The San Diego Padres captivated baseball fans from every team with their approach to roster construction over the past few seasons, adding in star players left and right, making splashy win-now trades, and having a team dripping with swagger. The bandwagon may be starting to break down.
Over their history, the Padres have peaked their heads out to make the postseason every 10 years or so. In their latest run, they made the expanded postseason in 2020 as well as making it all the way to the NLCS in 2022.
Their previous postseason dips had been in 2005 and 2006. Before that, it was an NLDS loss in 1996 and a World Series loss in 1998, and before that another World Series loss in 1984. That’s the entire playoff history of the franchise since they came into the league back in 1969.
With San Diego granting permission to the division-rival San Francisco Giants to interview and subsequently hire their manager Bob Melvin, the Padres may be in for another dark period in franchise history. Now they’re looking for a captain, er manager, to steer that ghost ship.
The Giants, on the other hand, are ready to spend and make moves. Not only do they have Melvin, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is presumably working towards becoming a fixture in San Francisco for the next 20 seasons as opposed to an afterthought in the baseball world. The Giants want to win, and they are going to start making moves soon.
The Padres gave it a shot, but may be set to retreat into the depths of the NL West once more.
How we got here with the San Diego Padres, San Francsico Giants
Both San Francisco and San Diego missed the postseason in 2023. And while it can be debated whether the Giants should have had October dreams, after making the National League Championship Series in 2022 and having the third-highest payroll in baseball, the Padres had higher aspirations than an 82-80 finish.
There was reportedly some turmoil between Melvin and Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller, with The Athletic reporting that their relationship was “unfixable.” It was honestly surprising that both were slated to return in 2024 until the Giants came knocking.
The Giants were fielding a fairly boring team the past two seasons after their 107-win campaign back in 2021, hovering right around the .500 mark and using a plethora of platoons and odd-ball pitching strategies to collect as many wins as they did. The fans were frustrated. Not only by the results, but by the product on the field. It just wasn’t a compelling watch.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Giants fired manager Gabe Kapler and San Diego didn’t necessarily want theirs.
Giants look poised to pounce
With the addition of Melvin, the Giants get an accomplished manager who has had success managing with less during his decade with the Oakland A’s, and he also brought a team of stars to the NLCS just one year ago. Sure, his bullpen management can be a little infuriating at times. But he knows how to get the most out of his team.
Part of the reason for that is because he’s a great communicator. No player on the team will have questions about their role on the club or how they fit in. Melvin’s door will always be open to talk shop. Former A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano was constantly in Melvin’s office talking baseball. He will command respect because of the way he goes about his job.
There’s also the added bonus that Melvin and Zaidi have a history that dates back to the time they spent in Oakland before Zaidi left for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They know each other and they like each other, which is more than Melvin had in San Diego, and most importantly they complement each other. Kapler and Zaidi had very similar ideas about the game, so there was little room for growth. Melvin has a different background and will bring some of that into the mix.
While both Bob Melvin and Zaidi have been signed to three-year deals with San Francisco, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have a long honeymoon period. Hiring Melvin was likely the first step in what figures to be a busy offseason for the team’s front office. They’ll need to add pitching so that they have more than two starters in the rotation. They’ll also need to add some bats that can hit right-handers and lefties to get away from so many platoons. Adding a big star to the mix also wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The easy work has been done. Now, it’s time to start building a real contender.
Same old San Diego Padres?
After spending more than any team outside of the New York Mets in 2023, the club is apparently set to cut payroll to about $200 million for next season. Their estimated payroll for 2024 already sits at $190 million, and that is without contracts to replace (or re-sign) closer Josh Hader, who boasted a 1.28 ERA in ’23, or presumed NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Both will be hitting the MLB free agent market once the World Series wraps up next week.
They’ll still have one season of Juan Soto, plus locked up stars in Fernando Tatís Jr., Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts, but they had all of those players this past season and still underperformed. They’ll likely perform better in one-run games after going 9-23 in those decisions, so it’s not unfathomable that they’ll be in the mix next year. How good (or bad) they’ll be will depend on what moves Preller has in store this winter. But from the look of it, big time spending isn’t really on the table.
Juan Soto trade rumors will swirl this offseason, as he’s due an estimated $30 million in arbitration. But trading him away wouldn’t make the team better and would put them even further from contention.
Two early candidates for San Diego’s new managerial opening are Mike Shildt, who took over for Mike Matheny with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018 and was fired after the 2021 campaign. The team went 252-199 under Shildt, but he isn’t exactly the flashy hire that this team feels like it needs. The other candidate is Ryan Flaherty, who played with Manny Machado from 2012-17 with the Baltimore Orioles.
He may be a great managerial candidate, but that connection could end up not sitting well in the clubhouse pretty quick. This would also be Flaherty’s first chance as a manager, and giving him an uphill climb in addition to a clubhouse of stars seems like a bad mixture.
The oddsmakers have Flaherty and Shildt as the two leading candidates for the vacancy in San Diego.
With the team looking to trim payroll, losing two big pieces to free agency, and not having a rock star manager to rile up the fan base, it looks as though the Padres may be ready to slide backward, but this time it will be by design.