5 key questions facing San Diego this winter

October 11th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The offseason arrived earlier than the Padres anticipated this year. They dreamed of playing baseball deep into October. Instead, they spent the early part of the month parting ways with their entire coaching staff, and they'll spend the rest of the month looking to fill it.

That's only the first stage of what should be a busy winter for the Padres, fresh off a 79-83 finish that left them outside the playoff picture for the 14th time in 15 years.

"It wasn't good enough," said general manager A.J. Preller. "The roster that I constructed and we put together was not able to do it consistently. We’ll dig into that over the next couple weeks and couple months, with the idea that we put a team out that is playing into October next year."

That portends a busy winter for Preller and his front office. Here are the five biggest questions facing the Padres as they enter a crucial offseason:

1. Who's managing?
This is the first order of business. When Preller made the call to part ways with Jayce Tingler, he left himself in need of a third managerial hire in seven years. He almost certainly won't be afforded a fourth.

This decision is the big one. Andy Green oversaw the Padres' rebuild. Tingler brought the Padres back to the postseason, but couldn't get them any further than an early exit in 2020. Now, the Padres are a team with bona fide championship aspirations, coming off a season in which they finished under .500.

"The goal," Preller said, "is to get players to achieve or overachieve."

After two first-time managers, the next Padres skipper seems likely to be one with proven big league experience, prepared to lead a veteran clubhouse that underperformed down the stretch.

"Experience is always important," Preller said. "We'll get more into this over the next couple weeks, the factors we'll be looking at. Leadership. Guys that get players to perform. Guys that have expertise. There will be a list of things that the best leaders have. Ultimately we'll be looking at the best and the brightest."

2. What's next for Tatis?
A multi-faceted question here. First and foremost, is Fernando Tatis Jr. headed for shoulder surgery? He partially dislocated his left shoulder on at least four occasions this year. Each of those dislocations makes the possibility of a future dislocation more likely. That is, unless Tatis undergoes surgery to address the issue.

Surgery, however, could keep Tatis out for the early part of the 2022 season. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this discussion: Tatis has made it clear he'd prefer to avoid surgery altogether. He feels as though regular strengthening exercises have made that shoulder more stable.

"I feel like I'm in a great spot, my shoulder is in a great spot," Tatis said. "I feel very secure with where I'm at."

One way or another, it's decision time.

Separately, there's the issue of where Tatis plays in 2022. He spent a month as an outfielder in an effort to keep that shoulder out of harm’s way. The Padres have several options at shortstop, including top prospect CJ Abrams. But at this point, it seems like a near certainty that Tatis is back at short next season.

"I feel like me and A.J. have already put that conversation down," Tatis said. "He signed a shortstop, and he's going to have a shortstop. That's the plan."

3. Who stays and who goes?
Preller is bound to shake up his roster, and after a franchise-record payroll in 2021, the Padres will likely look to move some money around by dealing some of their pricier contracts. Two obvious names come to mind: Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer.

It could be tricky for the Padres to move Hosmer, who has underperformed in his four seasons in San Diego but is still owed $60 million over the next four. Myers, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his deal. And, sure, there have been rumors surrounding Myers for most of the past four years. This time, those rumors might have some substance. Myers, at least, has come to grips with the possibility that he might be dealt.

"The reality is, I may not be here," Myers said late last month. "There's been trade talks the last four, five years. At this point, it's less complicated to trade me now than it ever has been, as far as money and years, so I know it's a possibility.

"And you sit here and look at it like, ‘I could be here for seven years, and that's seven losing years.’ It would be tough, possibly leaving an organization where I wasn't there to fix it, to more so be remembered for the losing times."

4. How do the Padres reinforce their pitching?
The biggest reason the Padres might look to free up some money? They desperately need to add pitching. So where, exactly, do they look?

Well, there are some intriguing arms on the free agent market, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman chief among them. The Padres could also look to swing a deal similar to the one that netted them Yu Darvish last season, when they took on a relatively hefty contract to land a very good pitcher.

But the questions extend beyond merely adding one frontline starter. The Padres' biggest issue in 2021 was their lack of depth. When the injury bug bit, San Diego didn't have an answer. Expect Preller to put a heavy emphasis on finding big league-caliber options who could open the season in Triple-A.

5. Will Gore and Abrams take the next step?
Speaking of those pitching depth concerns, here's a hypothetical: Say the Padres endure all of the same issues they dealt with in their 2021 rotation, except MacKenzie Gore lives up to his top-prospect billing and gets called up to fill one of those spots. In that world, maybe the Padres weather the storm a bit better than they did in '21.

Instead, Gore struggled and was shut down temporarily to rework his mechanics midseason. Nonetheless, the Padres remain high on Gore's upside. Perhaps he puts it all together in 2022. Perhaps Abrams, who has moved into that designation as the organization's top prospect, breaks through as well. He could be a useful left-handed-hitting piece who has the athleticism to play, in theory, just about anywhere.

Before San Diego makes any trades or signings, the emergence of those two big-time prospects would go a long way toward the club’s 2022 success. Both will take part in the Arizona Fall League, which begins this week.