Padres aiming to dethrone Dodgers in NL West after spending big in offseason
Plenty of questions surfaced during the offseason. Some answered, others not. One kept coming up over and over: Where are the San Diego Padres getting all of this money?
The Padres are by definition a small-market club. The San Diego market ranks 22nd out of the 25 with Major League Baseball teams. They didn’t spend like one. The Padres committed hundreds of millions in contracts during the offseason, shocking the industry with each expenditure. Their projected payroll stands at nearly $237 million, behind only the New York Mets and New York Yankees, according to Spotrac.
That has led to another question: Is this strategy sustainable?
Owner Peter Seidler, Walter O’Malley’s grandson, thinks so. He made it rain for two reasons: to topple the Dodgers again and win the city’s first championship in a major professional sport.
The Dodgers won 111 games last season. Even a 15-game decline this year could be enough to win the National League West for the 10th time in 11 years. But the Padres are coming. San Diego won just 89 games last season but beat the 101-win Mets and the Dodgers in the playoffs. With their offseason, this should be a two-team marathon for the division title.
“They’re a heck of a ballclub,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They've done a lot of good things. I think we're gonna have this conversation all year long.”
The Dodgers’ response to the Padres’ exorbitant offseason? A series of modest additions with a few prominent departures. Trea Turner, one of the most productive players in the majors last season, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Justin Turner signed with the Boston Red Sox. Pitchers Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and Chris Martin went elsewhere. Cody Bellinger was effectively released in November.
Clayton Kershaw was re-signed. J.D. Martinez was acquired to replace Justin Turner’s bat. Veterans Noah Syndergaard, David Peralta, Jason Heyward and Miguel Rojas were added to plug holes.
Rojas was acquired to serve as the utility infielder. Now he’s the starting shortstop after Gavin Lux suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training. The injury could expose the Dodgers’ lack of infield depth in the upper minors but it won’t make or break their season. Trades can shore that up.
The team’s success ultimately will depend on its core of position players — Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Max Muncy — and starting rotation.
Julio Urías has been one of the best pitchers in the majors over the last three seasons. He’s been consistent and durable. The rest of the rotation is a question.
Walker Buehler is expected to miss most, if not all of the season after Tommy John surgery in August. Kershaw, 35, remains elite when healthy, but he hasn’t made more than 22 starts over the last two seasons. Dustin May made just six starts last season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Tony Gonsolin dealt with a forearm strain last season and will miss the start of this season with a sprained ankle. Syndergaard has yet to regain the velocity that previously made him one of the premier pitchers in the majors.
Injuries will happen. The Dodgers are banking on a group of youngsters to buoy the rotation when they do. Gavin Stone, Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot all are expected to contribute this year. Stone pitched himself onto the big-league radar last season. Miller is a first-round pick with a high ceiling. Neither has made his major league debut. Pepiot debuted last year, posting a 3.47 earned-run average across 36⅓ innings.
Therein lies the difference between the Dodgers and Padres: The Dodgers should have the edge in depth again. The Padres, however, feature better top-tier talent, especially offensively. Depth wins regular-season games. But stars have propelled clubs to the World Series, and the Padres have gone heavy after star power.
They became the first franchise to pay two players more than $340 million after giving third baseman Manny Machado an 11-year, $350-million extension last month; shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year, $340-million contract last year. They signed Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280-million deal in December.
They traded for outfielder Juan Soto — who could command an even bigger contract after he rejected a $440-million offer from Washington — and reliever Josh Hader last season. Tatis is eligible to return from suspension in late April. The roster has produced so much excitement that the Padres had to cut off season-ticket sales. They’re now revenue sharers, not receivers, in Major League Baseball’s redistribution of wealth system.
“Last year, we kept battling together,” Machado said. “We had some adversity we had to deal with. And we just overcame all that. That was fun to watch and then, finally, I think the biggest one was getting over the Dodgers hump. They've been beating our butts for a long time.”
The script hasn’t flipped yet, but the Padres spent their way into legitimate World Series contention, setting the stage for a potential wire-to-wire division race.
NL West predicted order of finish:
1 | Los Angeles Dodgers
2022 | 111-51, 1st in West
Last year in playoffs | 2022
This roster isn’t as good as the one that won 111 games last season, but it doesn’t have to be to win a World Series. The lineup took a hit with Trea Turner’s loss, but Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman should fuel a top-tier offense. Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw headline a starting rotation that welcomes back Dustin May and could benefit from other reinforcements.
2 | San Diego Padres
2022 | 89-73, 2nd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2022
The Padres won the offseason. But will they win the season? They signed Xander Bogaerts and Nelson Cruz. They extended Manny Machado and Yu Darvish. Juan Soto and Josh Hader will have their first full seasons with the club. Fernando Tatis Jr. is eligible to return from suspension in late April. Expectations have never been higher.
3 | Arizona Diamondbacks
2022 | 74-88, 4th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2017
The future appears bright in Arizona. So bright that the club chose to give Corbin Carroll, the sport’s top prospect, the richest contract extension in franchise history even though he’s spent just 38 days in the big leagues. The present isn’t bad either. The Diamondbacks could find themselves in contention for a wild-card spot behind right-handers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.
4 | San Francisco Giants
2022 | 81-81, 3rd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2021
The Giants’ .500 record last season was a huge disappointment after their 107-win campaign in 2021. This team looks destined for another .500 finish. The rotation is strong with Logan Webb as a legitimate ace, but the lineup is shaky. Michael Conforto, one of the best hitters in the majors just three years ago, was signed on a flier.
5 | Colorado Rockies
2022 | 68-94, 5th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2018
The problem isn’t that the Rockies are expected to finish last in the division for the second straight season. The problem is they’re so far behind everyone else. Kris Bryant, their big signing last offseason, was one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2022, hitting five home runs in just 42 games. He somehow didn’t hit one at Coors Field.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.