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San Diego Padres 2024 outlook: A surprise team even after staggering offseason losses?

San Diego Padres
Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres ranked third in MLB payroll last season behind just the New York Mets and New York Yankees at an estimated $256 million. None of those teams made the postseason. The Padres got hot late in the season, going 19-7, but ultimately missed the cut by two games, only to see the Arizona Diamondbacks — a team in their own division that finished the year with two more wins — go on to play in the World Series.

Last year’s Padres team was stacked. This year’s version has cut payroll and made some changes. Manager Bob Melvin is now with the San Francisco Giants, replaced by Mike Shildt. Juan Soto has been traded away. Josh Hader departed via free agency to sign with the Houston Astros, and while NL Cy Young Blake Snell is still on the market, a return is unlikely.

San Diego went 10-28 in one-run games last year, which is bound to reverse itself a bit, and with the team’s +104 run differential in 2023, they underperformed their Pythagorean record by ten games. If the group had stayed together they could have been a force in 2024, but alas, the times are a changin’ in San Diego. Without Soto, Snell, and Hader, they may as well be Sans Diego.

San Diego Padres additions and subtractions

San Diego Padres
Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The amount of talent that the Padres have either let walk or traded away this offseason is staggering. Most teams lose some guys, but the replacements they bring in offer a positive projection for the upcoming season. One exercise we’ve been doing is taking the amount of WAR the team is losing, calculating the amount of projected WAR is coming in, and then finding the difference to judge a team’s winter. The Oakland A’s added 4.5 wins, the Rockies 1.2, and the Nationals 0.9. Those are three teams that are not projected to do much this season.

The Padres are at -14.3 WAR with Soto (5.5) and Snell (4.1) accounting for a large chunk of that number. Michael Wacha’s (2.6), Seth Lugo (2.8), Hader (1.7) Trent Grisham (1.7), and Gary Sanchez (1.7) are the other big departures.

If it were just the Soto (and Grisham) trade, then the team did a decent job of replacing that value with the additions of Michael King (projected for 1.2 WAR), Kyle Higashioka (0.7), Jhonny Brito (1.5), and Randy Vásquez (1.2), and certainly added some pitching depth to the club. That said, that value is being spread over four players instead of being concentrated into one Juan Soto.

The Padres also added left-handed reliever Yuki Matsui, who has racked up 71 saves in Japan the past two seasons while putting up ERAs of 1.92 and most recently 1.57. He’s primarily as fastball/splitter guy that mixes in his slider and will occasionally offer a curve. The projections think he’ll be a fairly effective relief arm with ERA estimates from 3.34 to 3.53.

They also added Woo-Suk Go out of the KBO. The right-hander has saved 57 games the past two seasons and was the hardest-throwing reliever in Korea, touching 98. His projections range from 3.84 to 4.24 with a little less control, but these two additions should help San Diego have a very solid collection of arms in the bullpen.

San Diego Padres 2024 season outlook

San Diego Padres
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After finishing with an 82-80 record last year and the loads of big departures, the Padres are projected to finish at … 81-81. A decent amount of that has to do with the team underperforming last season and just playing to their projections this coming year. The Diamondbacks are projected to finish in second place in the NL West with an 85-win season, so there is room for the Dads to surprise some folks.

In order for that to happen, Woo-Suk Go and Yuki Matsui would likely need to hit their projections, Yu Darish and Joe Musgrove would have to stay healthy, and Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts would have to play near their career norms. It also wouldn’t hurt if Fernando Tatís Jr. went from “just” 13% better than league average to roughly 50% better like he was in 2019-21.

The problem for the Padres is that they are clustered tightly in the middle of the field, which means they’ll be in a fight to land one of the three wild card spots all season long. On the bright side, there aren’t too many teams that you can look at and say they are definitely better than San Diego. They may have a slight edge here or there, but the Padres still have three big stars on offense, and an intriguing rotation with the additions of King, Vásquez, and Brito.

Watch out for San Diego?

San Diego Padres player to keep an eye on in 2024

San Diego Padres
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The most interesting player on the roster may end up being Yuki Matsui. At 5-foot-8, he’s one of the shortest pitchers in baseball, plus he’s making his MLB debut at the age of 28. In addition to his stellar ERAs, he has also put up a WHIP of one or less in each of the last three seasons in Japan. All of these factors combine for a very interesting player.

There’s no telling exactly how he’ll perform this coming season, and that is part of the fun. His track record seems to suggest that he’ll be at the very least effective with the potential to be dominant. It would be unfair to expect him to be able to replace Hader in year one, but if he hits the ground running, then Padres fans will fall in love with him immediately.

His fastball sits at 92.5 miles per hour, while his splitter sits at 87.5, roughly as hard as Shintaro Fujinami’s last season. Fuji’s split was fairly effective, but what gave him trouble over the course of the year was his command. Matsui shouldn’t have that problem. The lefty also throws a slider (86 mph) and a curve (76) giving him four offerings to do damage against opposing hitters with.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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