Like the boxer who keeps getting knocked down to the canvas, San Diego Padres manager A.J. Preller kept getting right back up. Trea Turner didn’t want the Padres’ money, Aaron Judge didn’t want the Padres’ money, but Xander Bogaerts was willing and it’s a whopper of a deal: 11 years and $280 million for the four-time All-Star shortstop.
The Padres now have one of the most impressive foursomes of big-name position players we’ve seen on one team in a long time. It’s the Dave Dombrowski school of roster building: Acquire star players — no matter the cost. Check out the career highs in WAR for this group, according to Baseball-Reference:
Manny Machado: 7.5 (2015)
Juan Soto: 7.1 (2021)
Fernando Tatis Jr.: 6.6 (2021)
Bogaerts: 6.3 (2019)
This group didn’t quite reach those heights in 2022, in large part because Tatis didn’t even play after his offseason motorcycle accident and then a PED suspension. Machado (6.8), Bogaerts (5.8) and Soto (5.6) were all excellent, with Machado finishing second in the NL MVP vote, Bogaerts finishing ninth in the AL MVP vote and Soto ranking fifth in the majors in on-base percentage. Tatis is eligible to return from his 80-game suspension on April 20, early enough that it’s possible the Padres could finish with four 5-WAR position players.
Only one team has ever had four 6-WAR players: The 1927 Yankees. Yes, Murderer’s Row.
Bogaerts’ agent, Scott Boras, said at the winter meetings that none of the teams discussing contracts with Bogaerts were considering moving him off shortstop, so while Ha-seong Kim had a superb defensive season replacing Tatis at shortstop, the likely scenario is that Bogaerts plays short, Kim shifts to second base and the versatile Jake Cronenworth moves to first base.
Bogaerts also had an excellent defensive season, ranking in the 88th percentile in outs above average via Statcast and a career-best plus-4 in defensive runs saved. Both metrics, however, are out of line with his career norms — he had never been above average in DRS. Even if Bogaerts regresses, he’s hardly a big liability at shortstop. With the shift ban coming in 2023 and Machado at third base, this projects as one of the best defensive infields in the majors. Tatis will now likely move to the outfield — alongside Gold Glove center fielder Trent Grisham.
It’s the offense, however, that will have Padres fans gobbling down those fish tacos in elation. How about this look:
LF Tatis Jr.
C Austin Nola
Though he had one big power season in 2019 (33 home runs) — which appears to be a product of the juiced baseball, like so many other big power seasons that year — Bogaerts hit just 15 home runs in 2022. He’s a high-average hitter, though, who notches doubles and has been remarkably consistent, with an OPS+ between 128 and 139 each year since 2018.
The lineup is a little top-heavy and a regular designated hitter would be nice. The Padres have gone this far, so they may as well go the extra step and bring in somebody like Justin Turner, J.D. Martinez, Michael Brantley or Luke Voit.
Of course, that gets us to the money side of things.
Bogaerts’ contract completely blew away any early offseason predictions. ESPN predicted six years, $168 million ($28 million AAV), FanGraphs predicted seven years, $217 million ($31 million AAV) and MLB Trade Rumors predicted seven years, $189 million ($27 million AAV). The AAV of this deal — $25.5 million — isn’t out of line from expectations, but the length of the deal is shocking considering 2023 will be his age-30 season.
The contract will take Bogaerts through his age-40 season — and the back end of this deal is likely to be extremely painful for the Padres. Since the start of the wild-card era in 1995, there have been just 17 players to play 100 games at shortstop, third base or second base in their age-38 to age-40 seasons. Only 38-year-old Wade Boggs in 1996 and 38-year-old Gary Gaetti in 1998 produced 3-WAR seasons (3.4 and 3.0). Over the past 10 seasons, the only regular at those positions age 38 or older was 40-year-old Derek Jeter in 2014. He produced minus-0.7 WAR during his final season. (He was better at age 38, hitting .316 and leading the league with 216 hits in 2012, although his range was so diminished, his overall value came in at just 2.2 WAR.)
But the Padres aren’t worried about 2031 or 2033; they’re all-in for 2023 and 2024, while they still have team control of Soto. And note that Machado has an opt-out clause after 2023. Indeed, given the way money has been flowing like Niagara Falls after a rainstorm, it appears increasingly likely that Machado will exercise that opt-out, so in one sense that makes Bogaerts a potential long-term payroll replacement for Machado.
The Padres’ payroll will no doubt send angry ripples throughout the industry — especially from small-market and mid-market franchises that won’t come close to the Padres’ current estimated $254 million payroll (which, as indicated, is likely to still climb a little higher). The Padres aren’t exactly the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to market size, so kudos to club chairman Peter Seidler for his willingness to spend big to put an exciting product on the field. If the Padres can do this, so can the Seattle Mariners or the St. Louis Cardinals or the Toronto Blue Jays or the Minnesota Twins or the Baltimore Orioles. They just choose not to.
Speaking of angry — Red Sox Nation is in absolute uproar. In 2020, the Red Sox failed to extend Mookie Betts and traded him to the Dodgers. Now, the team has failed to sign Bogaerts and is still looking to extend Rafael Devers, who is in his final season before free agency. Devers will be 27 in 2024 — three years younger than Bogaerts was when he hits free agency. Given the way negotiations went with Betts and Bogaerts, the Red Sox have shown no inclination they are willing to go to what it will take to retain Devers. The moral of the story here is to sign your best young players early on, like the Mariners did with Julio Rodriguez or the Atlanta Braves have done with Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider and Ronald Acuna Jr.
Maybe the Red Sox are the rational operators in a world of fiscal irrationality. But between them and the Padres, I know which team I’d like to be watching in 2023.