Padres have a full holiday shopping list

December 14th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Padres have some holiday shopping to do.

That’s especially true after a week that saw right-hander Seth Lugo land in Kansas City and center fielder Jung Hoo Lee sign a six-year deal with the Giants. The Padres had interest in both.

Those two positions represent the biggest areas of need for San Diego. But they aren't the only vacancies. So with two months until the Padres report to camp in Peoria, Ariz., here's what's left on their shopping list:

A starter to slot toward the front of the rotation
Clearly, the Padres bolstered their pitching staff in the Dec. 7 Juan Soto trade -- but not to the point where that deal answered every question, with Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez and Lugo all departing via free agency. From the trade, only Michael King's rotation spot is locked in. San Diego needs someone else near the front of that staff, alongside Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and King. The Friars traded prospects for high-level starting pitching in the past. Would they do so again this winter?

A lefty-hitting outfielder
The Padres' lineup was too righty heavy already -- and that was before they dealt Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees. Now, San Diego needs a lefty bopper, preferably someone good enough to break into a top four that, on paper, features Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. There aren't many established lefty bats on the free-agent market, save for Cody Bellinger, who is likely out of the Padres' price range. Perhaps they'd turn to the trade market here, as well.

A high-leverage reliever with closer potential
The expected loss of Josh Hader in free agency stings, and even if the Padres plan to use Robert Suarez as their closer, they’d still need a reliever capable of pitching the eighth. After an excellent rookie season in 2022, Suarez's ‘23 campaign was derailed by right elbow inflammation and a sticky-stuff suspension. Given Suarez's raw stuff and his moxie, he seems capable of handling the closer role. But given his injury history and some inconsistency, it's worth adding someone who could compete with him for that job.

A center fielder (or a plan for center field)
If Lee felt like a perfect fit for San Diego, it’s because he checked two of these boxes -- a lefty bat and a center fielder. Alas, Lee is headed to San Francisco on a six-year deal worth $113 million with an opt-out after the fourth season. The Padres are left searching for a center fielder, though they have a fallback option. Tatis aced the challenge of moving to right field last season, winning the National League Platinum Glove Award, and many in the organization believe he’d be just as good in center. Still, if that's the plan, where does San Diego turn to cover Petco Park's spacious right field?

A bottom-of-the-rotation starter
It's entirely possible the Padres will enter the season with their current group plus the one starter mentioned above. But there are reasons to believe that wouldn't be prudent. For all of King's upside, he has never thrown more than 105 big league innings in a season. Plus, Darvish (right elbow stress reaction) and Musgrove (right shoulder capsule inflammation) are coming off season-ending injuries. San Diego says both are healthy and are readying for their normal Spring Training progressions. But it's worth waiting until spring to be absolutely certain of their health. All of which is to say ... the Padres would be wise to add two more starters, rather than one.

A middle-innings reliever
I wrote Monday that the Padres should sign at least four more pitchers. This is the least pressing of those four needs. Still, they'd be wise to supplement their current group with one more veteran arm. Tom Cosgrove and Steven Wilson were excellent last season. But bullpens are fickle by nature. The more bullpen options, the better.

A versatile bench piece (who, preferably, hits lefty)
If the Padres check the first six boxes on this list, it's not super imperative they hit this one, too. They have outfielder Jakob Marsee, their No. 13 prospect and the reigning Arizona Fall League MVP, as a potential lefty-hitting depth option. Infielder Graham Pauley, their No. 12 prospect, is likely to compete for a bench spot, too. Plus, No. 2 prospect Jackson Merrill could find himself knocking on the door of the big leagues with an impressive spring. Then again, all three might need more seasoning. Utility bench pieces generally come cheap. San Diego should add one this offseason, and if one of its lefty-hitting prospects eventually pries a big league job away from him, all the better.