What’s next for the Padres? Why San Diego is poised for a strong 2023 after NLCS exit

The San Diego Padres’ 2022 season came to a disappointing and rather abrupt end on Sunday, when the Phillies turned an eighth-inning deficit into a lead and then clinched the NL pennant with a win.

Losing the NLCS sends the Padres home with a sour taste. However, once they can let it all settle in, everyone will realize that this was a very successful season. The Padres made the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2006. They reached the NLCS for the first time since 1998 and eliminated their longtime nemesis, the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers, in the NLCS round.

Along the way, the Padres drew their highest attendance since 2004 (Petco Park’s first year of operation) and added a superstar to the mix. They seem to be pretty well prepared for the upcoming season, although some questions remain.

We’ll see.

Soto and Machado

Manny Machado is coming off a season in which he shouldn’t finish worse than second in NL MVP voting. He was a force on both offense and defense in both the regular season and the playoffs. He is still only 30 years old. He has one year left on his contract before he can opt out of free agency and there is every reason to believe he will be one of the best players in baseball again next year.

Juan Soto is coming off a bad season. Of course, an offseason for him is a 149 OPS+ with 25 doubles, 27 homers, 62 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 5.6 WAR. He led the majors in walks, which helped push his on-base percentage to .401. The .242 batting average was what stopped him. Keep in mind that next year is his 24-year-old season and he hit .322/.471/.572 (185 OPS+) in 2020-21 combined. My hunch is with some stability, rather than dealing with trade rumors, in a contender he will be closer to those levels again in 2023.

That gives the Padres two superstars.

Or three…

The return of Tatis

Fernando Tatis, Jr. finished third in the 2021 MVP voting (Soto was second) despite a shoulder injury that limits him to 130 games. A broken wrist and PED suspension cost him all of 2022. He had surgery to repair his sprained left shoulder and two wrist surgeries. Thanks to the Padres being able to play in 12 playoff games, he only has 20 games left on his suspension.

That means that for up to 142 games, the Padres could have three players in their lineup who finished in the top three in MVP voting the past two years.

Tatis has work to do in the clubhouse, to be sure, and he’ll have to prove he’s capable of being himself with a year off. Chances are he’s just as good. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about PEDs, they are not magic pills that make untalented players the best in the world. There is a talent base at Tatis that is not going away. He will be 24 years old and his shoulder and wrist are fixed.

The supporting cast?

As we know all too well (thanks Angels), just a few star players are not enough. There has to be a supporting cast.

There are.

Jake Cronenworth is an established 4-WAR guy and he’s still in his 30s. Ha-Seong Kim had a very good season at shortstop. Austin Nola and Jorge Alfaro are a capable duo behind the plate. Trent Grisham had a bad year at the plate, but he was good in 2021 and he still posted 2.4 WAR this season. They’ll have to decide if they want to take Jurickson Profar’s $8.33 million option, but they should.

That may be the starting lineup. They could move Kim to second base, with Tatis returning (or Tatis could play outfield) and Cronenworth to first, since Brandon Drury and Josh Bell are free agents.

External additions could be made and prospects could also figure in, but the base is in place.

Rotation in good shape (with questions)

The top three starters in the playoffs were righties Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove with lefty Blake Snell. All three return next year.

Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea are free agents and the Padres are probably nearing their cap on player salary (Baseball-Reference estimates them at $177.7 million already next season and that’s before any options like Profar). Also, none were very effective, overall, in 2022.

Will Nick Martinez get another chance in the rotation? He was much more effective out of the bullpen. There’s a $7 million player option, so it’s not even certain he’s back.

Lefty Adrián Morejón could be an option. He was only a reliever after returning from Tommy John surgery this season, but he is a former top-50 prospect and will only be 24 years old.

Another southpaw, Jay Groome, could also feature here. He came over from the Red Sox in the Eric Hosmer deal and made 10 starts for Triple-A El Paso, pitching with a 3.16 ERA. Could Ryan Weathers figure things out and get his career back on track? He is still only 22 years old.

Also, Darvish will turn 36 next year. How much mileage does that right arm have left?

As noted, there are many questions. However, they seem to have a very good top three.


Josh hader was back in the playoffs and will return next year. Robert Suarez has a $5 million player option and could test free agency for his big payday. Even if they lose him, Luis Garcia is back and Drew Pomeranz will be back from surgery. Will Tim Hill and Nabil Crismatt come back and maybe rediscover someone like Suarez?

This has the makings of a quality group.

Can they finally win the West?

The next step after dispatching the Dodgers in the playoffs would be to win the West and skip the Wild Card Series by getting a bye. However, the gap was a monstrous 22 games.

It wouldn’t be a good bet to take the Padres over the Dodgers in the West for next year at this point, and the Padres have a lot of work to do next offseason, possibly with a limited budget for outside additions.

Still, an optimistic view of the Padres shows them with three MVP-caliber position players, three starters capable of throwing like an ace on any given night, a bullpen bolstered by a man who has won three Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year awards and a good supporting cast. That probably means another trip to the playoffs, and anything can happen there.

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