As the San Diego Padres dance between defying the doomers and tearing it all down, one thing is clear: 2024 will represent a season of cost-cutting after they slathered on the excesses in 2023.
Not only did the Padres outbid all competitors for Xander Bogaerts by ~$100 million, but they didn't even spend as much money as they intended to. There was a $400+ million offer for Aaron Judge that was left on read. Trea Turner was guaranteed more to shirk his South Jersey relatives, and opted out. San Diego ended 2023 a bloated mess, and somehow one of the main takeaways was, "Ah, damn, we intended to be even MORE bloated!"
Next season will represent a different story after AJ Preller's guarantees went haywire, from Yu Darvish to Jake Cronenworth to Manny Machado's opt-out. There's a difference between "Making a blockbuster Juan Soto trade in your carefree 20s" and "Paying for a Juan Soto extension in your 30s," and San Diego, recently a budding franchise and now an overpaid behemoth, is going to have to grow up fast.
With "changes" reportedly coming, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and cost-cutting at the forefront, Soto's final season of arbitration might not be spent in sunny California, as the Padres look to dig themselves out of a financial hole.
"The Padres’ spending increases have outpaced their revenue increases. This has not been a secret. Team officials have been talking for more than a year — even as massive checks were still being written — about getting costs under control.- Kevin Acee
In part because they are out of compliance with MLB regulations regarding their debt service ratio, according to multiple sources, the plan is to go into 2024 with player commitments of around $200 million.
The decisions to be made involve whether to keep or trade a potential future Hall of Famer in Juan Soto and what to do with potentially be three-fifths of the starting rotation."
This equation is no longer about who maintains control of Soto long-term (though the Yankees would certainly be a fun eternal fit). It's about who's willing to pay the prospect cost to rent Soto for 2024, then see what happens. The Yankees should be able to field a competitive offer while agreeing to absorb Soto's expensive final arbitration year. The only problem, of course, is they'll be one of eight teams who should be willing to do the same.
Yankees-Juan Soto rumors could dominate offseason
As Acee rightfully pointed out, the Padres aren't the only big-budget team struggling this season. The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox have all missed the postseason in varying degrees of flameout.
But, of those teams, the Padres are the only one that isn't a traditional power. They're the only team that has never had to handle this level of budgetary disaster before. With plenty of long-term commitments to handle, it would make perfect sense to remove their most expensive one-year deal from the equation -- especially if they failed to compete or find a proper answer to their chemistry equation in 2023.
The Padres have a "top-10 farm system" once again, with much of the love based on the emergence of teenaged catcher Ethan Salas. What San Diego doesn't have is pitching that is close to the MLB level; their top two pitching prospects, Robby Snelling and Dylan Lesko, have 2026 and 2027 ETAs. That doesn't jive whatsoever with the team's contention window -- and the MLB roster is poised to lose Blake Snell this offseason (that's a Yankee target for another article).
If there's one thing the Yankees possess in abundance, it's pitching in the upper minors. Choose two of the three of Chase Hampton, Drew Thorpe and Will Warren, then add a few standouts like Everson Pereira or Roderick Arias. If you'd like the Yanks to absorb some money you've already got tied up in veterans, throw in Jake Cronenworth or Ha-Seong Kim, and we'll see what we can do about one year of Gleyber Torres.
Whatever the conversation, it had better have one conclusion: Soto in pinstripes, before villains like the Red Sox or Cubbies get too far down the line.