4 crucial second-half questions for Padres

July 22nd, 2022

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.

Hope you all had a relaxing All-Star break, because things are about to get very busy in Padres land.

A crucial two-week stretch lies ahead, with the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline looming and Fernando Tatis Jr. ramping up toward a return. Then, over the season's final two months, the Padres have four series left to play against the Dodgers and three to play against the Giants.

Here are four critical questions for the second half:

1. Can the Padres land Juan Soto?
They probably have the requisite pieces, but the cost is going to be as steep as any trade in recent memory. Still, this is Juan freaking Soto, inarguably one of the greatest hitters of his generation at just 23 years old. If anyone's worth a ridiculous trade haul, it's him.

So, what would it take for the Padres to acquire him? Well, a huge chunk of their young talent, to say the least. Rookies MacKenzie Gore and C.J. Abrams were the jewels of the system for the last half decade. You can probably start there -- and add a few more prospects on top of that.

Still, the Padres desperately need offense. Add Soto to this group, and suddenly they've got Tatis-Soto-Machado in the middle of their lineup. Hard to envision a bigger upgrade than that.

2. If not Soto, then whom?
The reality of the Soto situation is that even if the Padres have the pieces for a fair deal ... that still might not be enough. Half of baseball will be bidding for the young outfielder's services. In the event the Padres get outbid, where do they turn?

“It's no secret, we’ve got to score some more runs here in the second half, and that will be a focus for us over the next couple of weeks,” said president of baseball operations A.J. Preller. “Hoping most of the answers are coming from within. But if not, we’re also out there scouting hard and seeing what’s out there on the trade front.”

Outfield is the priority. The Padres are currently exploring corner-outfield and center-field possibilities. Heck, maybe they add both.

It's also easy to see Preller getting involved in the Willson Contreras sweepstakes. Austin Nola and Jorge Alfaro have been serviceable behind the plate, but Contreras, the best catcher in the National League, would be a serious upgrade. And considering the versatility of Nola and Alfaro, there'd probably still be playing time available for both.

3. What's next for Tatis?
It's been a week since Tatis began his swinging progression. He remained in San Diego for the first couple days of the break to continue ramping up. But Tatis still hasn't begun hitting live pitching, which will be his next serious test. It's safe to expect an August return for Tatis, but his timeline still remains somewhat unclear.

Stating the obvious here, but the Padres need Tatis in their lineup. They've gotten decent contributions from Abrams and Ha-Seong Kim lately. But on the whole, Padres shortstops have combined for a .631 OPS this season. That's 334 points lower than Tatis' career mark.

Even if Tatis were to start slowly, perhaps feeling the effects of 10 months without live at-bats, he'd still be a major upgrade. The Padres can't get him back soon enough.

4. Does this team have the resolve for a playoff race?
It didn't last year. The Padres' collapse lasted almost two months. They were squarely in the Wild Card race for most of that time. And, sure, they dealt with significant injuries. But the collapse seeped into every corner of the San Diego clubhouse. Losses bred more losses. The team simply couldn’t pull itself out of its spiral.

That can't happen this time around. And the Padres are convinced it won't. They've got a new manager, whose calling card is his even-keel persona. They've also revamped their rotation, and they've found ways to avoid prolonged losing streaks.

"We have a completely different ball club this year," Manny Machado said last weekend.