This is how it’s supposed to work. This is how the "process” plays out. This is how teams go from fun stories to champions.
The San Diego Padres are doing what every other Major League Baseball team should do when they arrive at the juncture of contention and mediocrity: shove all the chips in the middle and say "Let’s dance."
It started Sunday night, when the Padres dealt a quartet of prospects for left-hander Blake Snell. Acquiring a former Cy Young is one way to flesh out a starting rotat—wait, they’re getting Yu Darvish too?
Yes, the 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up is also going to the West Coast. That development came Monday, and general manager A.J. Preller’s front office wasn’t done. The Athletic and MLB.com reported later that day Korean shortstop and one of the top free agents in a strong international class, 25-year-old Ha-Seong Kim, is in agreement with the club. He’s expected to slide over to second base, with Fernando Tatis Jr. already at shortstop, but can play all over the diamond.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s one Cy Young, one four-time All-Star and one sweet-swinging commodity in the span of less than 24 hours for the Padres. Not bad.
Yu Darvish was the runner-up for NL Cy Young Award in 2020. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY Sports)
As the domestic free agent market remains frozen, with tight-pocketed teams essentially dictating the pace of the offseason, the Padres are taking advantage. The goal isn’t to win the offseason – it’s to overtake the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West and bring a title to San Diego for the first time ever.
At least they’re putting themselves into position to slay the beast. Too often in sports, especially baseball, teams take the path of least resistance, hoping losses and depressed payroll lead to draft picks, and that the development of those players translates to sustained success. The philosophy has worked – ask the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs – but it’s not foolproof, either.
Blockbuster trades, like the one that sent Snell to San Diego, don’t happen overnight, although it may feel that way. The Padres' farm system has consistently been among the game’s best for a few years now, and they made the pivotal decision to leverage that into players who could provide a meaningful boost for the major league team while bringing along limited question marks.
So they parted with right-hander Luis Patiño, an impressive 21-year-old who pitched in the majors as a reliever last season and is ranked as the No. 23 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. San Diego also sent 2020 third-rounder Cole Wilcox, a pitcher they signed overslot, to the Rays with catchers Francisco Mejia (a former touted prospect who has not yet figured it out in the majors) and Blake Hunt.
To make the second such deal for Darvish meant the Padres would need more movable prospects. That wasn’t an issue for San Diego, who kept more supply on hand than demand and quickly packaged Zach Davies, 2020 first-rounder Owen Caissie and international signees Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana and Ismael Mena – all mid-level prospects within the Padres’ system, which likely means they’ll quickly become some of the Cubs’ higher-ranked players – for Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini.
The moves illustrated a simple fact but one organizations choose to ignore in the face of competition: prospect rankings don’t win championships, and they certainly don’t beat other teams, such as the Dodgers.
With two new aces in the fold, the Padres could trot out a rotation of, say, Darvish, Snell, 2020 NL Cy Young contender Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack and any combination of young lefties Adrian Morejón, MacKenzie Gore and Ryan Weathers. (Mike Clevinger is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and will be back in 2022.)
Even in all of their dealings, the Padres still have four Top 100 prospects, including Gore – who also profiles as an ace and was the No. 3 pick in 2017 – and catcher Luis Campusano, which proves teams can contend and feel somewhat secure about the future simultaneously.
The Rays parted with a player they didn’t trust in Game 6 of the World Series to bolster an elite farm system. It’s how they do things under the financial constraints they must confront, and they came within two games of proving that their strategy works. The Cubs are fulfilling the prophecy of slashing payroll and enduring a rebuild without championship architect Theo Epstein.
Meanwhile, Padres club chairman Peter Seidler, vice chairman Ron Fowler and their partners are dedicating the financial resources that are usually reserved for teams with World Series aspirations. In 2019, the Padres ranked 24th in payroll. They will enter the 2021 season, according to Spotrac’s current numbers, in the top five for players on the 26-man roster.
In that department, the Dodgers sit above everyone else, Commissioner’s Trophy in hand. Any attempt to overthrow them will require the right kind of greed, in which one more ace isn’t enough, and two young stud shortstops is better than one.
It's bold, but if the Padres are successful, logic dictates more teams will follow their lead. For the sake of baseball, let’s hope that is the case.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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