The San Diego Padres have been eerily quiet this offseason despite being linked to multiple players. Here is a look at why the slumber is fine as the Padres look to become competitive within the NL West.
It’s not easy to be a San Diego Padres fan right now, and it’s difficult to be optimistic with another rebuilding year looming in the near future.
Despite losing 90+ games for three consecutive years, the Padres have not made any significant moves to improve the major league roster before the start of the 2019 season. The highest paid player on the Padres is Eric Hosmer, which is a shame considering how poorly he played in 2018. He’s making $21 million in 2019, which is three times more than the next highest-paid player on the team. That belongs to Garrett Richards, who will be spending the year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Outside of the money being paid to those players, it sure seems like we’re dealing with the same old cheap Padres. You’re surely wondering why all the money is still sitting in Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler’s pockets, right? We haven’t seen playoff baseball in San Diego since 2006, for goodness sake!
With all that in mind, we also need to try to understand the team’s reasoning in being rather quiet throughout this offseason. While it’s easy to understand why the Padres want to hold onto their top prospects rather than dealing them for established major league talents, the question of why the team isn’t spending in free agency is more legitimate.
First of all, this team already has a higher payroll than ten other MLB teams as currently projected. At $67,970,000 in projected payroll thus far, the Padres are not as cheap as we may be tempted to think. That payroll ranks 20th in major league baseball, which is pretty close to average. The Padres’ spending actually rates closer to the middle third of the league in terms of spending, than the bottom third of baseball teams, where the team’s payroll has typically been in previous seasons. There are teams that are spending markedly less money than the Padres — such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics, that just won 90 and 97 games last year.
Furthermore, the Padres have actually spent the majority of their money on prospects who are currently developing in the minor leagues on their way to the big leagues. So even if the team’s current spending on the major league roster isn’t as much as we’d like, in reality, the team has simply dedicated more funds towards amateur signees.
Want to know the amount of money the Padres have spent on adding to their farm system in recent years? According to this Baseball America report, the team spent nearly $80 million on their 2016 July 2 class of international amateur signees. They spent an additional $14,866,045 on their 2016 draft signees, per MLB.com. This totals almost $95 million spent on amateur players during just the 2016 season alone, which was more than any other team that year. The team was in the penalty box during the last two international signing periods for overspending their bonus pool in 2016, yet the Padres’ spending during the two most recent drafts has remained high:
Total Signing Bonus Expenditures
All of this adds up to around $120 million spent by the Padres on amateur players from 2016-18, which is where the team has clearly spent the majority of their money recently. We shouldn’t be too worried about the team’s lack of spending on the major league team when they are committing significant funds towards their prospect pipeline, after all.
During the 2016-18 seasons, the Padres were clearly rebuilding, and thus it made sense for the team to invest in amateur talent at the time. With the team currently set to embark upon a fourth straight season of losing, is it time for the front office to begin putting more money into the major league team? Many top prospects have reached the major leagues recently, or are expected to arrive at some point during the 2019 season. The 2015 Cubs and Astros come to mind as teams with prospects, that turned their rebuilds around more quickly than most expected, and made it to the playoffs. Could the Padres follow in their footsteps with the right free agent signings this offseason?
Realistically, the Padres can’t necessarily expect to improve as much as the aforementioned Cubs and Astros. Unless multiple players on the roster take a significant step forward in 2019, this current Padres roster is not ready to contend. Even optimistically assuming that the Padres improved markedly as a team next season, they’d probably win around 75 games. Even if the Padres signed Bryce Harper today, they would probably increase their 2019 record by around 5-7 wins. That’s without mentioning the financial implications of paying an expensive free agent such as Harper. As a team in a smaller market, the Padres must be careful about the contracts they hand out to players in free agency.
With regard to trades, the team must also be careful not to give away top prospects in deals for star major leaguers. While it may be nice to have a player such as Kluber or Realmuto for two or three years, is it worth giving up a guy who could be a star for 6-7 seasons? Probably not, and especially in the case of the Padres, who have less margin for error than larger market teams do. Also worth noting, is that the Padres still have time to make deals with remaining free agents, and to complete trades for impact players. In a year or two, we’ll start to see the fruits of the Padres’ farm system at the major league level. At that point in time, we’ll finally understand fully why Preller held onto so many prized prospects for so long.