Fact is, there has rarely been a high level of realistic expectation surrounding the Padres.
That has changed recently.
A series of moves prompted massive anticipation before last season. Disappointment ensued, along with a hike in ticket prices for 2022.
So what is unfolding now is undoubtedly among the most important winters in Padres history.
“I always feel that,” Padres President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller said Wednesday as part of his annual “every offseason is important” message at MLB’s GM Meetings at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa.
In a sense, Preller is on his third revamp of the roster. But this one is more accurately part of the second and is likely merely a retooling. Really.
“This isn’t about just flipping the roster or anything like that,” Preller said. “We feel like we’ve got a team that’s, you know, we have the core here of a team that can win a World Series and it’s probably going to be like adding the right piece or two to that talented core.”
The Padres have almost $185 million committed to their ’22 payroll in current and projected contracts. That is far beyond their previous levels of spending and puts them in the top five among MLB teams. But multiple sources with knowledge of the Padres finances, including an influx of available money at the ownership level that occurred last year along with higher ’21 attendance and gate receipts than they budgeted for, said the team is capable of spending more this offseason.
“What we’ve talked about honestly are kind of loose guidelines,” Preller said of his discussions with team Chairman Peter Seidler regarding payroll. “… With Peter, he’s always, ‘Let’s talk about here are the different paths we can go down.’ ”
Whatever is said and whatever the roster looks like and whatever apparent needs there are or are not on that roster and whatever the projected payroll is, everyone should have this straight by now:
We have no idea what Preller is doing.
That he hired away Bob Melvin, another team’s manager and a man beloved in the industry and roundly considered one of the best at his job, without word leaking until the end was just the latest example.
For perspective, Preller has so far proved more adept at guarding his plans than actually building a roster.
The Padres have made more trades (18) than any team since November 2019. They have awarded the biggest contract in franchise history three times in the past four years. Their active roster at year’s end had just nine players who had been with the team longer than three seasons.
Those things don’t happen when a general manager stands pat. Even though that GM continually insists he probably will.
For instance, Preller said around this time last year the Padres would be OK going forward with their existing starting rotation. Then he went out and traded for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove.
Nothing is beyond the scope of possibility.
Would anyone be surprised if he trades Musgrove and Trent Grisham to retool the farm system and signs Max Scherzer and Corey Seager? No matter how unlikely (or even preposterous) something is, it can’t be ruled out when Preller is pulling levers. The surprise is when there is no surprise.
Chris Antonetti, Cleveland’s president of baseball operations said Tuesday that dealing with Preller “is a lot of fun. He never runs out of ideas. … He has hundreds of concepts.”
This time, Preller insists is different.
“I really feel like that’s the case,” Preller said of the Padres needing just a few tweaks to make the jump to championship caliber.
“If all of a sudden Luis Castillo is available for something mediocre or Sonny Gray is available or we look up and someone wants to sign a one-year deal to come here and be part of the staff right now,” Preller said. “But going into (the winter) I feel like legitimately we like our group. We like our team. I do feel like we have a good team. But if something presents itself, we’ve got to look at it — especially on the pitching front.”
Not entirely coincidentally, Castillo and Gray are potential trade targets, as the Cincinnati Reds have acknowledged they are selling off parts. Preller has had interest in both starting pitchers multiple times in recent years.
While the Padres could enter 2022 without a notable addition to their rotation, they are likely inclined to bolster a crew that has questions due to injury history and limitations.
This is considered a strong free agent class, but a number of well-heeled buyers are crowding the shopping center.
“This marketplace is very aggressive,” agent Scott Boras said.
The Padres’ top priority is a starting corner outfielder, and they seek to add a few relief pitchers in addition to padding their rotation. While Preller said the “best version of” the Padres includes Eric Hosmer at first base, the team will also continue to explore ways to shed a little salary via a trade of Hosmer or right fielder Wil Myers.
“The biggest thing is being prepared and trying to see what fits,” Preller said. “We’ve had some offseasons where we haven’t lined up on things. … We’re never going to be reckless. You know, I think ultimately top to bottom — Peter Seidler, myself, Bob Melvin — we want to win a championship and we understand what that’s going to take. But honestly it’s just more about trying to be smart and doing things that fit for our team and our group. I don’t think this offseason will be any different. I think we’ll try to line up on some things that fit for us.”