By Nick Recchia
PHOTO CREDIT: MLB PADRES BLOG
With the news coming out of Los Angeles a couple of hours up the 5 freeway this afternoon that newly acquired Mookie Betts will spend the rest of his career in Dodger blue, a whisper continues in San Diego. A whisper that has lingered among the shadows of Petco Park over the last year plus that AJ Preller is big game hunting. With rumors involving the Padres and all the major names that have changed teams and some that haven’t (so far) alluding to the smoke billowing from the fire that is Preller’s phone. With his typical floppy hat in tow capping off his quarantine head salad, he has a directive from ownership as a clear as can be.
While even Mookie Betts was among the names bandied about over the course of the last year, his prospects as a one and done player was clearly evident. A hired mercenary with one purpose and one year of team control has worked for the Padres before as fans beckoned the arrival of Kevin Brown before the 1998 season as a tipping point for pushing the Padres into the World Series mix. AJ, while knowing this team is competitive in 2020 is balancing a high wire act to appease fans and ownership while knowing his true window opens up in 2021 when MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino help solidify themselves into more full time roles. Another reason the acquisition of Tommy Pham was important was his additional year of team control stretching into the 2021 season.
While some moves can pay dividends around the margins like bringing on an additional reliever with great splits (Hill) and starting a players clock from day one (Gore/Patino), a true game changer is what has eluded AJ up to this point in his tenure as GM. I am not counting the crafty deals for current Padres Fernando Tatis jr. and Chris Paddack. I am talking about the world changer types of deals like the Dodgers pulled by bringing Mookie to Hollywood. To be able to pull off that type of deal to add to the nucleus of Tatis, Machado, Pham, would be paramount to future eclipsing the David and Goliath relationship the Padres and Dodgers share. Too many times it has felt as if the Padres are fighting for the scraps off the table of Dodger stadium with the headlines eluding the picturesque views of Petco Park and the team that many national pundits have decreed as dark horse candidate in this pandemic shortened season. With the pandemic changing the economic base line of many organizations, a newly changing mindset might have gripped ownership groups across MLB not previously mentioned in possible trade scenarios. A player previously made unavailable might suddenly be dangling on the end of a hook to tantalizing to pass up for AJ and ownership. While some stars will be made available this summer (Lindor), it's the ones we don’t see right now that might be the most surprising and impactful possibly. Could you imagine a slumping Chicago Cubs making a Javy Baez available with team control through 2021 or a usual contender falling too far behind early and unloading a player in his free agent year like Houston with George Springer or Oakland with Marcus Semien. Those are the types of difference makers the Padres could add to push them contention in 2020 or beyond depending on the player.
AJ and ownership are committed to make the most of this year and moving forward, so big game hunting will continue with the Padres on the trail of the next Kevin Brown that could come to town and make history. Keep the faith and believe in the process. The next step of that process is to win and get in the playoffs in 2020 where from previous MLB seasons, anything can happen. The 2019 wild card seed Washington Nationals can attest to that as they hoisted their World Series trophy last November.
Longtime baseball enthusiast who tries to incorporate new age analytics into old school baseball strategy and how the two can coexist in winning harmony. Also a minor league aficionado who delves deep into the farm to share the love of the game from the lower rungs of the minor leagues and up. Always up for sports talk.