The fans in San Diego are reeling in search of answers. This was supposed to be the team of destiny, especially after coming so close last season in Philadelphia. If not for one meaty pitch to Bryce Harper, the Padres would have been in the World Series for the first time since 1998, even though Bruce Bochy‘s boys were swept by Derek Jeter‘s New York Yankees.
The 2023 campaign though, was supposed to be different. Under free-spending owner Peter Seidler, the Padres locked up two of their super stars, Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million) and free agent shortstop Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million). Veteran pitcher Yu Darvish was rewarded (6 years, $108 million) and homegrown hero Joe Musgrove received a new pact last year (5 years, $100 million).
Even utility infielder Jake Cronenworth hit the jackpot with a backloaded deal through 2030. The fans love the energy of Fernando Tatis Jr., who now plays right field and has a lifetime contract (14 years at $340 million). When you add in extensions for pitchers Nick Martinez, Robert Suarez and others, it’s easy to figure out why San Diego has MLB’s third highest payroll.
Having assembled the best club money could buy, it was easy to understand why many experts predicted that the Padres were front runners to win the NL West. The division champion Los Angeles Dodgers lost many players, including Trea and Justin Turner to free agency, and were basically inactive during the winter off season. The Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants have been surprise contenders, leaving the Padres stuck in fourth place several games under the .500 mark.
The team’s mediocre play has been a source of frustration for the Friar faithful, who have sold out Petco Park 31 times and counting in 2023, and an increased number of “boo birds” are starting to express their feelings.
The cause of this dilemma is primarily the fault of an anemic offense. One would think that a lineup consisting of Tatis Jr, Juan Soto, Machado, Bogaerts, newly acquired Gary Sanchez, Cronenworth plus a DH combo of Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter would score a ton of runs. That however, has not been the case. San Diego is 23rd out of 30 teams in overall hitting with a .233 overall average, and ranks 27th with runners in scoring position. Bogaerts and Machado got off to hot starts, but have scuffled recently after returning from injuries.
Sanchez provided a spark in the catching department replacing light hitting Austin Nola, but has tapered off lately and has never been known for his defensive skills. El Niño Tatis and crowd favorite Ha-Seong Kim have carried most of the load, but for the most part, the Padres can’t seem to string anything together. Musgrove, never shy about expressing his opinions, didn’t hold back.
“I know from the outside, it looks like a lot of overpaid guys who aren’t performing well,” he admitted during the club’s current road trip in Pittsburgh. “Sometimes, there’s no answer.
“But if you think this team is rolling over, you’re sorely mistaken,” he continued. “There’s plenty of fight in this team, and we haven’t played our best ball yet.”
That might be true, although General Manager A.J. Preller has some interesting decisions to make prior to the trade deadline. Southpaw hurler Blake Snell, looking more and more like the staff ace these days, will be a free agent in 2024. So will left fielder Juan Soto. Resigning both would put San Diego in uncharted territory with the New York Mets payroll-wise, and they have problems of their own.
Should the Padres move Soto for a legit first baseman? Should they peddle Cronenworth or Trent Grisham for another starting pitcher? They would be idiots to trade Kim, although the South Korean is on everybody’s radar. With the Padres current cable TV deal in limbo, there’s not much wiggle room when considering luxury tax issues. That being said, Preller will be under the gun to do something if things don’t turn around in a hurry.
After the up and down Pirates swept the Padres earlier this week, skipper Bob Melvin was asked if he thought his guys would be in this pickle so close to the all star break.
“I don’t think anybody could,” he frowned, somewhat annoyed. “We’ve been asked that a lot.”