'Energized' Padres approach Trade Deadline on a high note

August 2nd, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Before they opened a rare five-game series against the Rockies at Petco Park, the Padres had themselves a busy Monday. They signed beloved hometown ace Joe Musgrove to a five-year contract extension. They traded for relief ace Josh Hader. Their front office remained busy in the search for help offensively.

And you can bet the folks in the home clubhouse took note of those happenings. Players pay attention, too, you know.

“Our clubhouse, for a number of reasons today, was pretty energized,” said manager Bob Melvin.

The Padres played like it. They beat the Rockies, 4-1, behind another excellent effort from right-hander Mike Clevinger, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball. Clevinger was staked to an early lead as Jurickson Profar sparked a three-run first inning with a leadoff homer.

The win moved the Padres 12 games above .500, as they await the arrival of Hader on Tuesday -- and perhaps reinforcements beyond that.

“Conversations have been active,” president of baseball operations A.J. Preller said of his plans ahead of Tuesday’s 3 p.m. PT Trade Deadline. “But you never know, really, if you’re going to line up on any deals or anything like that.”

Of course, with Preller, there’s usually a pretty good chance.

Monday’s trade was something of a Preller special. In a blockbuster that materialized seemingly out of nowhere -- even though Hader had been linked to San Diego for most of the past two seasons -- the Padres sent four players to Milwaukee. They think the cost was steep, but not too steep to preclude them from making another splash.

“At this point in time,” Melvin said, “I don’t put anything past A.J.”

Under team control through 2023, Hader brings a wealth of postseason experience, having pitched in the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. He has posted a 1.88 ERA in those games.

And with that move, the Padres suddenly feel like a relatively complete team. Their rotation is deep (and, now, reinforced beyond this season, with Musgrove on board through 2027). Their bullpen has the lockdown back-end weapon it needed. Offensively, Wil Myers returned to the lineup with a hit, a walk and an RBI after a two-month absence. Fernando Tatis Jr. took an important step toward his return, too.

But there’s one obvious area that could still use an upgrade: The Padres’ offense could use more thump. It’s why they’re reportedly one of the finalists for Juan Soto. It’s why they’ve expressed interest in Willson Contreras. Preller, true to form, played coy when asked about what lies ahead.

"We like our team,” Preller said. “We like our group. We think adding Josh Hader today helps us out. But we'll see. We'll see what happens.”

More likely than not, it’ll be something. Preller himself noted earlier this month that the Padres need to score more runs. They rank 17th in runs per game and a disappointing 25th in slugging percentage.

Then, there’s the matter of what these acquisitions can do to spark a team that has grinded its way through two-thirds of a season, perhaps hoping that reinforcements are on the way. Melvin felt it Monday. So did center fielder Trent Grisham, who launched an impressive opposite-field home run on a ridiculously tough pitch, 98 mph on the outside corner.

“That does a lot for a club,” Grisham said of Monday’s transactions. “It sparks the belief. It sucks because you’re losing guys. But we’re in the position that we’re in, and we know that we’re getting additions that the team needs. It’s exciting.”

At last year’s Trade Deadline, those additions never came, even though the Padres plainly needed them. Their collapse ensued. And, sure, that collapse was mostly due to the roster itself. The Padres didn’t have nearly enough pitching, and, offensively, the pieces didn’t quite fit. 

But the clubhouse was inarguably deflated after a 2021 Deadline that saw Max Scherzer head to the Dodgers and Kris Bryant to the Giants. The Padres merely filled in around the edges, and the players felt… well… the opposite of what they felt on Monday.

This year, Clevinger says, the vibe is different regardless. The Padres hold a two-game lead over the Phillies and a three-game lead over the Cardinals in the race for the final two playoff spots. That’s too tight for his liking and too tight to be worried about external factors.

“Look at the standings,” Clevinger said. “There’s been energy in here since we started the second half. We knew how tight of a race this was. I mean, regardless of extensions or who’s coming here, we’ve got to win as much as possible.”

Sure, but a major acquisition (or two) wouldn’t hurt.