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As decade changes, Padres hope results do, too

GM Preller has forecasted the '20s as when the Padres turn the corner
@AJCassavell
February 6, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Two years ago, the Padres spent a franchise-record $144 million on Eric Hosmer. Last winter, they doubled that total -- and then some -- to sign Manny Machado. They followed each of those signings with a press conference in the Colonnade Room at the Peoria Sports Complex.

SAN DIEGO -- Two years ago, the Padres spent a franchise-record $144 million on Eric Hosmer. Last winter, they doubled that total -- and then some -- to sign Manny Machado.

They followed each of those signings with a press conference in the Colonnade Room at the Peoria Sports Complex. Those two spectacles -- spread roughly a year apart -- were decidedly new for a franchise that had never splurged quite like that before. The Padres were coming off a decade of mediocrity, and ownership was intent on changing that.

To date, the big spending hasn't produced results. In some ways, that was expected. While the Padres were signing two of the sport's biggest free agents, they were also building a juggernaut farm system. But their commitment to youth came at the expense of big league production. General manager A.J. Preller neglected to fill the fringes of his roster, preferring instead to give his prospects some early auditions.

This offseason was different. When Preller signed Machado and Hosmer, he did so with both eyes on the future. Now -- if Preller's offseason moves are any indication -- it's about the present.

No, the Padres weren't able to land their big-name target this winter. Mookie Betts is instead headed to Los Angeles, per reports, where he'll become a division rival.

But the Padres' very involvement speaks to Preller's philosophy. Consider the moves that did come to fruition this winter:

• Landed Tommy Pham in a deal that sent Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards to Tampa Bay. Instantly, Pham is one of their three best hitters. But he'll be 32 years old on Opening Day and has only two seasons of control left. Renfroe has four, and Edwards is a high-upside prospect. It's clearly a win-now move.

• Signed Drew Pomeranz to a four-year contract worth $34 million. The deal raised some eyebrows, given that Pomeranz is 31 years old and will be pitching in relief after struggling as a starter. But he clearly solidifies the Padres' bullpen for 2020. That's another win-now move.

• Flipped Luis Urías for Trent Grisham in what qualifies as a “challenge trade.” But the other portion of that deal saw lefty Eric Lauer (free agent after 2024) head to Milwaukee, with Zach Davies (free agent after '21) going to San Diego. Davies has the better track record, but Lauer has more long-term value. Again: That's a win-now move.

• In need of a second baseman after the Urías trade, they sent prospects Austin Allen and Buddy Reed to Oakland for Jurickson Profar. Allen and Reed are fringe pieces, but they could've fit long term. Profar qualifies as a one-year rental. Yup, win now.

This isn't to say the Padres are all in on 2020. Their elite prospects were off flimits this winter, an acknowledgement that the brightest days are probably coming after '20.

But Preller clearly wants the contention window to open this season. His pursuit of Betts -- who will be a pricey free agent after this season -- is the latest bit of proof.

"The goal, when we started this process four years ago," Preller said, "was to look at this decade as the decade we're going to be successful."

Of course, Preller needs things to start changing for the better. He's entering his sixth full season as general manager, and he's yet to finish with more than 74 wins. Padres ownership has mandated improvement in 2020 or "heads will roll," executive chairman Ron Fowler said.

Naturally, Preller has aligned the Padres' trajectory for a 2020 turnaround. The offense has its flaws in the bottom half of the lineup. But with Pham, Machado, Hosmer and Fernando Tatis Jr., it's clearly the best of Preller's tenure.

The pitching staff has question marks, too. But Chris Paddack has emerged as one of the sport's best young starters, with top prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño perhaps set to join him this season. In the meantime, Preller has built arguably the best bullpen in the National League, mitigating some rotation concerns.

On paper, this has the makings of the best Padres team since the 2010 club missed a division title on the final day of the season. Early projections put their win total in the low 80s. Still, the Padres are coming off a 70-92 season in which they were 22 games below .500 in the second half. Their abysmal finish prompted the dismissal of Andy Green and later the hiring of neophyte manager Jayce Tingler.

"Everybody’s hungry," Machado said. "We left that taste in our mouths of letting it slip out of our hands after the break. We don’t want that to happen this year. ... We’re going to use that as motivation.”

Machado and the Padres prefer to believe that this team is closer to the first-half version of itself -- the one that entered July squarely in playoff contention. Tatis is set to return from the lower back injury that sidelined him for the last month and a half of the season. Paddack will be shorn of the innings and pitch-count restrictions that held him back last year.

"Why not be the force of the staff?" Paddack mused recently. That certainly feels like the logical next step for him.

Along with the emergence of Paddack, hard-throwing righties Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards have returned from Tommy John surgery. But perhaps most importantly, the Padres are eyeing bounce-back seasons from their high-priced stars -- Machado and Hosmer. Suffice it to say, that duo hasn't lived up to the expectations of their record-setting contracts.

If they make up for it in 2020, those struggles from '19 will be quickly forgotten. Preller hasn’t been building for '19, after all. He's been building for '20.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.