For two years, the San Diego Padres spent big bucks trying to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in a previously unsuccessful attempt. That money race accelerated significantly ahead of Tuesday’s close when the Padres snapped outfielder Juan Soto in a deal with the Washington Nationals.
With Soto, San Diego received the biggest prize on the market and also added first baseman Josh Bell to the package.
“He’s a generational player,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Soto after the deal went through. “We’re on a bumpy road now and we believe this deal will get us out of there. We made a deal that will be described as historic. I call it a good deal for the Nationals and Padres at this point in the history of both our franchises.
While the first-seeded Dodgers missed the deadline and the Padres led by 11 1/2 games in the National League West, the Soto trade continues teams’ heated off-field competition for talent.
The Dodgers snapped up Boston outfielder Mookie Betts ahead of the 2020 season, gave him a 12-year, $365 million deal and won the World Series – after beating the Padres in that NL Division Series.
The Padres countered the following spring by signing Fernando Tatis for 14 years, $340 million, which has so far paid little due to the shortstop’s injuries.
Then, at the 2021 trade deadline, the Padres thought they’d nabbed star pitcher Max Scherzer from the Nationals, but the Dodgers prevailed. The Padres missed the playoffs, finishing 11 games. The Dodgers lost a six-game NL Championship series to the Atlanta Braves, who went on to win the World Series.
That gets us to where the Padres are now after a series of trades this week and a $100 million five-year contract extension with San Diego local starter Joe Musgrove. Tatis, who is recovering from surgery on a broken left wrist, could be back sometime this month.
“Without Tatis in the first half of the season, we were challenged offensively,” Padres general manager AJ Preller said Tuesday during a late-afternoon media conference. “We’re better now. We think we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can play well into October.”
In the short term, however, the Padres have lost their last 14-of-15 to the Dodgers in the last two seasons, and even with 12 more games between the two teams this year, including three at Dodger Stadium this weekend, this NL West race seems over to be.
In the new 12-team playoff format — six teams in each league — the Padres are hardly safe right now, holding second of three wildcard spots and leading the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies, who are now battling for third place , with 3 to 1 at /2 games.
If the season ended today, the Padres would have to travel to Atlanta for an all-game, best-of-three wildcard series at Truist Park.
If they survived that, the NL East winners New York Mets would be next in a best-of-five NL division series. And then maybe the Dodgers again in the best-of-seven NLCS. The two division winners of each league with the best records will receive a bye in the wild card round.
That’s a tall order to be promoted to the World Series for only the third time in the club’s history. You have never won. And this year, they would need to win 14 games to pull off the feat.
That is the goal for the near future.
The Padres traded two of their top prospects with big-league experience in pitcher MacKenzie Gore and shortstop CJ Abrams, as well as three coveted minor-league players in the deal for Soto, who is under arbitration for the next two seasons.
After the 2024 season in which Soto becomes a free agent, Scott Boras, his agent, has already said the player will go to the highest bidder. Soto recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million bid from the Nationals, prompting the for-sale club to sell him.
“We see it as if we have him for three pennant races,” Preller said. “That’s a lot of time. We will of course go into it and find out the long-term future.”
Given this short and very difficult window of opportunity, the Padres seem to have given up a lot of talent. They face off against a Dodgers club run by Guggenheim Baseball Management, whose parent company runs a $500 billion hedge fund and has seemingly endless money.
The Mets, owned by hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen, made several incremental improvements across the market over the past week but none of their top 19 prospects traded, general manager Billy Eppler said during a video conference call after the deadline.
“You have to resist the urge to make a quick or impulsive decision and give up large amounts of future World Series expectations in exchange for some small gains now,” he said. “Some of that undisciplined thinking can lead to being mediocre for years and doing the same thing over and over again.”
Eppler did not speak specifically of the Padres, but the mood fits.
Under billionaire owner Peter Seidler, the Padres are fifth in baseball with a $220.8 million salary just below the initial $230 million luxury tax threshold. Of that, $30.4 million will be paid to injured players and $29 million to players who are no longer in the roster, many of whom are playing elsewhere.
They have a long-term commitment to Manny Machado, who owes $30 million annually through 2028 and can get out after the 2023 season. The club can sign $20m from Wil Myers this off-season and pay him $1m.
Pitchers Yu Darvish ($20 million) and Blake Snell ($16 million) each have an extra year. Musgrove is now under contract for $20 million a year through 2027.
Soto earns $6 million of his $17.1 million to play the remainder of the season for the Padres. The latter number is sure to double next season through arbitration unless the Padres sign him for at least two years.
These decisions are pending for Seidler and Preller.
“When the time is right,” said Preller, “I am sure that we will have these talks.”