The San Diego Padres are nobody’s idea of a baseball powerhouse. Or even a consistently good team. Making the playoffs four times since entering the league in 1969—with three of those coming in the Wild Card era, most recently in 2006—doesn’t give fans much to look back on fondly. They have lost the World Series twice, so there is a little bit of potential glory in their past.
Recently though the Padres have found themselves in a difficult spot: back-to-back third place finishes in the NL West, a respective 17 and 16 games out of first the last two years. And the Padres haven’t exactly been rocking the payroll world. Beginning in 2010 the Padres’ payrolls, always in the bottom half of MLB, have been approximately $37.7 million, $45.8 million, $55.2 million, $67.1 million, and $90.1 million. Although their payrolls have been on the rise, with many teams flush with cash due to new stadium and television deals, San Diego hasn’t increased its budget as fast as money has poured into the league.
But the Padres hired a new general manager in August and A.J. Preller, who replaced Josh Byrnes, has remade the team this past winter. Adding Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers gives the Friars an entirely new starting outfield. An outfield with enough power to not simply be written off in the spacious dimensions of Petco Park.
Will Middlebrooks was acquired from Boston and could still live up to his potential—he does have 34 home runs buried in a scary .237/.284/.411 batting line during his brief major league career.
Derek Norris, acquired from the A’s, is coming off a breakout .270/.361/.403 year behind the plate. And Jedd Gyorko, who had a down year after his .249/.301/.444 23-homer rookie year, could bring power to second base once more.
The Padres are making a push to compete starting in 2015. Except, perhaps, for the rotation. Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy have each had success in the past few years, although not consistently. Brandon Morrow, the former Seattle Mariner and Toronto Blue Jay, will be taking this talents to the National League for the first time this season and might finally get the big year he’s hinted at in the past. What none of these starters is however, is an ace. James Shields, the last premium free agent on the market, is.
Shields may not be a true ace, but he’s a guy who can lead a rotation and provide above-average performance for 200-plus innings. Even at 33 years old, Shields should have enough left in the tank to carry a team like the Padres forward over the next couple of years.
Although rumors place San Diego somewhere in the vicinity of the Shields talks, Ken Rosenthal doesn’t believe it’s likely. Shields does live near San Diego, which could help. The teams he’s played for—the Rays and Royals—both took their leaps to playoff contention with Shields. The Rays did so with Shields as a young guy, the Royals with him as a veteran presence. The Padres are entering their window and it’s an interesting one. Upton is a free agent at season’s end while Kemp and Myers will be around for a few years. New management is looking to compete now rather than go for a full-on rebuild, and adding Shields to a team that is largely young and trending upwards could be the final piece to kickstart this plan.
Shields has thrown more than 200 innings every year since 2006 and has a career 20.5 percent strikeout rate, although that’s been trending downwards. The Marlins are rumored to be interested in a two-year deal for the hurler for $35 million, which could be the model for San Diego if Shields truly places value in pitching on the West Coast. It would be a steep price for the typically low-budget team, but for two years the Padres could get the best of what Shields has left and give their farm and stable of pitchers who could take a big step forward (Morrow, Kennedy, Cashner) another year or so to develop.
Padres fans have waited long enough and with Justin Upton sure to command an impressive free agent deal—far more than Shields—making the team as competitive as possible in 2015 is the right thing to do.