The Padres Have a Complicated Future

Xander Bogaerts Manny Machado Padres
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Padres fans in 2023 don’t have a ton to be excited about. The Friars have been in win-now mode for the last four seasons and are staring down their second losing campaign during that span. One of the two winning seasons was kind of ruined — for everyone in the world — by a raging pandemic, leaving fans with only one year that was both normal and an enjoyable experience since 2010. Unlike a lot of teams with a similar performance record, it’s not for lack of investment in the team. Just a few months after the gigantic trade that brought Juan Soto to town, the team signed Xander Bogaerts to a $280 million contract and kept Manny Machado from opting out with an even spicier $350 million pact. The Padres also agreed on a $100 million contract for Joe Musgrove and locked up Yu Darvish for $108 million. That’s more than $800 million, so we’re not talking about the case of, say, the White Sox having issues in part because they couldn’t be bothered to fill giant holes in the lineup because that would have required money.

As gloomy as the season feels right now, there are still legitimate reasons to think the Padres are a good baseball team. Their 68–54 Pythagorean record is 10 wins above their actual record, and records derived from run differential are more predictive than win-loss record. The projections all still agree there’s a lot to like and similarly have a good record, relatively speaking, of predicting the future. And this holds true even when talking about teams with the largest disagreement between the projections and the record. Looking at the 25 teams that FanGraphs like better than their seasonal winning percentage the most, coin flips missed their rest-of-season winning percentages by an average of 86 points, season to-date records by 81 points, and FanGraphs records by 65 points. Those 25 teams had played .396 ball through August 14 of their seasons; FanGraphs projected a .476 RoS winning percentage, and the actual RoS winning percentage for those teams was .458. We weren’t imagining things.

But the fundamental problem the Padres face is that it’s simply far too late to be the team they hoped they were. Our projections still believe they are a .572 team, but that’s only good enough for a 19% chance of making the postseason with a divisional probability that rounds to zero; the ZiPS projections have it at 15%. While those are still pretty good odds, especially compared to how the season has felt, it’s still far more likely than not that this year ends up being a dark companion to the 2021 season that also ended in stunningly bleak fashion.

And here’s the problem: the Padres project to be worse in the future than they are now. You could say that about most teams, but the Padres are also a team that has a massive amount of payroll already tied up in a declining roster, an unsigned Soto approaching free agency, and probably not a lot of room left to grow in a payroll sense. Complicating things even further is the financial collapse of Bally Sports, as the team has not yet figured out how to replace that revenue. Forbes estimated the Padres lost $53 million in 2022, and things are likely to get worse from there. Peter (Seidler) actually saw a wolf.

Running some up-to-date projections for players signed long-term demonstrates the enormity of the team’s challenge. I’m going to start with the Padres’ core of six players who have guaranteed contracts with annual salaries of at $10 million or more through at least the 2026 season. Whatever happens elsewhere on the team, these six are almost certainly going to be part of the foundation.

ZiPS Projection – Manny Machado
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .265 .332 .465 533 81 141 27 1 26 90 55 108 6 123 6 4.7
2025 .256 .324 .438 504 73 129 24 1 22 80 52 104 5 114 5 3.7
2026 .251 .319 .423 471 65 118 22 1 19 70 48 98 4 108 4 2.9
2027 .247 .315 .409 430 57 106 20 1 16 60 43 92 3 103 2 2.3
2028 .234 .303 .371 385 48 90 17 0 12 50 38 86 3 90 1 1.3
2029 .227 .295 .353 326 39 74 14 0 9 40 32 76 2 83 0 0.6
2030 .226 .293 .349 261 30 59 11 0 7 31 25 61 1 81 -1 0.3
2031 .223 .290 .342 193 22 43 8 0 5 22 18 46 1 78 -1 0.1
2032 .215 .287 .319 135 15 29 5 0 3 15 13 33 1 72 -1 0.0
2033 .227 .289 .347 75 8 17 3 0 2 8 7 18 0 79 -1 0.0

You may cringe looking at the end of Machado’s contract, but ZiPS already expected that before the season. Machado put together a strong enough July — though he’s slumped since then and is nursing a sore hamstring — and experienced a clear return to defensive form to cause his 2024-and-on projections to tick up slightly. While ZiPS didn’t like the deal, it doesn’t like it any less than it did in February.

ZiPS Projection – Xander Bogaerts
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .266 .342 .406 534 75 142 27 0 16 65 58 112 10 111 -1 4.1
2025 .259 .335 .392 505 68 131 25 0 14 59 55 107 8 105 -1 3.3
2026 .252 .327 .375 469 61 118 22 0 12 52 50 101 7 99 -2 2.5
2027 .247 .322 .364 429 53 106 20 0 10 45 45 95 6 94 -3 1.9
2028 .242 .318 .351 376 46 91 17 0 8 38 40 86 4 90 -3 1.3
2029 .232 .307 .331 311 36 72 13 0 6 29 32 75 3 81 -4 0.6
2030 .231 .305 .328 229 25 53 10 0 4 21 23 55 2 80 -3 0.3
2031 .226 .301 .323 155 17 35 6 0 3 14 15 38 1 77 -3 0.1
2032 .231 .302 .327 104 11 24 4 0 2 9 10 26 1 78 -2 0.1

Bogaerts was mired in a deep slump in May and June, aided by a sore wrist, but has hit a more Xanderian .290/.351/.413 since the start of July, in-line with preseason expectations. As with Machado’s recent deal, the Padres go into this contract knowing that they’re paying for Bogaerts to decline.

ZiPS Projection – Jake Cronenworth
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .243 .327 .405 538 77 131 30 6 15 69 57 110 5 106 3 2.2
2025 .239 .322 .395 506 71 121 27 5 14 62 53 105 5 102 3 1.7
2026 .237 .320 .385 465 64 110 25 4 12 55 49 98 4 99 2 1.3
2027 .229 .312 .369 406 54 93 21 3 10 47 42 88 3 93 2 0.8
2028 .225 .310 .355 324 42 73 17 2 7 36 34 73 2 88 1 0.4
2029 .224 .306 .355 228 29 51 11 2 5 24 23 53 2 87 1 0.3
2030 .216 .299 .338 148 18 32 7 1 3 15 15 35 1 80 0 0.0

This is a bit of an awkward projection because it highlights an assumption in team construction that turned out not to be true. Typically, a decent defensive second baseman who can credibly fake playing shortstop will usually fare well at first base, but that just has not happened, at least so far, with Jake Cronenworth. With Ha-Seong Kim 김하성 firmly entrenched as a starter, the Padres have a player with value but not a logical place to play him in order to get that value. The difference is extreme enough that ZiPS thinks that Cronenworth is now more than a win per season less valuable at first than second base.

ZiPS Projection – Jake Cronenworth (2B)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .244 .325 .409 545 78 133 30 6 16 69 56 109 5 107 3 3.6
2025 .240 .321 .395 517 72 124 28 5 14 64 53 104 4 102 2 2.9
2026 .234 .318 .383 483 67 113 25 4 13 58 50 99 4 98 1 2.4
2027 .231 .313 .371 442 59 102 23 3 11 51 45 92 3 93 0 1.8
2028 .224 .306 .358 388 50 87 19 3 9 42 39 84 2 88 -1 1.2
2029 .216 .297 .332 319 39 69 15 2 6 33 31 72 2 78 -1 0.4
2030 .216 .297 .331 236 28 51 11 2 4 24 23 53 1 78 -2 0.3

Add in the fact that Cronenworth is having a down year (and a pretty odd one in terms of Statcast data), and there’s just a lot less reason to like his future than there was before.

ZiPS Projection – Fernando Tatis Jr.
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .264 .336 .537 518 95 137 29 2 36 98 53 128 23 142 7 5.4
2025 .265 .340 .535 529 99 140 30 1 37 101 57 127 22 143 6 5.6
2026 .261 .339 .528 536 100 140 30 1 37 101 60 127 20 141 6 5.5
2027 .258 .338 .518 535 100 138 29 1 36 99 61 125 18 138 6 5.2
2028 .254 .336 .505 527 97 134 28 1 34 94 61 123 15 134 6 4.8
2029 .251 .332 .495 513 92 129 27 1 32 89 59 120 13 130 5 4.4
2030 .253 .334 .494 490 87 124 26 1 30 84 57 116 11 131 5 4.2
2031 .251 .330 .486 467 81 117 24 1 28 78 53 111 10 127 4 3.7
2032 .248 .328 .478 467 80 116 24 1 27 76 53 112 9 125 4 3.5
2033 .245 .324 .463 441 73 108 22 1 24 70 49 107 7 119 3 2.9
2034 .240 .320 .449 408 65 98 20 1 21 62 45 100 6 115 3 2.3

Where the positional gods punished the Padres with Cronenworth, they were far kinder here. Tatis’ bat isn’t quite where it was, but he’s actually turned out to be an excellent defensive outfielder, at least so far. Given his age, he’s the one player who projects to finish out his contract as a plus contributor to the team.

ZiPS Projection – Yu Darvish
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 10 10 0 4.20 26 26 160.7 142 75 24 42 154 91 1.4
2025 8 9 0 4.52 23 23 137.3 129 69 23 38 126 84 0.6
2026 6 9 0 4.97 20 20 117.7 117 65 22 37 104 77 -0.1
2027 4 7 0 5.47 15 15 82.3 88 50 17 29 69 70 -0.6

ZiPS was always fairly pessimistic about the Darvish extension, and without him reversing the continued slow decline in his peripherals, it hasn’t changed direction since the start of the season. While I always say “hitters age, pitchers break,” Darvish is at an age where cliffs do, in fact, beckon. ZiPS didn’t even want to project the final two seasons of his extension; I’ll be kind and not force it to, so we’ll call those zero-WAR seasons, which is sunnier than what ZiPS would say if I made it.

ZiPS Projection – Joe Musgrove
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 10 7 0 3.38 26 26 154.7 135 58 17 35 148 113 2.9
2025 9 6 0 3.51 24 24 138.3 127 54 17 32 129 108 2.3
2026 7 6 0 3.75 21 21 124.7 118 52 16 31 112 101 1.7
2027 6 6 0 4.02 18 18 107.3 107 48 15 29 93 95 1.1

The performance projections of Musgrove have stayed about the same — hardly surprising considering that when he was healthy, he was having a similar season to last year. But his return this season remains up in the air, and new injuries create new risk for a pitcher, so his projected innings totals have dropped considerably.

OK, let’s throw everybody into one table, complete with their salaries.

ZiPS Projection – Padres 2024-2029
Player 2024 WAR 2024 ($M) 2025 WAR 2025 ($M) 2026 WAR 2026 ($M) 2027 WAR 2027 ($M) 2028 WAR 2028 ($M) 2029 WAR 2029 ($M)
Machado 4.7 $17.1 3.7 $17.1 2.9 $25.1 2.3 $39.1 1.3 $39.1 0.6 $39.1
Bogaerts 4.1 $25.5 3.3 $25.5 2.5 $25.5 1.9 $25.5 1.3 $25.5 0.6 $25.5
Cronenworth 2.2 $7.3 1.7 $11.3 1.3 $12.3 0.8 $12.3 0.4 $12.3 0.3 $12.3
Tatis Jr. 5.4 $11.7 5.6 $20.7 5.5 $20.7 5.2 $25.7 4.8 $25.7 4.4 $36.7
Darvish 1.4 $16.0 0.6 $21.0 -0.1 $16.0 -0.6 $15.0 0.0 $15.0 0.0 $0.0
Musgrove 2.9 $20.0 2.3 $20.0 1.7 $20.0 1.1 $20.0 0.0 $0.0 0.0 $0.0
Totals 20.7 $97.6 17.2 $115.6 13.8 $119.6 10.7 $137.6 7.8 $117.6 5.9 $113.6

If the projections hold true, these six will make up less than a third of the WAR needed to be a 90-win team as soon as 2026, when they combine for $120 million in salary. Unless the team continues to spend more and more money, it’s going to get harder and harder to use dollars to patch holes, which means that the farm system has to get back to producing very quickly. The Padres aren’t likely to be able to win on the backs of these six players for very long, which means that they likely have to come up with a whole new core of talent around these players.

The risk here is one of dynastic failure. I’m not calling the Padres a dynasty in terms of baseball success, but more how the term has been used historically. Lots of warlords in history managed to get a throne, but to establish long-term rule, they had to survive the transition to the next rulers. The Astros are an example of a team that has avoided dynastic failure; only a handful of the players on the team that won the World Series in 2017 were still on the roster when Houston won the World Series in 2022. Only Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman remain among the Astros’ offensive contributors today, and the only pitcher still in Houston, Lance McCullers Jr., won’t pitch again until 2024 [and Verlander who I forgot about for some very odd reason -DS]. They basically came up with nearly an entirely new team in five years.

Baseball history is riddled with successful teams that were unable to transition to the next era without a significant interregnum, such as the Utley-Howard Phillies and the Tigers during the peak Miguel Cabrera years. But those Phillies won a World Series, and while the Tigers didn’t, they had more playoff success than these Padres teams have had. To achieve that success, the Padres are going to have to be extremely creative over the next five years, lest they end up as one of the great “what ifs” in baseball history. Spending money and having a few big stars won’t be enough.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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realitypolice
6 months ago

Yeah, but what if you add in the WAR they’ll get for $12.2M/yr to Hosmer for the next two years?? That’s got to help, right?

Max Power
6 months ago
Reply to  realitypolice

Plus, Hosmer’s scoops at 1B aren’t counted in WAR but are worth at least 4 wins.

TKDCmember
6 months ago
Reply to  Max Power

And he hits barrels (but no, not *actual* barrels).

Markmember
6 months ago
Reply to  realitypolice

Didn’t even realize he was still playing. Good call on his part not to take that opt out.

ryanisbetter
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark

More like most obvious call in the history of time.