FanFest tidbits: Manny, Soto, position puzzle, rotation

February 4th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bob Melvin likened it to a playoff crowd when he pulled up to Petco Park on Saturday and noticed throngs of fans wrapped around the block. needed to pull down the bill of his cap to make it through those crowds to the ballpark.  stopped to sign a fan's thigh.

These are the 2023 Padres, who are very much rooted in the present, equipped to win and to win now. That much was evident at Saturday's raucous, sold-out FanFest.

But they’d like to make this feeling last a while, too. Padres officials have spoken often about their desire to build a sustainable contender.

Naturally, then, the long-term status of two of the biggest stars came to the fore during Saturday's media availability.

can opt out of his contract and become a free agent next offseason. has two years remaining on his deal. They're two of the sport's best players, and two of the Padres’ most important pieces in 2023.

So of course, on a day like Saturday, both deflected talk of their long-term futures.

"The priority is not [that]," Machado said. "The main focus for me during the season is to go out there and play baseball. My focus is on trying to bring a championship to this team and this city that has been waiting for it for a long time. For me it's just about going out there and playing baseball. Let A.J. and Peter and my agent handle those things."

Machado was referring to general manager A.J. Preller and owner Peter Seidler, both of whom have made it clear that they'd like to see Machado remain a Padre. Machado will have five years and $150 million left on his deal next offseason, when he will be 31. It's widely believed he'd earn a larger sum -- perhaps significantly larger -- on the open market.

Machado's comments on Saturday made it seem like his opt-out is something of a formality -- unless, of course, the Padres can work out an extension or a restructured deal before he would hit the free-agent market. Is Machado open to that?

"Of course," he said, grinning. "I love this team."

Both parties have remained mum on any potential extension talks this winter. The same is true of Soto, who landed in San Diego at the Trade Deadline last summer in a blockbuster deal with Washington.

"I mean, I have two more years here," Soto said. "I think that's a long time, if you go day by day. I try to enjoy every moment, every second that I'm here, like I did with the Nationals.

"I'm happy to be here, that I have two more years. We'll see what happens after that."

Positional musical chairs

The Padres had a bunch of shortstops -- then they signed  to play shortstop.

“A.J. likes shortstops,” quipped  (the one-time shortstop who played second base last year and might be first-base bound in 2023).

How do the pieces fit? Saturday brought little clarity there, except for this tidbit: has been told he’ll play second base in 2023. Beyond that, manager Bob Melvin was noncommittal.

“We have a lot of good infielders,” Melvin said. “Regardless, we’re going to have a very talented infield, with a lot of range. With the lack of shifting this year, it’s probably going to be that much more important to have athletic guys in your infield.”

Tatis, meanwhile, seems bound for a switch to the outfield, though it’s unclear whether he’d supplant Soto in right or move to left.

Tatis’ rocket arm and athleticism make him a prime candidate for Petco Park’s spacious right field. On Saturday, Soto said he’d be open to a move, though he hasn’t discussed it with the team yet.

“I know how to play both,” Soto said. “I’ve never played back-and-forth. If I’ve played one, I’ve stayed there, so I think that’s the main thing.”

Rotation plans?

The Padres had success with a six-man rotation early last season, but they also had a much deeper group of starting options.

Their preference remains to enter the season with a six-man rotation. But with a five-deep group of starters right now -- including and , who are converting back to the rotation from the bullpen -- that would require either another addition or a Minor League pitcher winning a job.

“Whatever we feel like is best,” Melvin said. “You can say you want six, but you also have to have quality. You don’t want to have to cover four innings several times through the rotation. So if we have the guys to do it, then we’ll do it. If not, we can go back to five."