DENVER — The Padres waited until Deadline Day to make their intentions clear, but when they did, they left no doubt. They were buyers after all, not interested in selling any of their prized rental pieces, staunch in their belief that they can turn around a disappointing 2023 season.
In a trio of trades on Tuesday, San Diego addressed seemingly every area of need on its big league roster. First, the Padres landed left-hander Rich Hill and first baseman Ji-Man Choi in a deal with the Pirates. Then, just before the Deadline, they finalized deals with the Royals and Marlins — adding relief weapon Scott Barlow from Kansas City and first baseman Garrett Cooper and a prospect from Miami.
Here are the trades in full:
In short: The Padres needed bats for the bottom of their lineup, and they got them. They needed arms to solidify their rotation and bullpen, and they got them. It cost some measure of prospect capital, but none of their high-end talent.
The real cost, when all is said and done, will be what the Padres opted not to do. With eyes on contending in 2023, general manager A.J. Preller hung onto Blake Snell and Josh Hader, both of whom are set to become free agents this offseason. Each could’ve fetched a sizable return, and Preller said he entertained the idea of selling. But it was never all that palatable.
“If we were going to move off this club, we set certain marks,” Preller said. “We never got compelled there to really do anything. … We’ve got a team that we think can win, and if we were able to add to the club, it would give us a good chance here in the next two months.”
The climb will be a steep one. The Padres currently sit three games below .500 and five games back in the National League Wild Card race. The Mets, tied with San Diego in the loss column entering play Tuesday, executed a massive sell-off to bring back future value. The Padres took a wildly different approach.
There are, of course, a number of reasons to believe the Padres’ struggles are different from the Mets’ struggles. The Padres boast the NL’s third-best run differential, but its 10th best record. They’ve gone 0-10 in extra innings and 6-18 in one-run games. Tuesday’s moves were a gamble that those fortunes would change, that the Padres would begin to play like the team their underlying numbers suggest that they are.
“We had a lot of conversation about what was best for this group for this year and for the future,” Preller said. “Ultimately, we just felt like the deals made more sense to give our team a chance here going forward, solidify some spots that we feel can help us play into October.”
Postseason baseball is now the bare minimum for deeming this a successful Trade Deadline. Otherwise, the Padres will have lost Snell and Hader for mere Draft compensation. Preller acknowledged it remains doubtful that either would sign an extension before the offseason. Meanwhile, Hill, Choi and Cooper are each set to become free agents after the season as well, with Barlow under control through 2024.
It was the type of win-now Deadline that indicates the Padres still like their chances in 2023 — and their performance in July should give them reason for optimism. San Diego went 15-10 last month, including a sweep of the first-place Rangers over the weekend.
“The way we had played here recently, I think everybody had the inclination that we were going to keep this group together and try to add,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “And that was the case today.”
The fit for the newly acquired Padres is self-explanatory enough:
• Hill slots in at the back end of a Padres rotation that was thin with the absence of Michael Wacha. Wacha is expected to return from his shoulder injury in mid-August, but the Padres have a stretch of 26 games in 27 days, so it’s possible they go to a six-man rotation then. At the very least, Hill gives the Padres the rotation depth they’d been sorely lacking.
• Choi has a .930 OPS since returning from a left Achilles injury in July. He’s the lefty platoon bat the Padres were searching for. Choi will presumably get starts at DH against right-handed pitching while coming off the bench against lefties. Essentially, Choi fills the role the Padres had hoped Matt Carpenter would fill this season. But Carpenter has struggled, hitting just .166 with a .598 OPS.
• Cooper, who has a .723 OPS in 82 games this season, is a candidate to start against left-handed pitching, perhaps pushing either Trent Grisham or Jake Cronenworth to the bench. Or, he could simply slot into the DH spot. Against righty starters, Cooper would presumably serve as a useful bench bat.
• Barlow gives an overworked Padres bullpen a reprieve in a major way. The right-hander has posted a 3.39 ERA across parts of six big league seasons. With Hader and Robert Suarez still the preferred options at the back end, Barlow will serve alongside Steven Wilson and Nick Martinez as middle-relief options.
• Reynolds, who has posted a 2.77 ERA in 38 relief appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, adds upper-level pitching depth — useful considering the Padres sacrificed some of that when they dealt Weathers and Wolf.
In the end, none of those five additions qualifies as a blockbuster. The Padres 2023 Deadline differed greatly from the last one, more about filling in around the edges — and betting on their current talent to carry them where they want to go.