It is hard not to be disappointed with the Padres’ 2019 season. Few people if anyone expected the rising Padres to make the playoffs last year, despite the improving team and the signing of Manny Machado. Not only did they not make the playoffs, they finished only four wins better than they had the previous season and in last place for the second consecutive season.
The Padres’ 70 wins were five fewer than their PECOTA projections, and those projections were made before they signed Machado. Fernando Tatís Jr. missing the rest of the season starting in mid-August certainly was a factor given how outstanding he had been, but it did not cost the team five wins.
PECOTA projects the Padres to win 79 games, though FanGraphs is more optimistic with an 84-win projection and a second place finish in the division. Of course, with the season unlikely to start before June and no one knowing exactly how many games will be played, it is more useful to talk about records in terms of win percentage. Put another way, PECOTA and FanGraphs project the Padres to have a .488 and .511 win percentage, respectively.
Even if the Padres surpass their projections, they are still going to have a very hard time making the playoffs. FanGraphs gives them less than a 41 percent chance of doing so. The problem is that the Dodgers are a juggernaut that are a lock to win the division, and the NL East is so competitive that they will likely have at least one team from that division making the playoffs, and probably two.
The good news for the Padres and any other team that is good but not great: the shorter season allows for more parity, as Dan Szymborski wrote about at FanGraphs. The things is, at least in the case of the Padres and according to Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, is that shortening the season helps the Padres’ odds at the division, but not their overall odds of making the playoffs. Even then, they need an 81-game season to have just to get up to a better than one-in-five shot to take the division from the Dodgers.
While the Padres suffer from happening to be in the same division as the Dodgers, they are also suffering and will continue to suffer from some poor decisions in recent years. I was no fan of the Eric Hosmer signing when it happened, but this deal has been nothing short of disastrous so far. He has hit only .259/.316/.412 over his two seasons in San Diego. When your $21 million-a-year free agent first baseman can’t provide even league average offense, that is a huge problem. He has been worth only 1.2 WAR over the last two seasons, and FanGraphs has him as a sub-replacement level player.
The six-year, $83 million extension the Padres handed to Wil Myers before the 2017 season was questionable at best when it happened. Other than missing half of the 2018 season, Myers was fine over the first two years of the contract, at least offensively, hitting .247/.325/.457 for a 107 wRC+. Then his offense decreased sharply last year, falling to below average levels that saw him slug only .418 with a juiced ball. He was definitely pressing at the plate, striking out in over a third of his plate appearances after striking out 27 percent of the the time over the two years prior.
To make matters worse, Myers’ contract is backloaded. Starting this year, he will be making $22.5 million in each of the next three seasons. That is a pretty expensive bench player, which is where you have to put him when your corner outfielders are Tommy Pham and Franchy Cordero.
I have been adamant in recent years that it is perfectly acceptable to “over pay” for real production, but the Padres might end up spending a combined $43.5 million this year alone on sub-replacement level player. That money could have gone to a free agent pitcher that this rotation could really, really use.
How the Padres deal with these sunk costs will be critical to their near term success. Myers is not doing the team much harm on the bench, but Hosmer sure is as the starting first baseman. Though the Padres can’t do anything about the money owed to him, they have options to prevent him from hurting the team. It is just a matter of how willing they are to eat all that money left on his contract. Again, it is money they have to pay out regardless of whether they play him or not.
The Padres have plenty of farm depth to get a new first baseman. Outside of that, it would be interesting to see if Pham or Cordero are willing to convert to first base whenever Taylor Trammell gets the call-up.
It might seem strange to devote so many words of a team preview to two sunk costs, but what the Padres do with those two players could very well be critical to the team’s success. The NL Wild Card is just so competitive, and this team is not going to win the division any time soon. What happens if Hosmer and Myers continue to play as poorly as they have been, or worse, and the team misses the playoffs by one or two games?
Let’s brighten things up around here and talk about how awesome Tatís is. He almost certainly would have been the Rookie of the Year had he played closer to a full season. The Padres’ shortstop is not the best defensively, but nobody cares when said shortstop is hitting .317/.379/.590. He even adds value on the bases, too! He had 4.1 WAR in only half a season, and I think he could be an MVP candidate in a full season.
The lineup overall looks pretty good, but it does have some holes in it. Jurickson Profar is a big question mark at second base. Francisco Mejía needs to hit more or else he might lose the starting job to Austin Hedges, who can’t hit but is a much, much better defensive catcher. Trent Grisham did not have a stellar debut last season in just 51 games, but I think he is a solid everyday regular in center field if he can just get his offense to average levels, which I think he can do.
I imagine that Padres’ fans were pretty disappointed with Machado’s first season in San Diego. He went from a 140 wRC+ in 2019 to a 108 wRC+ in 2020. That’s not what you want to see from your high profile free agent signing. That being said, I don’t see a problem, even if Machado is “only” a three-win/above-average player going forward.
Machado is providing real production, even if it is not the MVP levels he has shown before. This is not anything like Hosmer providing no production at all. A team that cares about winning first and foremost should have no problem spending $30 million in a season for a three-win player. Regardless, Manny is a strong positive regression candidate, especially if Tatís can stay healthy so he does not have to play shortstop.
The starting rotation is still this team’s biggest weakness. Even with top prospect MacKenzie Gore slated to make his debut this season, this rotation does not look good at all. Chris Paddack is going to have to really take it up to another level, and the team is going to need a full season from Garrett Richards that looks a lot more like his 2018 numbers and nothing like the three starts he made last year.
The Padres really, really should have signed some one in free agency to bolster the rotation. It is very challenging to compete with a weak starting rotation. The 2015 Royals pulled it off, but they made up for it in other areas that the Padres can’t.
As usual, it is tough to predict a bullpen, but I think this one will continue to excel. Their 4.31 DRA was the third best in baseball last year, and their 7.6 BB% was just a hair behind the Twins for the best walk rate in the league. I am intrigued to see what Drew Pomeranz can continue to do out of the bullpen. I am not a fan of giving a reliever more than two years, but it is just for $34 million total.
I am excited to see what the Padres will do this season, whenever it starts. It would be great to see them in the postseason, which has not happened since 2006. However, this rotation needs a lot of help, and the organization has some difficult decisions ahead concerning Hosmer and Myers.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.