The padres were the whale at the poker table. They continued to push chips in the middle. Blow up the luxury tax for a second consecutive year. Trade their best young players for Juan Soto and Josh Bell. Negotiate for Josh Hader with around $15 million due next year for the one-inning run. Trading eight of 10 first-round picks under AJ Preller. Pushing the payroll to a franchise record of $230 million, more than double what it was five years ago.
The Padres saw a window open right now to win the franchise’s first World Championship. This view relied heavily on Fernando Tatis Jr. returning to the lineup this season for the stretch race and playoffs. The Padres had all the stars aligned – until a little Clostebol blew their plans upside down.
In one of baseball’s most stunning and high-profile drug busts since penalties with suspensions began in 2005, Tatis tested positive for a banned substance, Clostebol, a synthetic anabolic androgenic steroid – while he was on the injured list and playing under a $340 million, 14-year contract. He had been on a minor league rehab mission to recover from a broken wrist he suffered in an off-season motorcycle accident. He claimed that the Clostebol in his system came from medication he took to treat ringworm. Clostebol is favored by some drug cheaters because it provides the benefits of high testosterone (muscle growth) with lower levels of estrogen as a byproduct. On Friday, he accepted his 80-game suspension without appeal – the 48 games remaining this year and the first 32 next season. He is not eligible for the playoffs this year.
The dream top of the range of Silver Sluggers Tatis, Soto and Manny Machado— $56.8 million in star power this year alone — won’t happen this season. And now even a playoff appearance for San Diego has become less likely.
At the time of the suspension, the Padres clung to the last playoff spot, the third wild card spot in the NL. They were trying to play Cardinals in a best-of-three series all at St. Louis.
San Diego crumbled late last season as Tatis, playing with a shoulder injury that hadn’t fully healed, hit .245 in his last 41 games. This year, the Padres added the bats of Soto, Bell and Brandon Dry, another trade delay acquisition, to hedge against another slump. They entered this weekend with the fewest home runs and the worst slugging percentage of any National League contender.
Tatis was another big piece to add the punch San Diego would need to take on the Dodgers Where Dishes if he could get past a first-round series. He probably would have integrated the lineup better in the outfield — the Padres outfielders are hitting .227 with just 29 homers — than moving defensive prodigy Ha-Seong Kim to shortstop. Either way, they would add the 2021 NL home run champion and one of baseball’s most exciting players.
The Padres are still holding a dynamite rotation with swing and miss stuff. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Sean Manee, Joe Musgrove and Mike Clevinger all are hitting at least 8.6 batters per nine innings. And they reached a playoff position with 48 games left without Tatis playing a single game. But make no mistake: Tatis is one of the top five players in the game who could have made the difference.
San Diego has learned that the guy they identified as their franchise player is unreliable. Due to injuries, motorcycle accidents, a PED bust and the COVID-shortened season, Tatis will not have played more than 130 games in his first five years in the big leagues, missing at least 43 % of his team’s matches.
The Padres have committed $1.046 billion in recent years to sign or acquire Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Tatis, Machado, Soto, Hader and Musgrove. It’s a spending spasm unlike anything since the Diamondbacks tripled their payroll from 1998 to 2002. The Padres grew their payroll from 20% below the MLB average to 50% above, which is generally considered unsustainable in their market without a significant increase in income.
“Franchises almost never transform to the degree that the Padres have,” a senior baseball source said. “Spending before revenue and team success to that degree.”
Soto is under contract through 2024, which means San Diego can still field the Tatis-Soto-Machado trio for two seasons (but not until May of next season), but Bell is a free agent after this season. In the meantime, the Padres will have to settle for a playoff spot this year without Tatis providing the boost they’ve been counting on all year.
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