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What Will the Padres Deadline Look Like?


Josh Hader pitching for the Padres; CC by License 2.0

This time of year is filled with baseball buzzwords like buyers, sellers, prospects, rentals, controllable talent, and trade deadline. Each July, all 30 teams must decide if their organization will be buyers, sellers, or will stand pat. This month, one of the more fascinating decisions will come from A.J. Preller and Peter Seidler of the San Diego Padres.

The Padres began the 2023 season with a flurry of offseason signings on the heels of a run to the National League Championship Series. Preller entered the offseason with permission to spend money and acquire the pieces necessary to put the Padres over the hump. Most notably, the Padres acquired 4-time All-Star Xander Bogaerts on an 11-year, $280 million deal. Going into the 2023 season, San Diego had the third-highest payroll.

Thus far, the results of Preller’s all-in push have been underwhelming. The Padres currently find themselves in fourth place in the National League West, 9.5 games back of the rapidly improving Los Angeles Dodgers. The Wild Card picture is slightly less bleak as the Padres sit 6.5 games out of the last Wild Card slot, needing to leapfrog the slumping Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins, along with one of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, or Philadelphia Phillies.

On MLB Network Radio, Preller said, “You never really want to ride the wave game-to-game or anything like that, but from our standpoint, yeah, we’ve got decisions to make over the next few weeks. Your team kind of tells you where things are at. We’ve got our work cut out for us. I think we’ll be prepared in all different scenarios at the Deadline…I think the biggest thing is: We like our team and our club. Try to get to a spot where we can help fortify some areas. That’s all part of the evaluation process in the next couple weeks -- seeing where we’re at and try to make good decisions when we get to the Deadline.”

Some of those decisions will involve a trio of Padres pitchers due to hit free agency at the end of 2023. Starter Blake Snell has revitalized his career over the last two campaigns with the Padres and is currently pitching to a 2.71 ERA, good for fourth best in all of baseball. As such, the 30-year-old figures to cash in with his next contract. Like Snell, closer Josh Hader has also resuscitated his career in San Diego. Hader has been downright filthy in 2023, pitching to a 1.03 ERA with a 1.000 WHIP. Hitting free agency off this campaign, the 29-year-old southpaw should command huge money for a relief pitcher. Finally, right-handed reliever Seth Lugo can potentially hit free agency after this season. Lugo’s contract grants him a player option to remain in San Diego for the 2024 campaign at his current salary of $7.5 million. Lugo has pitched fairly well in 2023, sporting a 3.78 ERA out of the Padres bullpen. As such, it appears likely that Lugo will test the free-agent waters this winter.

Trading these three pitchers to contending teams in exchange for prospects and controllable Major League talent would allow Preller to punt on 2023 and restock the Padres cupboard for 2024 and beyond. However, there is also the possibility that Preller could choose to trade some of his prospects to acquire players to fill holes in their current roster.

Should the Padres elect to buy at the trade deadline, it appears they would primarily be interested in shoring up their pitching staff and in acquiring an outfield bat. Adding depth to the starting rotation and bullpen along with an outfielder may not require the Padres to part with some of their more heralded prospects, however, it would still constitute a continued drain of young talent from the organization and a commitment towards winning in 2023.

Another predicament that Preller is facing is that of star outfielder Juan Soto, who will hit free agency following the 2024 campaign. If Preller and his team believe the Padres can contend for a title in 2024, keeping Soto around seemingly makes sense. However, if the Padres are not ready to win in 2024, trading Soto appears to be a logical step toward reloading the organization. However, trading Soto at the 2023 trade deadline would likely maximize the return haul in a trade as his new organization would enjoy another year of team control.

Thus far, it appears as if Preller and the Padres brass believe that the team is not out of contention. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, wrote, “Rival GMs believe the Padres should unload starter Blake Snell and All-Star closer Josh Hader among others at the deadline, while also listening to offers for Juan Soto. Yet, two GMs were informed that the Padres instead plan to be aggressive at the trade deadline and possibly even be buyers.”

Another complication for the Padres is the impending free agency of Shohei Ohtani. Jon Heyman of The New York Post has said, “Baseball folks expect the Padres to be in the free-agent bidding for two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.” Buoyed by record attendance at Petco Park, the Padres should be among the teams positioned to back up the Brinks truck for Ohtani. Attracting Ohtani may also require a competitive roster that is well-positioned to contend in the near future.

With the August 1st trade deadline just around the corner, the Padres have found themselves in a precarious position. They can continue their push toward a championship in 2023 by trading away top prospects to land players who can help reverse the fortunes of the current club. They can punt on 2023 and attempt to go all-in again in 2024 by trading expiring contracts for players who figure to help the club next season. Or less likely, the Padres could choose to engage in a lengthier retooling by trading off some players with remaining years of team control in order to acquire players who will be in San Diego in 2025 and beyond.

Before making this decision, Preller may have time to see if his current team can draw closer to a Wild Card berth as some teams ahead of the Padres appear to be off stride at a pivotal juncture of the season. With less than two weeks to go before the trade deadline, the Padres are likely hoping for a much clearer view of their playoff fate before deciding to sell or to buy.


Sources:

Baseball Reference

Bleacher Report

ESPN

Fox Sports

MLB.com

The New York Post

Sports Illustrated

Spotrac

USA Today


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