Padres hope Luis Arraez will help clinch a return to October success

It’s incredibly early to make any post season predictions, especially after last season’s mediocrity. The San Diego Padres fans expecting another deep playoff run in 2023, and the failures were bitterly disappointing. Then this season, after expected payroll cuts, the mood here was somber although cautiously optimistic. After all, despite the loss of Juan Soto, this is a team that still employs the services of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. Xander Bogaerts, and a quality supporting cast of young talent and veterans. Then came the blockbuster trade that only a few insiders expected.

At last year’s winter meetings, one of the hot rumors was that Luis Arraez, the talented batting champion and versatile defender for the Miami Marlins, might be on the trading block. That didn’t happen right away, but after the Marlins slow start, Padres GM A.J Preller swooped in to make an offer the Marlins couldn’t refuse. The transaction was huge because it was affordable for this cash-strapped organization, and it gave the club a legit leadoff hitter who will set the table for the teeth of a powerful lineup. Obviously, the move gave the Friar faithful a new reason for hope, and Arraez certainly had no problem with it.

“I was surprised at first, but very happy to join this team,” said the 27 year old Venezuelan. “I know Tatis, Machado and (Robert) Suarez, so I feel welcome here.”

Arraez is a bit of a showman who enjoys playing before big crowds, something that doesn’t happen often for Marlins games at Loan Depot Park. The Miami resident was nice enough not to comment on that fact, only mentioning how happy he was to play before a packed house there during the World Baseball Classic. So you can imagine how pumped Luis was when his debut at San Diego’s Petco Park was against NL West division champion Los Angeles Dodgers. And right on cue, Arraez delivered the walk off hit in the series opener on Friday, May 11th before a sellout audience. Prior to being mobbed by teammates, Luis responded to the crowd’s roar, gesturing with his arms upward like a music conductor.

“It was really amazing,” noted Luis about his line drive to center field for the 2-1 victory. “I knew what I had to do and I did it.”

In addition to playing five different defensive positions, Arraez is one of only a handful of players who has won batting titles in both leagues. He’s a slasher who hits from the left side to all fields with a short compact swing. As a Latino player, he reminds me a lot of Panama’s Rod Carew. But now that Arraez has arrived in San Diego, many folks here are already linking him to Mr. Padre, the late Tony Gwynn. While Luis is a confident hitter fully aware of his skills, he seems almost embarrassed about the comparison.

“Oh my God, Tony Gwynn was such a great hitter,” he responded. “I just came here to do my job.”

Maybe the best thing I can say about Arraez is that he loves to compete. That can be said for most big league players, but this is a guy who brings incredible energy on the field, and both the dugout and clubhouse. That is crucial for this team that on paper should be pretty good, but is still hovering at the .500 mark as the summer grind approaches. High dollar players like Machado and Bogaerts have scuffled, as well as the usually reliable Ha-Seong Kim. But on the bright side, rookie Jackson Merrill and veteran Jurickson Profar have been pleasant surprises. The pitching, thought to be an issue early on, has been adequate even though Joe Musgrove is currently on the IL. That’s because of the recent acquisition of Dylan Cease, plus Yu Darvish and Michael King, who was the major chip in the Soto trade with the New York Yankees. And Suarez has been lights out as the closer out of the pen,

The chemistry on this Padres team has improved immensely since Mike Shildt, the former St Louis Cardinal boss, was hired to relieve Bob Melvin. Both are player-type skippers, but Shildt has a better rapport with his coaches and the ability to steady the ship in troubled waters. I believe this 2024 Padres team is playoff bound again, if only because it’s a feel good atmosphere. Players like Profar, Kim, the new kid Merrill, Tatis Jr. and others have a renewed vigor and confidence. And the key to that passion is Luis Arraez.

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