The plucky Padres finally broke through in 2020, emerging as one of baseball’s most exciting teams while reaching their first postseason in 14 years.
But they have bigger goals for 2021. General manager A.J. Preller is making that clear.
In Preller's latest bonanza, the Padres swung three major transactions in the space of 24 hours -- including blockbuster trades for two aces. After moves to land Blake Snell and Ha-Seong Kim, San Diego finalized a seven-player deal sending right-hander Yu Darvish from the Cubs to the Padres on Tuesday night.
Padres get: RHP Yu Darvish, C Victor Caratini
Cubs get: RHP Zach Davies, SS Reginald Preciado (Padres’ No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline), OF Owen Caissie (No. 13), OF Ismael Mena (No. 15), SS Yeison Santana (No. 16)
The move comes on the heels of the Padres' trade with Tampa Bay for Snell, which was finalized earlier Tuesday.
“We had a lot of things up in the air at the same time,” Preller said. “Every deal is a little different, but in this case, it lined up where we were able to do one deal after the other.”
Snell and Darvish join a fearsome rotation that already features an ace-caliber right-hander in Dinelson Lamet. Here's how their starting five might line up on Opening Day:
“It’s going to be competitive,” Snell said. “That’s the best thing about it when you have a lot of talent. The guys are going to compete within the group that we have. The young guys are going to get a lot better. ... I’m excited just to meet everybody, start to feel it out.”
On top of their rotation coup, the Padres also agreed to a deal with Kim on Monday, according to a source. The deal is still pending a physical, and has not yet been confirmed by the club. Kim batted .306/.397/.523 with 30 homers in Korea last season and is likely to serve as a super-utility option in the infield and outfield.
Taking place in quick succession, the three moves offer the latest indication that Preller and the Padres aren't content to rest on their laurels. Even in the wake of Clevinger's injury, San Diego seems poised to enter the 2021 season with an upgraded rotation.
The 34-year-old Darvish posted a 2.01 ERA in 2020 and finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting. Since the 2019 All-Star break, he’s been one of the sport’s most dominant arms, and he’s been especially effective working with Caratini, who has caught more of Darvish's innings than any other backstop.
“It’s as good a combination of power, finesse, multiple pitches as anybody in the game,” Preller said. “His last season and a half has been as productive as anybody in the game. He’s a force.”
Meanwhile, Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, posted a 3.24 mark in 11 starts last season. He’s 28 and coming off a postseason run in which he recorded a 3.03 ERA across 29 2/3 innings, helping lead Tampa Bay to an AL pennant.
Both pitchers offer plenty of big-game experience. They’ve combined for 14 postseason starts, including four in the World Series, and Snell clearly envisions adding to that total.
“I’m excited to be a part of this team,” Snell said. “It’s a very talented ballclub, and like I said, we’ve got a chance to win a World Series right away, and you’ve got to love being a part of that.”
Pitchers of that caliber never come cheaply, and the Padres parted with plenty of high-upside prospects. Luis Patiño has been viewed as a long-term rotation piece for years. He went to Tampa Bay in the Snell deal.
In the Darvish trade, San Diego was particularly hesitant to part with Preciado, a toolsy 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop. But Preciado has yet to play a professional game and is years away from the big leagues, and the Padres saw an opportunity to significantly bolster their current rotation.
After years of clinging to his prospects, Preller has dealt them with abandon in 2020. He was baseball’s most active GM at the Trade Deadline, and he’s now made the biggest splash this winter, too. Perhaps that was to be expected with the Padres having emerged as serious contenders.
But despite Preller’s willingness to deal prospects, it’s clear the Padres aren't shoving their chips into the middle for 2021. Both Snell and Darvish are under team control through the '23 season, giving the Padres a lengthy window to make the most of their talents. Snell is owed just north of $40 million over the duration of his contract, while Darvish will make $62 million. (The Cubs will pay $3 million of that contract, according to sources.)
That’s a sizable investment, and in Preller’s eyes it’s “a testament to ownership, Peter Seidler, making a commitment to win.”
For an upstart Padres team intent on reeling in the Dodgers in the NL West, adding two certifiable aces -- plus a versatile infielder -- should go a long way.