You can come up with any number of reasons why a 60-game season is illegitimate.
Maybe you think that Mike Trout would’ve hit 60 home runs and carried the Angels in the second half or maybe you think the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts and tanked on purpose because they knew this whole season would be wack.
I’m not here to argue one way or the other, because whether or not there’s an asterisk put on this year’s champion (either by the MLB or by fans), life will go on and baseball will continue. However, even if this 60-game season doesn’t deliver a real champion, it for sure has provided many surprises.
With the regular season more than 75% complete, the Washington Nationals currently sit at the bottom of the NL East after winning the World Series last season and the Chicago White Sox, who have been irrelevant for years, are at the top of the AL Central. Sure, maybe both of these results are the product of a 60-game season. Maybe these two teams would’ve switched positions in the standings if the season was longer. But again, whether that’s true or not, this series is not about the 2020 season. Rather, “Beyond the Asterisk” will look at how overachieving and underachieving teams project into the future, because again, baseball will continue past this year (hopefully).
So let’s begin with the most exciting team in baseball right now, the San Diego Padres.
Left Side, Strong Side?
The Padres currently sit over 10 games above .500 and Fangraphs gives them a 100% likelihood of making the playoffs and a 9.8% chance at winning the World Series. The Friars last made the playoffs in 2006 and only have two winning records in the 13 seasons since, so this season is a breath of fresh air for Padres fans. But is this sustainable?
To answer this question, one might look at the Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado combo on the left side of the diamond and believe that the Padres have a solid foundation for the future. They have combined for 31.4% of their team’s runs and 30.5% of the team’s RBI’s en route to having the highest and 12th-highest WAR in the MLB, respectively.
However, both Tatis Jr. and Machado were on the team last season and when Tatis Jr.’s season was cut short due to injury on August 13, 2019, the Padres were 55-64, the fourth-worst record in the National League. Sure, the stats show that in 2019, Machado had one of his worst seasons in his nine-year career and that Tatis Jr. has become the best hitting shortstop in the game this season.
But these two players alone cannot create a legitimate contender.
A good example is the 2019 Boston Red Sox. Xander Bogaerts had the second-highest WAR out of any shortstop and Rafael Devers was fourth among third basemen. They combined for a total WAR of 12.7, which was second among SS/3B duos, yet the Red Sox finished 84-78 and missed the playoffs in a highly competitive American League.
The Padres need more than an elite left side of the infield. Thankfully, they have that.
The Supporting Cast
On December 6, 2019, the Padres traded for Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Tommy Pham. Pham played in 23 games this season before going on the IL with a broken bone in his hand, hitting for an abysmal .207/.316/.293 during that time. So, with his contract ending after this season and only one more year of team control, Pham’s future in San Diego is uncertain. But, the Padres received an even more valuable asset in the trade for Pham: the ultimate utility man, Jake Cronenworth.
Depending on if you’re a Padres fan or not, Cronenworth’s name might still be unfamiliar to you. But through 40 games, he’s hit for a line of .315/.371/.538 and is third in WAR among rookies, only behind the Chicago White Sox’s Luis Robert and the Seattle Mariner’s Kyle Lewis. Cronenworth is a jack of all trades, having played every infield position this season and even ended his collegiate career at the University of Michigan second place in career saves. But, perhaps the most fascinating part of Cronenworth is his expected hitting statistics.
Cronenworth .646 xSLG is ninth in the MLB and his .366 xBA leads the league. You read that right, he leads the entire league, and yes, at the age of 26, this is his rookie season.
The young utility player is under team control for the near future, adding to the Tatis Jr./Machado foundation, but he’s not the only rookie that projects well. There’s also this catcher named Luis Campusano.
Now, Campusano has a grand total of four plate appearances in the MLB, but there’s a lot to be learned in this small sample. In his four plate appearances, only five out of the 18 pitches he saw were fastballs and only two of these fastballs were in the strike zone. He swung at both, fouling off the first one, and hitting a 101.1 MPH line drive that cleared the right field fence on the other (fair this time!).
With a career batting average of .304 in the minor leagues, hitting for consistency hasn’t been Campusano’s issue, rather, the knock on Campusano throughout his career has been his lack of power. In his 70 minor league games in 2018, he hit a total of three home runs. However, he showed great strides last season, accumulating 15 home runs in 110 games, so it’s only fitting that his first big league knock would be a dinger.
But sure, after striking out twice on offspeed pitches in his lone game, it seems like this 21-year-old catcher needs to learn to hit the offspeed. Hopefully, that’ll come with time. Yet, it’s important to remember that before his debut this season, he had never hit at any level higher than A+ ball. That’s quite a jump in a single year, and with team control for many years to come, Campusano might be the second coming of Benito Santiago.
But What About the Trades?
But didn’t the Padres give up their entire farm system at the trade deadline to go all-in this season?
Nope. Look at this list of prospects the Padres gave up.
|Player (2019 Ranking)|
|Taylor Trammell (2nd)|
|Owen Miller (9th)|
|Hudson Potts (10th)|
|Gabriel Arias (13th)|
|Joey Cantillo (15th)|
|Edward Olivares (16th)|
|Jeisson Rosario (19th)|
|Gerardo Reyes (UR)|
These rankings are based on MLB.com’s 2019 rankings of the Padres farm system. Notably, only three of the players traded at the deadline were top-10 prospects for the Friars. Furthermore, the only two prospects on this list that made were ranked in the top 100 in 2020 by MLB.com, Fangraphs, or Baseball Prospectus were outfielder Taylor Trammell and shortstop Gabriel Arias. Let’s take a deeper look at these two players.
MLB.com ranked Trammell as the no. 55 overall prospect in 2020. However, that’s a steep drop from being ranked no. 28 at the beginning of 2019. After hitting .277.,375/.406 in 2018, Trammell struggled in his first season in AA, hitting a line of .234/.340/.349. Trammell’s value has dropped in the past year and missing out on a year of minor league play due to the COVID-19 pandemic might further stunt his growth. Sure, as a 21-years-old, he still has plenty of time to get better, but for the Padres, this was a typical “sell high” transaction.
Arias, on the other hand, tore it up in minors last season, hitting for a clip of .302/.339/.470 and hitting 17 home runs after only hitting six the season before. As another 21-year-old, Arias shows great potential as a budding shortstop. But that’s the problem, he’s a shortstop, and the Padres have that guy named Tatis Jr. playing that position already. Sure, maybe they could’ve moved Arias to second base, but they also have that guy named Cronenworth.
Simply put, Arias wasn’t in the Padres’ long-term plans, so giving him up for Mike Clevinger, whose 8.7 WAR from 2018-2019 was 13th overall among starting pitchers, was a necessary loss. If someone wants to argue that the Padres gave up a lot of good prospects, sure, that’s fine, but the Padres did not give up their future.
A Decade of Slam Diego
The 2020 Padres are not overachievers. No, this is the first year of a dynasty. The youthful core of Tatis Jr., Machado, Cronenworth and Campusano all are under team control for years to come. These core four players for Slam Diego suggest that the Padres will be playoff contenders for a long time. However, the window for a real championship push is the next two seasons for two reasons. First, this is how long Clevinger is under team control. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2023, so with the righty stabilizing the rotation until then, the Padres will be able to make a real World Series run.
But secondly, this is also how long the Padres can expect to count on their veterans. Wil Myers is 29 years old and Eric Hosmer is now 30. If they haven’t peaked yet, they will soon, so the Friars can’t reliably expect Hosmer to hit .288/.344/.542 and Myers to hit .294/.361/.608 every season.
However, the Padres will still be a great team after their World Series push. Why? Well, again, because of Myers and Hosmer.
After the 2022 season, Myers has a team option that should the Padres decline, will free up $21.5 million. Likewise, Hosmer has his salary drop from $21 million a year to $13 million a year. This gives the team money to either spend resigning Clevinger, signing their young core longterm or signing another big free agent for another championship push. The team will compete, even if nothing is done with the extra money, but adding another piece might make the Padres legitimate World Series contenders for the next five years.
Oh, and I didn’t forget that, according to MLB.com, the Padres still have the no.4 prospect in the MLB, Mackenzie Gore, in their system. Yeah, this is going to be a dynasty.
Photo by Andrew Dieb & Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)