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The Padres in 2023: Jekyll and Hyde

Ha-Seong Kim fields a ball during a road game for the San Diego Padres.

Despite being a preseason favorite with a large payroll, the Padres missed the playoffs and are now stuck in no man’s land.

After an inspirational playoff run in 2022, the San Diego Padres entered the 2023 season with World Series aspirations. The return of superstar OF Fernando Tatis, Jr. and the free-agent acquisition of SS Xander Bogaerts added confidence to a potential title run. At the end of it all, to say the Padres came up short would be an understatement.

The 2022 Playoff Run

The Padres had a thrilling run to the NLCS over a year ago as a wild card team. They first knocked off the 101-win New York Mets in the Wild Card round. After that, they upset the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. That series win was sweet for the Padres and their fans as the Dodgers had been bullying them for years, including a sweep in the 2020 NLDS.

The Pads eventually fell in the NLCS to OF Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies. That summer, the front office went all in to acquire OF Juan Soto, 1B Josh Bell, UTL Brandon Drury, and CP Josh Hader. The deadline acquisitions did not disappoint, and it was only looking up for 2023, or was it?

A Monumental Offseason

The Padres faced a dilemma with 3B Manny Machado regarding his player option as part of his contract from 2019. Machado exercised his player option, but the Padres resigned him to an 11-year, $350 million deal. PBO AJ Preller and chairman Peter Seidler ponied up the cash for the rest of the offseason. The Friars lured Bogaerts away from the Boston Red Sox as he inked an 11-year, $280 million contract. They also brought back RP Robert Suarez for five years and $46 million. SPs Nick Martinez and Michael Wacha also returned, and Yu Darvish signed an extension worth $108 million over six years.

This Season’s Inconsistencies

Wherever big money is spent, the expectations that come along with it are absolutely immense. San Diego had a notable 2022 season and followed it up with a stellar offseason. The baseball experts swore the Padres were going to find their stride after stumbling out of the gate in April, but they never did. It is rather incredible that a lineup featuring Soto, Machado, Tatis, Bogaerts, and 2B Ha-Seong Kim never put it together. According to FanGraphs, San Diego’s offense ranked 7th in baseball. The star-studded lineup produced 26.1 WAR and a 107 wRC+, but their 205 home runs and 752 runs were only 13th.

The pitching staff was the least of their worries with lowest team ERA at 3.73 and the fourth-lowest batting average against at .233. SP Blake Snell also won his second Cy Young award. A top-ten offense and the best pitching staff in the business should be playing October baseball, right? For San Diego, that just wasn’t the case.

Where Things Went Wrong

The confusing tale of the 2023 Padres begins with their record in one-run games and extra-inning games. By late September, the Friars were dead last in the league with a 7-22 record in one-run games. The Padres came close to setting some bad history as they were 0-12 in extras on September 24 (they won one on September 27). Even so, the Padres were technically still alive until the last week of the season. This was due in part to their late-season surge and the collapse of the Chicago Cubs. Let’s face it though, the 2023 Padres were built to steamroll everyone on their way to the World Series instead of missing out on a wild card berth.

Bad baseball in close and extra-inning games slayed their playoff hopes. There were also rumblings of friction throughout the entire season between Preller and Manager Bob Melvin. Following the season, seized the opportunity to leave San Diego to become the skipper for the division rival San Francisco Giants.

2024 Outlook

Tragedy struck the franchise before Thanksgiving as beloved chairman Peter Seidler passed away unexpectedly. The Padres are now in a state of flux where it is unclear who is guiding the organization. In early December, they traded away Soto and OF Trent Grisham to the New York Yankees in an effort to offload salary and acquire cheap starting pitching under team control. In the trade, San Diego netted SPs Drew Thorpe, Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, and veteran C Kyle Higashioka in return. This move was highly critiqued around the baseball world. It was puzzling to see a team flip a superstar like Soto just a year and a half after acquiring him. This was a tough move, but the right one nonetheless. It also looks like their will lose Snell and Hader in free agency.

San Diego still aims to compete in the tough NL West, and their farm system is back to a healthy shape after years of trading from it. Their established stars aren’t going anywhere, but their success lies on the contributions of controllable talent and those they recently acquired. Perhaps the calming presence and leadership of baseball lifer Mike Shildt as the new manager will also aid their 2024 season. Preller will be working with his 5th manager as he has outlasted the likes of Bud Black, Pat Murphy, Andy Green, Jayce Tingler, and Melvin. Only time will tell what happens in San Diego.

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