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The Padres Are Going For It

The San Diego Padres had to do something to improve their World Series odds leading into Monday’s Major League Baseball trade deadline. They did a lot. The Padres added nine major leaguers and traded away 14 players, including eight of the top 28 prospects from one of the game’s best farm systems.1 It all occurred within a three-day period leading into Monday’s deadline, transactions headlined by the acquisition of Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger.

San Diego is buying into, and building upon, its better-than-expected 22-15 start through Monday’s games. The FiveThirtyEight model assigned the Padres a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs in the preseason; that’s up to 97 percent, as of Tuesday afternoon. Our model, which is based on Elo ratings set according to a team’s record, gives the Padres just a 4 percent chance of overtaking the rival Los Angeles Dodgers to win their division and a 4 percent chance of winning the World Series.2 But FanGraphs’ playoff model, which takes roster changes into account, has San Diego’s title odds at 9.5 percent as of Tuesday afternoon — up by a league-leading 3.7 percentage points since Friday, before their flurry of moves. Those moves included adding one of the top starting pitchers on the market in Clevinger, the 14th-most-valuable pitcher by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement since 2018, and arguably the best reliever available in Trevor Rosenthal. They also overhauled their catching position with the addition of the productive Austin Nola from the Seattle Mariners and Jason Castro from the Los Angeles Angels.

While the Padres gave up a number of players in exchange for their newly acquired talent, they did not part with any of their top three prospects, according to Baseball America’s rankings, including potential future aces MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño. They also did not trade any or their core major league position players — the youngest group in the NL. Even if this wide-open season doesn’t turn out as well as the Padres hope, it could mark the beginning of a window of contention for a club that hasn’t made the postseason since 2006.

The flurry of trades was made possible by the remarkable production from the club’s young leaders: 21-year-old sensation Fernando Tatís Jr., center fielder Trent Grisham and second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who is among the leaders in the majors in batting, are all putting together breakout seasons. Their play, along with that of veterans Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, has given the Padres the best performing collection of position players in baseball, according to FanGraphs’ WAR. They addressed their problems at the catching position, which is tied with left field for their worst-performing position in terms of WAR, by sending Austin Hedges to Cleveland and bringing in Nola and Castro.

The Padres also needed some pitching help. The bullpen, which ranks 22nd in ERA (5.01), was bolstered by Rosenthal, and what the club hopes is improved run prevention from Taylor Williams and Dan Altavilla. In the rotation, Dinelson Lamet has been dominant, and Zach Davies has been productive, but they are the club’s only two pitchers with ERAs under 4.00 who have started multiple games this year. Chris Paddack has been uneven to date after an excellent rookie campaign last year. Clevinger gives the club another front-line arm, and he won’t be a free agent until 2023.

The Padres’ young core is largely under club control through 2024. So while the organization is going for it now, there is still plenty in reserve, beginning what appears to be an era of meaningful baseball in San Diego.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Footnotes

  1. There are also several players to be named later in the deals.

  2. Our model reflects the addition of Clevinger in the odds for games he’s scheduled to start but otherwise doesn’t reflect the many trades San Diego made.

Travis Sawchik is a sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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