Monday, August 8, 2022

Juan Soto trade: Padres’ projected lineup, playoff hopes boosted by deal, return of Fernando Tatis Jr.

Juan Soto trade: Padres' projected lineup, playoff hopes boosted by deal, return of Fernando Tatis Jr.

The Padres’ lineup will soon look very different and very improved

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The San Diego Padres seized the baseball world by the lapels on Tuesday, as they swung a blockbuster trade with the Washington Nationals for superstar young slugger Juan Soto and power-hitting first baseman Josh Bell. While the trade deadline deal is yet to be finalized, it’s not premature to ponder what kind of lineup the Padres can now assemble. 

But wait, there’s more: Franchise shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is set to begin a minor-league rehab assignment soon. Tatis has missed the entire 2022 season to date after suffering an offseason wrist fracture, but once he returns he should resume being one of the most electrifying and productive offensive players in the game. So when we indulge in waking dreams of the Padres’ new lineup, we will also account for Tatis’ eventual presence. Now let’s jump in. 

Soto has primarily batted in the No. 2 hole this season, and he’s also spent significant time as the three hitter. For his career, he’s batted No. 3 a plurality of the time, but we’ll bow to more recent trends and call him the Padres’ No 2 man. Bell, meantime, has in 2022 spent roughly equal time as the No. 3 hitter and cleanup hitter. As for Tatis, last season he spent almost all his time batting second, cleanup, and leadoff for the Pads, in that order. In light of all that – but not beholden to all that – San Diego’s massively upgraded lineup could go a little something like this: 

  1. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS (Bats: R)
  2. Juan Soto, RF (Bats: L)
  3. Manny Machado, 3B (Bats: R)
  4. Josh Bell, 1B (Bats: B)
  5. Jurickson Profar, LF (Bats: S)
  6. Jake Cronenworth, 2B (Bats: L)
  7. Nomar Mazara/Wil Myers, DH (Bats: L/R)
  8. Austin Nola, C (Bats: R)
  9. Trent Grisham, CF (Bats: L)

Needless to say, that’s an imposing lineup, and it’s one that doesn’t cede the platoon advantage for consecutive batters anywhere so long as you tweak the bottom of the order when Myers is the DH. Tatis’ return means that Ha-Seong Kim returns to a utility role and could also see some time at DH. Also of note is that Bell has out-produced Eric Hosmer, whom the Padres traded to the Red Sox in a separate-but-related deal, by a substantial margin both throughout recent history and over the course of their careers. Bell’s major edge in batted-ball quality suggests that’s going to continue being the case moving forward. We’ll pencil in a Nomar Mazara-Will Myers platoon at DH since Luke Voit wound up going to Washington in the trade. Utility man Brandon Drury, also acquired on deadline day, gives manager Bob Melvin positional flexibility and a right-handed stick to perhaps pair with Cronenworth on occasion or work into the DH mix. 

The Padres’ offense this season prior to the additions of Soto and Bell and the forthcoming return of Tatis ranked 17th in MLB in runs scored and 20th in OPS. However, the run-suppressing nature of their home yard, Petco Park, must be taken into account. Apply that necessary context and we find that the San Diego offense in terms of OPS has been 2.0 percent better than the league average. We refer to park- and league-adjusted OPS as OPS+, and the Padres this season are tied for 11th in MLB in that metric. That’s a solid showing, and that’s before potentially huge upgrades at three positions. 

Speaking of which, the SportsLine Projection System estimates that the additions of Soto and Bell have added 1.9 wins to the Padres’ outlook for the rest of the season and improved their chances of making the postseason by 11.3 percent. Those are substantial figures given that we have just two months of regular season remaining.

There’s almost zero chance the Padres will catch the Dodgers (owners of a 12-game lead) in the National League West, but they vastly improved their playoff standing with their deadline deals and with the looming return of Tatis. Also recall that wild-card berths now come with the guarantee of at least three-game series as opposed to the bygone one-and-done format. The Padres have worked to improve their odds of going deep into October. That tantalizing new lineup laid out above makes them serious threats to do that this year. 

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