The Padres Improved More than We Realize

Even though we all knew about it a few days ago, the San Diego Padres made the signing of Manny Machado official yesterday.  The Padres were considered a surprise suitor for arguably the most talented free agent in the pre-2019 class (no offense to Bryce Harper), but when you objectively look at the organization, the move made all the sense in the world.  I reposted an article I wrote back in December just to emphasize this idea, and today it gives us the opportunity to look at how drastically the move has changed things in San Diego.

We’ve seen big-name free agents land in new places for lots and lots money before, but a Machado-caliber free agent only comes around a couple times every decade when you factor in age – think Alex Rodriguez signing with the Rangers entering his age 25 season.  Machado’s just 26 years old, and his expected output coupled with his age made him a supreme acquisition for anyone willing to fork out the money.  Now, we’re not considering some makeup issues that have been made evident through a combination of lacking hustle, throwing a bat at an opposing player, and spiking multiple defenders on the basebaths – those are unquantifiable attributes (for now).  When we look him from a purely analytical standpoint, there’s very little to dislike for the Padres.  Even the $300 million he’s due over the next ten seasons doesn’t seem so bad, given that his projected WAR over that period is actually worth more according to ZiPs. 

In my post from December, I looked at organizational strength based on both prospect Future Value (FV) and the 2018 WAR of the players on each team’s roster as of 12/10/2018.  Overall, the Padres ranked right around the middle of the pack, carried almost exclusively by their powerhouse farm system.  At the time, the Padres found themselves in the bottom half of MLB at 3 of the 9 positions; SS (18th), 3B (25th), and RF(20th). 

Then they signed Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler seemingly strengthened an already great strength of the Padres – they were ranked 6th at 2B before signing Kinsler.  But it’s since come out that Luis Urias, who was projected as their 2nd baseman on Opening Day 2019, will likely be moving over to shortstop while Kinsler mans 2nd.  That’s how we expect it to play out until their top prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr, is ready to make his debut at shortstop.  While Kinsler essentially becomes a space-filler until Tatis is called up, his signing alone improved the Padres rank at two positions:

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After signing Kinsler, the Padres moved into the upper half of MLB at the shortstop position – entirely on the shoulders of prospects.  Kinsler and the positional reshuffling that followed him effectively left the Padres with 2 weak positions while strengthening 2 others.  The Padres became undeniably better than they were before Kinsler, but they still hadn’t addressed their greatest positional weakness…until this week.

The Padres ranked 25th out of the 30 MLB clubs at 3rd base when the month of February started.  When the month of February ends, they’ll rank 8th.  If that’s not as high as you’d expect given the talent they just acquired, keep in mind that we’re looking at talent throughout the organization AND 2018 production, neither of which they had much to speak of until a few days ago.  Let’s visualize where the new Padres find themselves at 3rd base:

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The team that ranked 25th (where the Mariners currently rank) at 3B is now outranked by teams whose 3rd basemen include Justin Turner, Nolan Arenado, Jose Ramirez, Matt Chapman, Alex Bregman, Matt Carpenter, and Anthony Rendon.  Machado is obviously better than 1 or 2 of those guys, and arguably better than most of them.  But the point isn’t the number of teams in front of them or behind them; it’s the number of teams they leapfrogged.

With one gigantic paycheck, the Padres turned their most glaring long-term weakness into one of their greatest strengths for what should be most of the next decade.  Using the methodology I used in my December article, there’s only one weakness left for the Padres to address.  Given their crowded outfield that features a combination of young former prospects who were either unproductive or injured in 2018, RF probably isn’t as urgent a need to address as it may have appeared to be on paper (or on-screen) when I ranked every team by position 2 months ago.

They probably won’t be good in 2019, and they might not even improve their win total by all that much.  But given the needs they addressed, it would seem as if the Padres are a good pick for the most improved organization this offseason, even more so than the Reds (who got better on the 25-man roster level at least).  If I had to guess, the Reds will likely improve on their 2018-win total more than the Padres will in 2019.  But the Padres likely improved their win total for the next few years by a whole lot more.  And it wasn’t all Manny Machado…but most of it was.

Patrick Ryan