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Padres Payroll Spins Turnstiles But Can’t Gain Traction Against Dodgers

The San Diego Padres have recently gone to the bank trying to catch up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a pursuit entering its sixth decade. Yet the gap doesn’t seem like it will close anytime soon.

In 2019, the Padres signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal, and in 2021, the team extended Fernando Tatis Jr. for 14 years and $340 million. At this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline, they picked up Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals.

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So far, these moves haven’t made much of a dent. The Padres were resoundingly defeated by the Dodgers this weekend in the final two games of a three-game set at Petco Park, and San Diego has lost 21 of its last 25 games to Los Angeles.

For all the Padres have done and a fifth-ranking $218.7 million payroll, according to Spotrac, the Dodgers are on the cusp of a playoff spot for the 10th season in after Sunday’s 11-2 win, and are poised to win the division title for the ninth time in the past 10 years.

San Diego is treading water with the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers for the final two of three NL Wild Card spots in the MLB playoffs. They lead the Brewers by two games for the last slot, meaning their remaining 21 games are going to be a slog.

“It’s a new thing here in San Diego. A new approach,” said Tony Gwynn Jr., a radio analyst on Padres broadcasts, whose Hall-of-Fame father was once a big part of the quasi-rivalry. “Let’s not say the Padres are trying to outspend the Dodgers, but at least spend enough to be competitive with the Dodgers. And there’s been some nice maneuvers which have kept them from trying to do it all in free agency, which is almost impossible here in San Diego.”

The Padres went into full spending mode when Peter Seidler—who owns the team with his brother Tom—took over as executive chairman after the 2020 season. Seidler declined to answer a question about the team’s finances when approached on the field this weekend, but he recently told USA Today: “We felt if we spent money, the fans in San Diego would spend in bigger numbers, tickets, apparel, sponsorships, and show what’s possible. We have massively increased our controllable revenue. It’s off-the-charts good.”

The Padres are the only pro team left in town after the Chargers fled for LA, and the team is averaging 37,121 fans a game at nearly 44,000-seat Petco Park. That’s after averaging 29,585 for 81 games in 2019– an increase of 25% over the last full season before the pandemic abbreviated the 2020 season and limited attendance for much of 2021.

Despite the disparity between the Padres and the Dodgers, Petco Park was rocking this weekend as three sellout crowds totaling 128,577 gave San Diego a club-record 25 sellouts in 69 home games already this season—one more than in 2004, the year the ballpark opened .

That bump to the club’s bottom line provides more money to spend on players. And the Padres will need every dime, since some players could be on the move.

Machado could opt out of his contract after the 2023 season. Tatis, who was out rehabbing a left wrist injury suffered in a motorcycle accident, was suspended 80 games after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. He also had surgery to repair his left shoulder that kept popping out of the socket. After missing a year and a half of baseball when he returns next season, who knows what his future may bring?

And Soto has two arbitration-eligible seasons that could cost the team $30 million a piece, before becoming a free agent after the 2024 season. Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, has suggested a price tag of $400 million.

Soto, for his part, was non-committal about his future. He has struggled in San Diego since joining the team, hitting .224 with three homers and six RBIs in 31 games. He could be traded again before hitting free agency.

“It’s too early right now, even though I love the city and the fan base,” he said. “I’ve just come here to play baseball and forget about what’s next. All of that conversation is for the future.”

Meanwhile, the Padres are on their way to a better-than-.500 record for the second time since 2010 and perhaps their first playoff berth in a full season since 2006. Yet after the weekend series ended they were a full 20 games behind the Dodgers.

“[The Dodgers are] having a pretty dominant season right now, and they’re playing pretty well against us,” Bob Melvin, in his first year as Padres manager, said. “At some point in time we’d like to turn the tables on that. But they’ve had their way with everybody this season, it looks like.”

The Dodgers are third in sporty‘s MLB valuations at $4.89 billion, with an MLB-high payroll of $265.7 million and operate under the watchful eye of Guggenheim Baseball Management, which controls a $500 billion hedge fund. The boys in blue aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Neither are the Padres, Seidler insisted, who are valued at $1.84 billion.

“We’re not going away,” I said. “My family is going to own this team for 100 years. We’re set up now with a platform for success, and we intend to be good every single year. I really believe that.”

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