The San Diego Padres need an ace, and two of them may soon be available on the open market, but can the team afford either with the burden of Wil Myers’ contract looming?
For the past two offseasons, Ron Fowler and the San Diego Padres have opened up the vault to bring top free agents to America’s Finest City. First, it was Eric Hosmer and his $144 million deal made in 2018; then, the Padres won the Manny Machado sweepstakes this past offseason with a 10-year, $300 million contract.
Now, they have a chance to make a similar deal, but this time for a top of the rotation pitcher. Gerrit Cole of the Houston Astros and, should he choose to opt-out, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals will be hitting the free-agent market hungry for a lucrative new contract.
The Padres are a great spot for either of the pitchers. Strasburg, a San Diego State University alum, would be returning to the city where he grew up in while Cole would enter as the clear top dog in the rotation while serving as a mentor to another player with a similar bulldog-like attitude in Chris Paddack.
However, as super-agent Scott Boras represents both players, there is no doubt that the two aces will be looking for a contract that blows past the seven-year, $217 million contract that David Price inked in 2015. Whichever team that wants them to don their colors in 2020 and beyond will most likely have to pay an annual of over 30 million dollars per year.
While San Diego certainly has the space in the treasury to tack on another $30+ million AAV contract at the moment, the future may not be so kind. Taking the projected arbitration salaries from MLBTraderumors into account as well as the current salaries that the Padres will be paying in 2020, the San Diego payroll currently sits at $121,850,000 million (this number assumes that the Padres tender contracts to all 12 of their arbitration-eligible players while declining their options to Adam Warren and Aaron Loup).
Adding an extra $30 million annually will bring that number just above 150 million dollars in 2020. With the 2020 luxury tax threshold set at $208 million, that gives the Padres a lot less wiggle room when it comes to extending other players or making smaller signings while trying to limbo under the luxury tax threshold. It is a problem that the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs currently have as they balance which contracts to keep and which ones to dump off.
However, there is a way to clear up some of that cash to create some breathing space for San Diego, trading Wil Myers.
Myers, who signed a six-year, 83 million dollar deal in 2017, hasn’t done much to live up to that deal. After compiling a 3.5 WAR and 114 WRC+ in 2016, Myers has since struggled to put up numbers similar to that since signing his contract. His 2019 season was his worst as a Padre as he ended with a 0.5 WAR, 96 wRC+, and a career-worst 34.4% strikeout rate. With his contract jumping from $5.5 million to a whopping $22.5 million for the next three years.
With $67.5 million to be paid out over the next three years, the contract of Myers has become an albatross for a team that will be looking to make another splash in the free-agent market. Don’t forget that, if they become the stars the San Diego front brass hope they become, players like Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore, and Paddack will be looking for big-money contracts with high AAV amounts as well.
With AAV’s of $32 million (Machado), $22.5 million (Myers), $21 million (Hosmer), and the potential of adding another contract that pays out Machado money, there will be precious space to not only pay the Padres young stars, but to sign other players to smaller contracts to fill out other positions on the field. While San Diego does have team control over their young studs for at least another four to five years, there is no doubt that AJ Preller and company will want to lock them up to long term deals that wipe out the arbitration process, similar to the route the Atlanta Braves took with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
To trade away Myers, Fowler himself stated the Padres would have to eat $10 million at minimum to even begin trade negotiations with another team. This amount might be too low given Myers’ struggles at both the dish and the outfield, so San Diego will have to be ready to eat half of the Myers’ contract while pairing him with a top prospect to ship him off. There is the option to swap one bad contract for another bad contract, but that would be a counter-productive move that would bring the Padres right back to square one.
Even if San Diego swallows $30 million of Myers remaining $67.5, that is still more than $30 million they are saving for their future. Since a trade of Hosmer and his equally questionable contract is out of the question thanks to a full no-trade clause through 2020 (which does change to only a partial no-trade clause after 2020), the former Rookie of the Year and his contract have now become the odd man out.
The dealing of Myers will free up the cap space that is needed to not only net the services of Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg but to provide for the future of Padres baseball. Preller has already made multiple attempts to trade the infielder-turned-outfielder, but the time to pull the trigger on a deal is now.