As recently as a month ago, the San Diego Padres were right in the thick of the NL West race. Since then a rocky few weeks have pushed them double-digit games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, though the Padres remain firmly in wild-card position, and are a fairly safe bet to play baseball in October. That said, the club needs reinforcements prior to next week’s trade deadline.
Perhaps the biggest question leading into the deadline is not who will the Padres acquire, but will they exceed the $230 million competitive balance tax threshold? For CBT purposes, San Diego’s payroll currently sits at $228.9 million (per FanGraphs), leaving GM AJ Preller minimal wiggle room under the threshold. Unless ownership authorizes a payroll increase, it’ll be hard to make meaningful additions at the deadline.
With that in mind, let’s preview the Aug. 2 trade deadline for a Padres team looking to secure its third National League pennant and first ever World Series championship.
At some point the Padres expect to get Fernando Tatis Jr. back from his broken wrist and his addition to the lineup will be more impactful than just about trade. That said, the Padres need help beyond Tatis. Their outfield went into Tuesday collectively hitting .219/.300/.344 with 22 home runs, and that’s just not going to fly. They need at least one outfield bat. Preferably two. Catcher and DH could be upgraded as well. There is no shortage of ways to improve an offense that ranks 18th in runs per game.
MacKenzie Gore’s recent elbow injury threatens to undermine the rotation, though San Diego still has six capable starters for five spots: Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea, Nick Martinez, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell. They seem set in the rotation, not that adding another starter is ever a bad idea. On the pitching side, the priority figures to be the bullpen, specifically a high-leverage reliever who can lighten the load on Taylor Rogers, Luis García, and Nabil Crismatt.
We have to mention Soto, right? The Padres are among the teams with the trade assets and motivation to get a Soto deal done, and he fits them so perfectly. San Diego needs outfield help, both now and in the future, and only four teams have received fewer home runs from left-handed hitters. It’s unlikely the Padres would be able to sign Soto long-term with Tatis and Manny Machado already on the books, but he’ll remain under team control through 2024, and having Soto for the next three postseason runs would be insanely valuable for a team built to win now. Soto is a great fit for every team and especially the Padres.
If Soto is Plan A, Reynolds is Plan B. The Pirates center fielder is a do-it-all switch-hitter with contact skills, on-base ability, and power, and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2025. His team control years line up perfectly with Machado’s peak, which is essentially the Padres’ window to win a championship. If the Padres can’t work out a Soto trade, they should pivot and offer up a similar prospect package to Pittsburgh for Reynolds.
It’s not hard to envision the Padres and Cubs getting together for a big multi-player trade that sends Contreras and Happ to San Diego. Contreras is a rental and would help the club behind the plate (and at DH at times) in the short-term. Happ is under team control through next season and would be a significant outfield upgrade through 2023. Chicago also has a few rental relievers who could help the Padres, namely David Robertson and Mychal Givens. These one-stop-shot trades rarely happen, but a massive Contreras/Happ/Robertson deal sure would solve a lot of problems for the Padres, no?
Peralta is going to be a sneaky-great pickup for some contender at the deadline. The soon-to-be 35-year-old punishes right-handed pitching and is a surprisingly good defensive outfielder. He’s a rental and the Diamondbacks are loaded with young outfielders, so the only question is whether Arizona parts way with Peralta at the deadline or as a free agent after the season. For the Padres, Peralta would improve their outfield and add the kind of lefty power bat they sorely lack.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been more buzz about Laureano leading up to the deadline, though there’s still plenty of time for things to heat up. The Athletics are obviously selling and Laureano is one of their best remaining trade chips. He’s a solid player more than a star, and for the Padres, a solid player represents a considerable upgrade in the outfield. Laureano will remain under team control through 2025 and would be a long-term buy.
Preller has long coveted Gallo — he tried to acquire him at the deadline last year — whom he briefly overlapped with in Texas during his time in the Rangers‘ front office. Gallo has had a terrible season and the Yankees figure to move on at the deadline, and that represents an opportunity for Preller to get his white whale at a discount. The trade might not be anything more than a salary dump. The Padres need more certainty in the outfield (i.e. players who will reliably improve the offense), but Gallo at basically zero cost isn’t a bad roll of the dice. A fresh start away from New York could do wonders for the two-time 40-homer guy.
Robertson is the best available rental reliever and Bard is the second best. The Rockies do weird things but I think even they realize they have to trade Bard, a a 37-year-old free agent-to-be with basically zero chance to be part of the next contender in Colorado. He misses bats and gets grounders with his high-velocity sinker/slider combo, two skills everyone wants in a high-leverage reliever. The Padres made a trade for Trevor Rosenthal, a similar rental reliever, two years ago and he was lights out down the stretch.
Possible trade chips
The Padres still have plenty of trade chips even though Preller has aggressively used his farm system to upgrade the MLB roster in recent years. Gore and shortstop CJ Abrams exhausted their rookie eligibility this year but remain prospects for all intents and purposes. Those two plus outfielder Robert Hassell III give San Diego three premium prospects to peddle (Gore’s recent elbow issue may complicate things, however). Abrams, Gore, and Hassell would get Washington’s attention in Soto trade talks.
Shortstop Jackson Merrill and outfielder James Wood, San Diego’s top two picks in the 2021 draft, are now consensus top-100 prospects, and others like catcher Luis Campusano and speedster Eguy Rosario are highly regarded as well. Contending teams usually don’t subtract from their MLB roster, though I wonder whether Trent Grisham’s continued regression will land him on the trade block. If nothing else, I can’t imagine he’s off-limits.
Point is, the Padres are still loaded with high-end young talent. They have the trade pieces to do just about anything they want. The only real questions are a) are the Padres willing to move some (or all!) of these young players, and b) will ownership allow Preller & Co. to exceed the CBT threshold? If the answers are yes and yes, then San Diego could be headed for a monster deadline.