valued the Padres organization at approximately $1.3 billion, which is quite a jump from the $800 million total the Fowler-led group acquired the team for only six short seasons ago, with estimated revenues of $266 million and an operating income at approximately $26 million yearly.
The Fox Sports San Diego deal signed in 2012 also brings in on average $50 million yearly to Padre coffers.
Contributing to, and adding to the windfall major league teams are bringing in, are the recent sale of BamTech to Disney, where each team received proceeds approaching another $50 million. The league also extended National TV rights for another seven seasons starting in 2021 thru the 2028 season for $5.1 billion. Those national TV rights are spread throughout the league among ownership groups and certainly give teams more money than ever before.
So going into this offseason, with the top farm system in baseball and money to spend, this ownership group has one thing in mind, and that is putting their money where their mouth is and putting a winning product out on the field.
They are backing up everything they’ve said they would do, which is to invest in the team and to not be competitive in the short-term only, but to be a viable championship contender who spends money wisely and builds from within. There are examples from around the league, like the Astros or Cubs, who tore down their major league rosters from top to bottom only to rebuild from within and then supplement them with outside talent. Payrolls ebbed and flowed with those organizations from rebuilding years to playoff years, to championship trophy hunting. The Padres’ ownership has their eyes on one prize, and that is being the first championship team out of the four major sports in city history.
Free agency is a roll of the dice and never safe, but Bryce Harper wouldn’t look too bad in a Padres uniform either! The Padres have the money, but do they have the fortitude to see it through?