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2023 NL West preview: San Diego Padres

The Padres are going for broke. Will they get there before they go broke?

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Dollar Bills Photo by Lambert/Getty Images
  • 2022 record: 89-73
  • 2023 projection: 91-71
  • Estimated 2023 payroll: $249 million ($214m in 2022)
  • Major departures: Brandon Drury, Jurickson Profar, Josh Bell, Sean Manaea, Wil Myers
  • Major arrivals: Xander Bogaerts, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez, Matt Carpenter

It’s startling to think that four years ago, the Padres had an Opening Day payroll estimated at just $94.4 million - 24th in the league, and $13 million less than the Diamondbacks. This year, they will trail only the two New York teams, and have ten different players who will earn an eight-figure salary in 2023. Owner Peter Seidler is credited for this surge, though he has actually been a part owner since 2012. However, in November 2020 he took over as chairman from Ron Fowler, buying out Fowler’s stake. Since then, the sky has been the limit, with GM A.J. Preller having an almost open check-book. They’ve been contenders for just about every free-agent since.

But how sustainable is this? While we don’t have official numbers, Forbes’ annual survey of baseball finances probably provides the best data available - and suggests it might not be economically viable for long. Put bluntly, the Padres’ revenue has not risen in line with their payroll. According to Forbes, the 2022 figure of $282 million was hardly any different from the number for 2019 ($275 million). They estimate the team lost $32 million last year - and that was a sharp improvement over the $69 million lost in 2021. A 36% increase in attendance, and 12 additional post-season games were factors in the improvement - but still less than a handful of teams had a bigger deficit in operating income.

The scope for further upside in 2023 revenue is going to be limited, with anything less than a World Series appearance likely not going to help much. That didn’t stop San Diego from adding a further $35 million to the payroll this winter, much of it from the signing of Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million contract. In contrast, their income may well take a hit, with the Padres in the same boat as the D-backs in terms of the broadcast rights situation. They’re about half-way through a twenty-year deal signed with Fox Sports, which was then sold on to Sinclair to become Bally Sports. As we know, bankruptcy and potential default is looming for Bally, and that’s income the free-spending Padres can ill-afford to lose.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has taken the rare step of publicly expressing concern, saying, “The Padres are going to lose money, but the question is what are you going to do next... How long can you continue to do that? What happens when you have to go through a rebuild?” It’s a fair question. Manny Machado will be 41 when his newly-extended contract ends, as will Bogaerts. Yu Darvish will be older, though his contract is shorter. There’s no doubt the team is paying now, in the hope of immediate success. But the Padres have an uncanny knack of screwing up one way or another. They have not won more than 90 games in a season this millennium: the last time they even reached 90 was back in 2010.

I, for one, would be unsurprised if the trend continued. Look at Fernando “Ringworm” Tatis Jr., who has played only 273 games since his debut on Opening Day 2019, through a mix of injury and poor decisions. He will miss the start of 2023 due to his PED suspension, and will likely be consigned full-time to the outfield, with the arrival of Bogaerts. The team has also already lost starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to a freak accident, before he threw a pitch under the $100 million contract extension he signed last July. Musgrove broke his toe when he dropped an exercise weight on it. They should still contend: you can hardly spend a quarter-billion dollars and not do so. But how long will their window be?


Where will the Padres finish in the NL West for 2023?

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  • 56%
    (41 votes)
  • 36%
    (27 votes)
  • 2%
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    (1 vote)
73 votes total Vote Now