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Padres are on the cusp of a golden age

Padres baseball has never been better than what it’s about to be.

Oakland Athletics v San Diego Padres Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Flags don’t fly for winning the offseason. In the past, winning the offseason hasn’t even translated to wins in the regular season. The Reds had a great winter ahead of the 2020 season, picking up Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama after trading for Trevor Bauer at the 2019 deadline, but they finished third in the Central and lost their first playoff series. The year before, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson while trading for J.T. Realmuto. They finished at .500 in 2019 and missed the playoffs the next year when even losing teams made it to October.

Then there’s the Padres, who unquestionably won the 2020-21 offseason and that’s with the Mets trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. San Diego traded for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove. He’ll miss 2020, but the Padres traded for Mike Clevinger at the deadline and extended him this winter. Austin Nola was another deadline pickup. On the free agent side, the Padres got Ha-seong Kim and brought back Jurickson Profar. Oh, and they locked up Fernando Tatís Jr. to a 14-year deal.

A key difference between the Padres and the Reds and Phillies is that the Padres were already good. It’s easy to dismiss a .617 winning percentage in a 60-game season, but this was a team filled with talent. They had Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet in the rotation who each have the potential to be aces. Last winter, the Padres picked up Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth from the Rays, and they snagged Drew Pomeranz on the free agent market. The winter before, they signed Manny Machado to a mega-deal. He’s been roughly as good as advertised, but his performance has been upstaged by Tatís.

To say that the Padres are going for it isn’t quite accurate. Yes, they’re aggressively filling their roster, but “Going for it” implies reckless risk taking, pushing all of one’s chips to the center of the table. The Padres, however, don’t need it all to work out right away. Somehow, they managed to acquire all the players they did without forfeiting their future. San Diego held onto MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, and Luis Campusano. Both Gore and Abrams rank in MLB Pipeline’s Top-10, and Gore is the highest-ranked pitching prospect. Campusano appears 45th on the list. The only piece that hurts to see go is Luis Patiño. Maybe he’ll be better than any of the Padres kept, but the odds are still against him being as the pitcher the Padres got in return: Snell.

The Padres undoubtedly had a fantastic offseason and that’s not just in comparison to the glut of teams that only tried to get cheaper. The only question is whether this was enough to chase down the Dodgers. In any other division in baseball save for the AL, the Padres would be clear favorites. It’s debatable whether the Padres have surpassed the Yankees though my money would be on the dads. San Diego just has the misfortune of having to compete with one of the best teams to ever take the field.

Currently, PECOTA projects the Padres to finish with 95 wins, the third-most in baseball but still eight short of the Dodgers’ median projection. FanGraphs likewise projects the Padres for 95 wins, but its projections are more conservative for the Dodgers putting them four wins ahead of the Padres. The fact that it’s even close is a testament to how far the Padres have come.

With Tatis and Machado on the left side, the Padres are well on their way to having one of the best infields in baseball. The pair are projected to combine for 7.6 WARP. On the other side of second, things are less certain both in projected performance and projected playing time.

Throughout his career, Eric Hosmer has either been an All-Star or replacement level and nowhere in between. Last year, he was looking like the former, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll carry that into 2021 for his age-31 season. Hosmer hitting well would go a long ways toward dethroning the Dodgers.

The starting second baseman job belonged to Jake Cronenworth in 2020, and he made the most of it slashing .285/.354/.477 in 192 plate appearances. Both ZiPS and PECOTA expect his bat to take a step back in 2021, and if it does, both Jurickson Profar and Ha-seong Kim could take over.

Profar split his first year in San Diego between left field and second. With Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham, and Wil Myers in the outfield, there isn’t an obvious everyday spot for Profar. The reason the Padres inked him for three years anyway is that his proven versatility gives the Padres contingencies. If Pham doesn’t bounce back or if Myers turns back into a pumpkin, Profar is there to minimize the damage.

If the offense has a couple holes, the pitching staff is bullet proof. Any rotation which might not have room for Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack is in good shape. Beyond them, Adrian Morejon is waiting in the wings. In 27 13 big league innings, Morejon hasn’t gotten the results he deserved, but he’s capable of striking out a third of the batters he faces while limiting walks. Of course, MacKenzie Gore should make his debut at some point in 2021 to make a deep rotation that much deeper.

If things don’t work out for the Padres, this offseason won’t be a wash. Very few of these players are going anywhere any time soon. The Padres, who have never won a World Series or even had a pitcher throw a no-hitter, are on the cusp of a golden age. Last season was fun, but the best is yet to come.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.