On Wednesday, the San Diego Padres traded outfielders Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the New York Yankees in exchange for four pitchers and catcher Kyle Higashioka. (You can read our full analysis of the deal here.) The move comes months after the Padres reportedly took out a loan worth "roughly" $50 million to help meet payroll costs. Rumors had, in turn, surfaced indicating that San Diego would look to reduce payroll into the $200-million range.
Soto and Grisham were projected to make around $38 million next season through arbitration. (Soto in his final year of eligibility, Grisham in his penultimate year.) The Padres had already cleared substantive payroll space earlier in the winter when they declined club options on Nick Martinez and Michael Wacha, and Seth Lugo opted to join Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and closer Josh Hader on the free agent market. According to the best public estimates -- those hosted at Cot's Contracts and Spotrac -- the Padres' 2024 projected payroll now sits around $150 million.
That doesn't mean A.J. Preller and company will spend $50 million between now and Opening Day 2024 -- some front offices like to leave at least $10 million in wiggle room for in-season additions. It does, however, suggest that Preller should have the ability to upgrade a roster that has bled talent in recent weeks.
What exactly might that entail? Below, CBS Sports has highlighted three dynamics worth monitoring for the Padres the rest of the winter.
1. Lineup could use reinforcements
Perhaps this could go without stating, but a team's lineup tends to look worse after they trade one of the game's best hitters. That's the case in San Diego. Take a look at the Padres' projected Opening Day starting nine, courtesy of FanGraphs' Roster Resource page:
- Xander Bogaerts, SS
- Fernando Tatis Jr., RF
- Jake Cronenworth, 1B
- Manny Machado, DH
- Ha-Seong Kim, SS
- Luis Campusano, C
- Cal Mitchell, LF
- Matthew Batten, 3B
- José Azocar, CF
The Padres lineup isn't long removed from looking like an All-Star team. The bottom half of the order now more closely resembles a Triple-A club.
Predictably, the Padres have been connected with several free-agent hitters, including catcher Gary Sánchez, who revitalized his career with San Diego last season, and Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee, who teamed with Kim as part of the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization. Sánchez and Lee were both considered to be top-30 free agents by CBS Sports, with Sánchez benefitting from a weak catching crop and Lee intriguing thanks to his speed, defense, and impressive bat-to-ball skills.
It's worth noting the Padres might deal another piece of their lineup. Cronenworth, fresh off the worst season of his career, is believed to be available, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. Such a deal would free up additional funds (he's owed more than $7 million next season) and clear a spot in the lineup for a more traditional power bat at the cold corner.
The exact route the Padres take from now until Opening Day is to be seen. But we strongly suspect that San Diego will not be starting Mitchell, Batten, and Azocar when spring rolls around.
2. More pitching needed, too
The Padres may have added four pitchers to their collection on Wednesday, including three who could crack the Opening Day roster, but that doesn't mean they should consider their pitching staff to be a solved situation.
San Diego's rotation as constructed would likely feature some combination of Joe Musgrave, Yu Darvish, and Michael King, with the other starters coming from a pool that includes Randy Vásquez, Jhony Brito, and knuckleballer Matt Waldron, among others. The Padres have checked in on all of the top starters on the free-agent and trade fronts, Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes among them. The odds of the Padres landing an impact starter would seem muted given their financial situation and their reported disinclination to trade top prospects, suggesting they're more likely to find a fit further down the market. Who, precisely, that ends up being is to be determined.
The bullpen is also in depleted shape. Of the eight Padres relievers who had 10-plus high-leverage appearances last season, only three remain: Robert Suarez, Steven Wilson, and Tom Cosgrove. The Padres did acquire Enyel De Los Santos from the Cleveland Guardians, and they added Stephen Kolek in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday. He coerced a considerable amount of weak ground-ball contact on the minor-league side this past season.
3. Some help on the way
Under Preller, the Padres have gained a reputation for moving their prospects to the majors at a quicker pace than the normal team. Since 2020, the Padres have had seven different players appear who were in their age-21 seasons or younger, including Fernando Tatis Jr., CJ Abrams, and Luis Campusano.
Preller just so happens to again have two well-regarded young hitters in his farm system: 17-year-old catcher Ethan Salas (No. 8 on CBS Sports' winter top 25 prospect list) and 20-year-old infielder Jackson Merrill (No. 12).
The Padres pushed Salas to Double-A in his first professional season, suggesting that the door is open on him becoming the first teenager to catch in an MLB contest since Iván Rodríguez in 1991. Merrill, meanwhile, closed the year with a 46-game stretch in Double-A that saw him gain experience at positions other than shortstop -- left field and first and second base -- in a move that, at the time, fueled speculation he could debut late in 2023.
Merrill, for a number of reasons, is infinitely more likely to factor into the Padres' Opening Day plans. Both, however, could find themselves playing a role throughout the 2024 season as the Padres attempt to atone for last year.