The San Diego Padres are not one of Major League Baseball’s prestige organizations. They play in a division with two of them, but have largely had to scrape and claw for any sense of legitimacy. Their history, while not short, is modest. A total of just seven postseason appearances have given way to two losses in the World Series (1984 & 1998). They’ve had Hall of Fame players in San Diego, but few are recognized as Padres. Outside of Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, and Dave Winfield, most made their bones with other clubs. They’re a team that has largely just existed.
To say times have changed would be a gross oversimplification.
San Diego joined Major League Baseball in 1969. It took them 15 years to see postseason action. They, of course, reached the World Series that year, but Detroit put them away in five games. It was a stretch of another dozen years before they would win another postseason game. And while they won the NL pennant in 1998, they were unceremoniously swept by the New York Yankees. Another near-decade passed before their next postseason appearance, but they won just one game between their appearances in ’05 & ’06. They didn’t play October baseball again until 2020. Not exactly a storied history.
In many ways, the 2020 season represented the shift wherein we now find ourselves. While the Padres won only 70 games in 2019, they entered the 60-game sprint with Manny Machado entering his second season in San Diego and an officially broken-out Fernando Tatis Jr. The rebrand, which featured a return to the brown and gold aesthetic, went into effect. They won 37 games and reached the NLDS. An exciting stretch of baseball, to be sure. It set the course for perhaps the most aggressive stretch we’ve ever seen from an organization. Especially in an age when so many teams are hesitant to spend.
Within hours of each other in December 2020, the Padres had acquired both Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. A month-ish later, they acquired San Diego native Joe Musgrove. Already armed with a potent offense, led by Machado & Tatis Jr., they now had a three-headed monster atop the rotation that also included Chris Paddack. Despite the fanfare that the winter wrought, though, the 2021 San Diego Padres couldn’t hack it down the stretch. They simply were not deep enough, in a few different respects. The 2021 Padres finished four games under .500, well back of 100+ game winners in San Francisco & Los Angeles.
And so they added further. They signed Nick Martinez upon his return from Japan. They traded for Sean Manaea in the spring of 2022. Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell, and Brandon Drury were acquired prior to the trade deadline. While it didn’t result in the ultimate goal, their run to the NLCS definitely indicated a team on the cusp. That’s why they signed Xander Bogaerts. And Nelson Cruz, Matt Carpenter, Seth Lugo, and Michael Wacha. That’s why they extended Manny Machado and Yu Darvish and relief ace Robert Suarez. There is simply one objective coming out of America’s Finest City: a title.
It’s one thing to sign a superstar, which the Padres did when they signed Machado. It’s another thing to have a top prospect, in Tatis Jr., up without any manipulation of service time (given the times) and promptly sign him to a massive extension once he proves to be the real deal. Further still, aggressively acquiring top-tier talent — both via trade with Soto and in free agency with Bogaerts — has become such a rarity in today’s Major League climate. The absolute gall it takes to acquire the frontline starters and then an actual generational talent in Soto. And then to move on and sign one of the top free agents available, while also shelling out extensions for Machado and Darvish. It’s genuinely astounding to watch what has taken shape in San Diego.
The Padres are openly and aggressively defying what has become widely accepted (among MLB front offices) as the norm. And it might not work out for them! The window may close and the Padres may face another two decades of rebuilding. But that shouldn’t warp any perception of what they’re striving to do in San Diego. Even without a title, this is a club that should be the envy of the baseball world. Especially when so many fans follow teams that have remained stagnant or in the purgatory of a rebuild.
The concept of just how seismic the shift has been out of San Diego probably evades us. Some of us are just too lost in marveling at the aggressiveness to fathom it. Others are screaming that they can’t keep getting away with this. San Diego has spent the last few years blowing past whatever moniker they carried as a fun little team from a nice vacation spot.
And yet, its fanbase remains underappreciated in the midst of all of this. “Just how can a team afford to make moves such as these?” you ask. Well, as it would turn out, when you invest in your team, the city invests in you. The atmosphere of Petco Park has skyrocketed into something genuinely special. And now, the window is wide open. A win at the highest level, with the highest stakes, wouldn’t just be a massive win for a fantastic city, but one for baseball at large. We should all be so lucky if it happens.