A lot of the focus on the Padres humiliating 2021 season will center on Jayce Tingler and injuries, with the hope that a new manager, a talented core, and some key acquisitions will let the team run it back in 2022 with 10-15 more wins. While a new manager (or general manager!) would be a welcome addition, there are roster holes that desperately need to be addressed, either due to free agent departure (Melancon/Pham), or underperformance/injury (HOSMER/Myers/Lamet/Paddack/etc). One continuing area of interest for the Gwynntelligence conglomerate during it’s long and storied history has been team payroll, which has historically been embarrassing. One thing that cannot be said about 2021 is that ownership didn’t commit sufficient resources to this team. The team fielded a $180M payroll (including Kim’s $5.25M posting fee they paid out). Imagine two years ago sitting around thinking the Padres would EVER field a $180M payroll. We just wanted a league average payroll of ~$145M and were constantly told we were setting UNFAIR expectations on our small market owners. $180M!!!! In a lot of ways, I think we’re already taking for granted that the San Diego Padres have a $180M payroll. It’s easy to say Papa Pete should just commit another $40M to the payroll (and it would of course be great if he chose to do so), but I don’t think that’s an option that should be viewed as realistic or likely, just as a bonus if it happens. Honestly, I’d be happy if they were able to stay at this level of payroll, and even then, in today’s Rosenthal article, league sources doubt that it’s possible.
OK, so we just need the Padres to sign a few stars and baby, we’re back in business. This is where things get difficult. The Padres are backed against the wall payroll-wise. They have a huge number of ongoing, guaranteed commitments that are going to force a lot of tough decisions just to RETAIN many of our current players, before even talking about adding free agents. Let’s first take a look at our guaranteed money:
Manny Machado – $30M
Yu Darvish – $20M
Wil Myers – $20M
Eric Hosmer – $20M
Blake Snell – $13.1M
Drew Pomeranz – $10M
Mike Clevinger – $8M
Ha-Seong Kim – $7M
Jurickson Profar – $7.333M
Fernando Tatis Jr. – $5.714M
Buy-Outs (Stammen, Johnson, Melancon, Marisnick) – $3.5M
So, in guaranteed money, the Padres are on the hook in 2022 for ~$144.64M. It may be slightly higher because it isn’t reported how some of the [significant] signing bonus money is apportioned year to year). So, 10 players on the roster immediately consume $144.64M. There is obviously some fat to cut here, IF AJ is able/capable of moving Hosmer or Myers, and then the question is how much he’ll have to eat and just how much of that $144.64M he can shave off, but this is a separate discussion that we’ll have later in the article.
In those buy-outs above, Stammen and Johnson have club options. Kevin Acee has reported that the team plans to bring back Stammen, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that they’d also bring back Pierce Johnson, one of their most effective 2021 relievers. If they do, these additional salaries would be added, in addition to the buy-out totals above:
Craig Stammen – $3M
Pierce Johnson – $2M
If you’re following along, our running 2022 payroll total is now $149.64M.
Let’s take a look at the arbitration eligible players as well, as there are some key players that will have significant price tags associated with their third year of eligibility for arbitration (I’ll use back of the envelope arb estimates based on past data):
Joe Musgrove (A3) – ~$9M
Adam Frazier (A3) – ~$8M
Dinelson Lamet (A3) – ~$7M
Matt Strahm (A3) – ~$3.5M
Emilio Pagan (A2) – ~$2.5M
Victor Caratini (A2) – ~$2.5M
Dan Altavilla (A2) – ~$1M
Chris Paddack (A1) – ~$2M
Tim Hill (A1) – ~$1.5M
Jose Castillo – ~$1M
Trey Wingenter – ~$1M
Austin Adams – ~$1M
It’s an interesting list. Offhand, it seems 100% they will bring back Musgrove, Paddack, and Hill. It seems likely they’d bring back Frazier and maybe Adams and Yu Darvish’s personal catcher Caratini. This would total an additional $24.0M, bringing our running total to $172.5M. Given their expected salaries, there are difficult decisions on Lamet, Strahm, and Pagan. Lamet showed minimal progress in being able to shoulder a starter’s load in 2021, and Dennis Lin reported in his mailbag this week regarding his ability to start that “The Padres certainly aren’t counting on that. No one is ruling out the possibility that he will end up needing surgery in the offseason.” Given the payroll constraints, it’s hard to advocate to tender him a contract and have him eating up another $7M to be an average low leverage reliever. Given Strahm’s injury history and Pagan’s ineffectiveness, it’s easy to see them being non-tendered as well. Altavilla and Wingenter are recovering from surgeries and MAY be available in 2022, at $1M each it’s possible AJ rolls the dice on them. In the end, the Padres still need to have a fully stocked bullpen, and in this scenario, anyone non-tendered is going to need to be replaced, either from our weak upper minor league levels, or on the free agent market. But let’s assume the $172.5M payroll is what they’ll stick with and everyone else gets non-tendered, the Padres currently have a roster of 18 players. The other 8 players theoretically would be filled by minimum salary players (let’s assume $650k each for 2022), which adds another $5.2M, bringing our total to $178M. We are at $178M, and that’s to bring back 18 players, non-tendering Lamet, Strahm, Pagan, Altavilla, Castillo, Wingenter, and losing Melancon, Pham, and (lol) Marisnick to free agency, replacing all of them with minimum salary players. $178M!!!!!
You can see the conundrum here. This scenario has the Padres bringing back a weaker team to 2022 at the same cost! In this scenario, they have Frazier or Kim playing LF and who knows closing games and no added depth at all. This is not a path to success in 2022.
OK, so everything sucks and is hopeless, right? Not necessarily. While AJ has many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many faults, one thing you can say for him is that he comes up with creative trades and/or solutions. Not always good trades and/or solutions, but certainly creative. The most obvious deadweight salaries are HOSMER and Myers, each earning $20M, although Hosmer is due yet another $39M on top of that through 2025. AJ has tried to trade Myers’ contract for three years now, and Wil’s 1.5 WAR season isn’t helping the cause very much. As we all know, he tried to trade Hosmer’s contract as well at the trade deadline and failed. In either case, it’s going to take prospect capital to get someone to take on Wil’s remaining $20M or Hosmer’s remaining $59M. While we all know Hosmer totally sucks, a common refrain has been why pay prospects to make his contract go away, just DFA him. This would obviously help the on-field product, but given the precarious payroll situation the team is in for 2022, it doesn’t create any room to sign a new LF or closer or starting pitching upgrades or even to retain many of the arb eligible players. After taking a look at the 2022 payroll situation, I’m at the conclusion that they must dump one or both of these contracts, and pay what it takes to clear most or all of the salary. Wil’s is easier and cheaper to dump, and I have to assume AJ is going to try his best to get rid of his obligations. Even if they clear Wil’s $20M, if you assume Seidler brings back a $180M payroll, the team still only has ~$20M to spend to improve the team and/or fill roster holes, which isn’t a lot, but it also isn’t the $0 they’d have otherwise.
The focus of this article is on payroll obligations, but it should be noted that with the upper levels of the minor leagues pretty barren, the Padres don’t have many internal options to fill bullpen spots, closer, LF, etc. unless you think Reiss Knehr replacing Pagan as a 7th inning guy is an attractive option. The Padres do have a number of 40 FV prospects at the A level or below that they could maybe cobble together a quantity vs quality trade for a team that wants an infusion into their farm system. But in general, internal solutions don’t appear to be ready in the near term to help the 2022 team (Gore maybe if you squint not withstanding).
The payroll situation is dire for the 2022 Padres. They can dump Wil or Hosmer, but those are new holes that need to be filled in addition to the current ones. And all throughout these scenarios, you don’t see a path to adding useful depth to things like starting pitching, in fact you see some options needing to be cut loose like Lamet. The idea of bolstering the roster and running back the core sounds good when you hear it on morning radio, but the nuts and bolts of doing so are a lot more difficult than it would appear. On the bright side, AJ has shown a knack for two things: creative dealmaking and using black magic on ownership to increase their payroll investment. Either option would fix the problem, but at least on the Seidler contribution front, it’s hard to expect that from him given his current very generous investment in the complete garbage that was the 2021 Padres. Let’s just hope AJ has a plan. A good plan, not one of his terrible plans.
P.S. Contrary to the turgid and passionate desires of “rival executives”, trading Manny isn’t the way out of this conundrum.