Injuries and an Underwhelming Deadline Have Dealt the Padres Significant Blows

Particularly when measured against their competitors in the NL West, the Padres did not have a very good trade deadline — or even a good July. While they added depth to their infield, outfield, and bullpen with a trio of trades, none of those were impact moves. Everything they did was overshadowed by their failure to reach the finish line on a deal for Max Scherzer that was reported as “close” by multiple reporters on Thursday night. Ultimately, though, the three-time Cy Young winner went to the division rival Dodgers in a move that turn(er)ed out to be bigger than anyone expected. Beyond that, the Padres could only watch as the Giants landed slugger Kris Bryant. And to add injuries to insult, the deadline dust had barely settled when San Diego had to place both Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on the Injured List on Saturday.

In his post-deadline ZiPS roundup from Monday, Dan Szymborski illustrated the summer swap meet’s impact on the Playoff Odds for each individual team. His estimates showed the Giants as the NL West’s biggest winner at the deadline, with the Dodgers winners (albeit with diminishing returns given where they started), and the Padres clear losers:

ZiPS NL West Playoff Probabilities – Trade Deadline
Team Div% Before Div% After Chg Playoff% Before Playoff% After Chg ▴ WS Win% Before WS Win% Chg%
Giants 43.1% 45.2% 2.0% 95.9% 97.4% 1.5% 9.8% 10.3% 0.4%
Dodgers 48.7% 49.2% 0.5% 97.3% 98.0% 0.7% 10.5% 10.6% 0.1%
Padres 8.2% 5.7% -2.5% 75.5% 73.8% -1.7% 4.4% 3.9% -0.4%

All of which is to say that the Padres hurt their chances with missed opportunities, and that was before they suffered the one-two punch of the Paddack and Tatis injuries. Chronologically, the Paddack injury came first, but as Tatis is the Padres’ marquee player, we’ll begin there. The 22-year-old shortstop once again suffered a left shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation) while sliding into third base against the Rockies on Friday night. After he singled in his first-inning plate appearance, he had headed to second on Manny Machado’s hot smash to third baseman Ryan McMahon, then lit out for third when the ball ball squirted away from McMahon while trying to transfer it to his glove. Tatis slid feet first, but in attempting to evade shortstop Brendan Rodgers‘ tag, he twisted, caught his left shoulder, and immediately grabbed his arm after being tagged out.

According to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, this is at least the fifth time this season that Tatis has suffered a shoulder subluxation. Though he has generally recovered quickly, he’s dealt with inflammation and instability all season, and it’s affected his availability. Most notably, he missed nine games in April after his shoulder subluxed while swinging a bat, and an MRI taken at the time revealed a slight tear in his labrum. He missed another game in June after reinjuring the shoulder while diving for a ball. An MRI taken on Saturday didn’t show any additional tearing, but the repeated recurrences have raised the possibility of season-ending arthroscopic surgery. Via Lin:

On Saturday night, after another upset by the Rockies, Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Tatis’ focus remains on getting back on the field for a playoff push. Tingler also acknowledged a crushing possibility: If the shortstop does not make enough improvement over the next 10 days or so, season-ending shoulder surgery “would be on the table.”

…“That option is certainly one of the many that we’re going to continue to discuss,” Tingler said. “He’s got his mind set on playing this year and doing everything in his power to get back on the field with his team. But obviously he’s young, he’s got a career in front of him, we’ve got 14 years (on Tatis’ contract). So, we’re going to weigh all those things, he’s going to weigh all those things and make the best decision.”

The loss of Tatis for the remainder of the season would be a devastating blow. The 22-year-old shortstop is hitting .290/.373/.647, with both his slugging percentage and his 31 homers leading the NL by wide margins, and his 23 steals and 4.6 WAR leading by narrow ones. With Ronald Acuña Jr. down for the season due to a torn ACL, Jacob deGrom shut down from his pursuit of a history-making ERA, and last year’s top two finishers, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, in the midst of comparatively subpar seasons, Tatis appeared to have a clear path to the NL MVP award, but he won’t win it while on the shelf.

The award is secondary to the Padres’ success, of course, and even with a healthy Tatis, the lineup already has two spots where they’ve received replacement-level production or worse, at catcher and first base. The absence of Tatis for the third time this year — he also missed eight games due to a positive COVID-19 test in May — could potentially create another hole. While the 25-year-old Ha-Seong Kim, who has filled in for Tatis during his previous absences, has shown some defensive wizardry thus far (7 DRS in 220 innings at shortstop), he’s hit just .216/.275/.370 (76 wRC+) in 230 PA while spotting at second, short, and third. That’s a far cry from what the Padres hoped he could provide when they signed him to a four-year, $28 million deal.

If Tatis is out for an extended period, the Padres could sacrifice defense for offense by trying Jake Cronenworth and/or Adam Frazier — who was acquired early last week from the Pirates to help address some of the team’s trouble spots — at shortstop. Both played the position extensively in the minors (367 games for Cronenworth from 2015-19, 220 games for Frazier, mostly from 2013-15), but not much in the majors; Cronenworth has 89 innings there, Frazier just seven. Such usage might not only compromise the infield defense, it would offset the value of having both Frazier and Cronenworth in the lineup, with the latter playing first base while Eric Hosmer takes his weak bat and glove to the bench.

As for Paddack, he last started on Tuesday, July 27, when he threw six innings and allowed three runs against the A’s, his second solid start in a row during what has been an admittedly rollercoaster season. After a rough April, the 25-year-old righty had pared his ERA to 4.10 and his FIP to 3.52 as of June 18, but in his ensuing six starts — three good ones, three bad ones — and a decent relief appearance, he posted a 7.36 ERA, inflating his season mark to 5.13. At least his 3.72 FIP makes the case that he deserves better.

Paddack strained his left oblique during his bullpen session on Friday, shortly after the trade deadline had passed. The Padres were able to backdate his IL move to July 28, but the initial prognosis suggests that he could be out until late August.

While the Padres couldn’t have specifically known that Paddack would get hurt, general manager A.J. Preller’s pursuit of Scherzer illustrated his desire to provide a substantial upgrade for the rotation. The trade had reportedly gotten to the point of the Nationals and Padres agreeing upon the players in the deal, but not yet exchanging medicals or getting Scherzer’s approval to waive his 10 and 5 rights. Beyond that, how the deal fell apart is unknown, but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who was the first of several reporters to report the deal as close, issued a mea culpa, noting, “Padres GM A.J. Preller said on Friday he was not close to landing Scherzer at the time of my report. The information I received from multiple sources in real time led me to the opposite conclusion, but the situation was clearly more fluid and complex than how I presented it on Twitter.”

Once Scherzer slipped through the Padres’ fingers, Preller reportedly pursued the Twins’ José Berríos, who wound up being traded to Toronto on Friday afternoon. While Preller did deal for reserve outfielder Jake Marisnick and righty reliever Daniel Hudson, if he had a Plan C that involved a starting pitcher, it didn’t materialize.

“We have starters that we believe in,” said Preller in the aftermath of the deadline. “We could’ve added a starting pitcher, but if the other four or five guys don’t pitch like they’re capable of, honestly, it’s not going to matter. We feel like we have enough from a starting pitching standpoint.”

From this vantage, that’s not quite so clear, particularly now that Paddack is out. Thanks to the offseason additions of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove, the Padres’ rotation topped our preseason Positional Power Rankings, but the rotation entered Tuesday ranked 10th in the NL in WAR (7.5), ninth in ERA (4.17) and seventh in FIP (4.05), with the starters averaging just 4.67 innings pitched per turn. Musgrove has been excellent, and Darvish nearly as good as advertised until being lit for a 7.36 ERA and 6.43 FIP in July, during which he made a trip to the IL for left hip inflammation.

The rest is a mess. Snell has been nowhere near his Cy Young-winning form, posting a 5.44 ERA and 4.58 FIP while averaging just 4.44 innings per start. Twenty-one-year-old rookie Ryan Weathers has been shaky (4.18 ERA, 5.42 FIP) while on a short leash; only four of his 13 starts have lasted longer than four innings. Dinelson Lamet has been limited to nine starts and a total of 34.1 innings due to ongoing forearm issues that date back to last fall, and he’s now targeted for a multi-inning relief role once he returns, hopefully later this month.

The ranks of reinforcements have been thinned by the promotion of Weathers, the loss of Adrian Morejon to Tommy John surgery in April, and the stalled development of top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore. The 22-year-old lefty struggled in six starts at Triple-A El Paso, then was sent back to the team’s spring training complex in mid-June to work on his delivery and to fully recover from a blister problem. To replace Paddack, the team called up 24-year-old righty Reiss Knehr from El Paso to start on Sunday. Knehr is San Diego’s number seven prospect, but at least in Eric Longenhagen’s view he’s better suited to the bullpen, as he has an above-average changeup, some deception in his delivery, and not much else to offer besides iffy command of a 91-94 mph fastball and slider. In three turns this season (one of them part of a suspended game that’s yet to be completed), he’s faced a total of 36 hitters; whether it’s him or somebody else, the likelihood is that the Padres use openers or bullpen games until Paddack returns.

All told, between getting outmaneuvered at the deadline, suffering injuries, and losing 14 of 25 games, the Padres would just as soon forget July. Here’s a look at how things have changed for the three NL West contenders since the close of play on June 30 via our Playoff Odds page:

NL West Playoff Odds Changes Since End of June
Team Div% Before Div% After Chg Playoff% Before Playoff% After Chg ▴ WS Win% Before WS Win% Chg%
Giants 6.4% 32.8% 26.4% 80.2% 98.0% 17.8% 1.6% 3.9% 2.3%
Dodgers 64.4% 62.9% -1.5% 99.3% 99.3% 0.0% 16.2% 22.5% 6.3%
Padres 29.3% 4.3% -25.0% 97.1% 77.1% -20.0% 10.0% 4.9% -5.1%

At 61-47, the Padres still hold a four-game lead over the Reds (56-50) for the second Wild Card spot, but they’re no longer the near-certainty that they appeared to be, and with a seven-game deficit behind the Giants (67-39), their hopes of winning the division are now slim. With or without Tatis and Paddack, the road ahead is rougher than anyone expected just a month ago.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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Raphie Cantormember
1 year ago

As a lifelong Padres fan, this season has and will continue to be the most exciting one in over two decades. But with the disappointment of the deadline, as well as Tatis getting injured, it felt like Friday was a just gut-wrenching blow, if not the end of what was once an incredibly promising season. To be honest, if Scherzer had just gone to the Dodgers without any of the media drama, it would have sucked but been digestable if not expected. However, the media reports that he was coming to San Diego, only to be snatched away, made things all the more disappointing.

This team can get hot at strange times (went 9-1 when Tatis and others were out with COVID), and I have full faith they can make a run if they make the WC game, which would see them facing one of their 2 NL West rivals who they have a decent shot against any day. This team also looks poised for an incredible 2022, with the return of Clevinger, Morejon, perhaps CJ Abrams and Mackenzie Gore, and of course a fixed-up Tatis.

But man, Friday really hurt.