Even with plenty of talented free agents still available, it's hard to imagine anyone will unseat the Padres as very official Winners Of The Offseason. San Diego made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last year, then pushed all their chips to the middle of the table by acquiring former Cy Young winner Blake Snell (via trade), veteran starter Yu Darvish (via trade) and star Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim (via free agency) seemingly in the span of hours last month.
On Monday the Padres reportedly made yet another move, netting Pirates starter Joe Musgrove in a three-team deal that sent young lefty Joey Lucchesi to the Mets and a several prospects to Pittsburgh. Not only are the Padres good enough to make the playoffs, they're one of just a few teams positioned as genuine World Series contenders. But they also share a division with the reigning champion Dodgers, who have won the NL West since 2013.
So what should we make of the Padres heading into 2021?
Editor's note: Some responses were submitted before the Padres' deal for Musgrove. San Diego was good before the trade and is even better after the trade.
The Padres are for real right now. They have significantly narrowed the gap on the Dodgers and have a potential World Series team. In Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Dinelson Lamet, San Diego has four starters who struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings last season (albeit a short one). Only three teams had three qualified starters with that kind of swing and miss stuff, and all three were playoff teams (2017 Indians, 2018 Astros and 2019 Nationals).
With two MVP candidates in their prime (Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr.), a team that last year was in the top three in run differential, and with some version of expanded playoffs this year (most likely seven in each league), the Padres are a near lock to make the postseason. Their swing-and-miss rotation makes them a ferocious postseason team.
Give credit to GM A.J. Preller, who over the past six months has traded more than 25 players-almost all from the team’s deep farm system–to finish off this roster. This team is just opening a two- or three-year window to grab the franchise’s first World Series title.
I don't think the Padres are better than the Dodgers, but that doesn't mean they won't beat them. San Diego's exciting offseason is a problem for Los Angeles in a couple of ways: The Padres now pose a greater problem when they play head to head, in both the regular season and the postseason, and they will also challenge the Dodgers for the NL West crown. That means L.A. won't be able to rest its young pitchers down the stretch quite as easily as it could when it was 17 games up. Especially coming off a year when everyone threw so few innings, life would be a lot easier for the Dodgers if they didn't have to push their starters. And San Diego is poised to capitalize on any weakness.
In any other division, I'd say that the Padres are close to a sure lock for this season. But in the NL West.... I still think the Dodgers are probably just too good, and if they have a few moves of their own still to come this winter, they'll look even better. That's not to say that the Padres are in a bad spot for 2021—hardly! They're still well-situated to grab a wild-card spot and make a serious playoff run. And for 2022 and beyond, with the strength of this farm system, they're set up especially well. For now, however, the Dodgers' depth still looks like it might be too much to overcome. (In 162, that is. Once they're in October? San Diego could easily go all the way.)
Recent history tells us that "winning the offseason" usually amounts to losing the actual season. The Padres can even attest to this (see: pre-2015 offseason), but not this year. San Diego took a playoff squad and bolstered it to the Nth degree. At the very least it has the starting pitching to take down the Dodgers and ultimately win the club's first title. Will it happen? Miles to go before we get there ... but nobody would be surprised to see the Friars in the Fall Classic.
Baseball's two best teams play in the NL West. I favor the Padres' top three starters (Darvish, Snell, Lamet) by the slimmest of margins over the Dodgers' (Buehler, Kershaw, Price), which could very well enable them to take down L.A. in a playoff series. But Los Angeles wields more depth on the pitching staff and around the diamond, which should help them retain the division crown for a ninth straight season.
I don't, however, expect them to extend that streak to double digits once Mike Clevinger returns from Tommy John surgery for the Padres in 2022. The Dodgers are set to have several key pieces hit free agency after 2021 such as Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, opening the door for Slam Diego to snap its rival's stranglehold on the division. A pennant is well within the Padres' sights
Man, this is fun. In an offseason with little excitement, the Padres are one of just a handful of teams—along with the Mets, White Sox, Nationals and Braves—actually doing something to upgrade their roster in 2021. So what are their chances? Well, San Diego has the best rotation in the NL West. Unlike the Dodgers, the Padres aren't in danger of losing key position players in free agency. The one place where Los Angeles has the upper hand is in the bullpen. Two of San Diego’s best relief pitchers last season, Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal, are both free agents, while the Dodgers already have added three relievers and re-signed Blake Treinein and Jimmy Nelson. It's too soon to know which of these two teams is the best in the division. But, that this is even in question at all tells us exactly what we're to make of the Padres.
It's hard to consider the Padres anything but World Series contenders entering 2021. San Diego dipped its toe in the playoff waters last season, and this year's roster could legitimately challenge any team in baseball. Fernando Tatis Jr. could turn in a 30-30 season. Both Yu Darvish and Blake Snell have contended for the Cy Young in recent seasons. San Diego's lineup is incredibly deep, and despite some bullpen questions, it's not hard to imagine a seven-game bout with the Dodgers in October.