Here’s a sentence that baseball fans have never read prior to 2021: The Padres unequivocally had their best offseason in franchise history and have entrenched themselves as the main roadblock and biggest competition to the Dodgers in the National League. It’s mind boggling how three years ago the Padres went into Opening Day with Clayton Richard on the mound and a 3-4-5 of recently signed superstar 1B Eric Hosmer, 17 career home run hitting LF Jose Pirela, and future KBO replacement level 2B Carlos Asuaje. Only Hosmer remained in a major league uniform in 2020, and his groundbreaking largest contract in Padres history now just barely cracks the top three. The narrative for the 2021 Padres is that they are young, hungry, and have something to prove (this narrative shows up at least once an offseason) and there will be countless times throughout the season where curmudgeons in their chairs will tell these young kids to sit down and be quiet and act like they’ve been there before.
Here’s another sentence baseball fans have never read before: The Padres are going to be the talk of baseball in 2021 and they’ll back it up on the field this year too. Now it’s time to dive in and see if their offense can back up all the hype on the fantasy field.
Catcher: Austin Nola, Victor Caratini, Luis Campusano, Webster Rivas, Wynton Sawyer, Juan Fernandez
The Padres have been looking to find their long term solution at catcher ever since they came to the realization that Austin Hedges was not going to cut it in 2018. Francisco Mejia was supposed to be the next solution when they acquired him at the trade deadline, but he never took a next step forward from elite hitting prospect to every day MLB catcher. The Padres abandoned their Mejia last season as they knew their contention window started in 2020 and the team acquired stop gap Jason Castro and utility player turned catcher Austin Nola at the trading deadline. Castro quickly lost playing time to Nola, who’s offense fell dramatically from what he had put up earlier in the year in Seattle, but was still clearly better than Castro. In 2021, Castro left via free agency and it looked as though Nola would be the clear cut starter and the team would bring a veteran, defensive first catcher to back him up. Instead, the Padres quietly added Victor Caratini into the Yu Darvish trade package. Right now fantasy drafters have Nola as the presumed starter and his hot first half of 2020 (which amounted to the best 110 best PAs this 30 year old’s career) means he’s getting drafted as somewhere between in the sixth and 12th catcher off big boards. As with most seasons, catcher has a steep falloff and any catcher tied to an offense that should be as good as San Diego’s can understandably get taken in the Top 10, but when I’m looking for value I’m looking elsewhere behind the plate in San Diego. Caratini’s barely a Top 40 catcher and there is no reason to believe that Nola is firmly entrenched as the starter should he have a weak Spring Training. Caratini is a huge upside buy who comes at the cost of next to nothing, and Nola comes with all the question marks you expect but not much room for profit if you take him in the Top 10.
First Base: Eric Hosmer, Yorman Rodriguez, Nick Tanielu, Olivier Basabe
In a very quiet development, Hosmer hit nine homers with 36 RBI in 38 games last year and if you prorate that out to 155 games (his average games starter the previous eight seasons) you have a 37 homer with 147 RBI season. Now we know that expanding out smaller sample sizes over a full season isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but if he only gets to 66 percent of those totals he had 25 homers with 98 RBI and that will play in 2021 when he has no competition to lose at bats. Rodriguez and Tanielu are depth pieces and the only games Hosmer will miss are he sporadic days off when the team slides in a supersub and Cronenworth slides over to first. At age 31 coming off two mediocre years in 2018 and 2019 (combined OPS+ of 97) Hosmer is an excellent buy low coming off boards as around the No. 20 overall 1B.
Second Base: Jake Cronenworth, Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, Jorge Mateo, Ivan Castillo, Gosuke Katoh, Mat Batten, Tucupita Marcano, Esteury Ruiz, Ripken Reyes, Eguy Rosario, Pedro Florimon, CJ Abrams, Justin Lopez
On the surface everything about Cronenworth’s runner up NL ROY campaign signifies he should be locked in to the second base job for the foreseeable future as a .285/.354/.477 triple slash means a .831 OPS and 128 OPS+ at second base. That alone plays, and then you factor in a 55+ XBH pace over 162 and you look you are closer to having your 2B for the next decade than you are a flop the next season. However, the Padres spent their offensive offseason seemingly centered around acquiring contingencies should Cronenworth struggle. First, they brought in KBO star Ha-Seong Kim who is two years younger than Cornenworth and has a much strong home running hitting profile, even if he’s slated to be a reserve to start the season. Then, the Padres re-sign Jurickson Profar to play a super utility role across the entire infield and outfield should anyone get injured bucking the conventional wisdom of signing a more standard OF his whole career type of reserve. Everything about these two signings, along with top prospects CJ Abrams potential arrival in 2021 shows the Padres don’t believe in Cronenworth, so I’m not sure why fantasy drafters are so high on him as a mid teens/early 20s pick at 1B, 2B and SS. I’d rather sink my draft capital into Kim in the mid to late 20s (2B and SS eligible) or Profar at the 35th or 90th best 2B/OF getting drafted. Everything about this situation makes it look like the Padres will be have a rotating cast of similar characters at 2B, which means the cheapest option is the best price.
Third Base: Manny Machado, Ethan Skender, Sean Guilbe, Luis Almanzar
Machado is one of the best 3Bs in the game and he is locked in at the hot corner for the Padres until at least 2024 when Manny has an opt out in his contract. That means for the next three years, his 28-29-30 year old seasons, Machado will be in a Padres uniform. As the No. 2 overall 3B in fantasy, behind Jose Ramirez, Machado is getting drafted… low? Ramirez and the Cleveland lost Jose’s biggest complementary piece in Frankie Lindor and replaced him with a hodgepodge of junk, whereas Machado is hitting in the heart of an order that is by-and-large expected to take steps forward in 2021. Manny is my No. 1 3B and given the context of the Padres, he’s got the highest floor over the next few years and may have fallen into the extremely-good-for-so-many-years-without-winning-an-MVP category that he’s become underrated. Buy Manny.
Shortstop: Fernando Tatis Jr.
Mr. 340,000,000. The number one overall pick in all of fantasy baseball. Baseball’s new personality. The son of Mr. Grand Slam. El Nino. Bebo. Someone getting drafted a bit too high? I know he’s a 23-year-old superstar who just signed a 14-year deal, but is he the No. 1 overall asset in the sport? My heart says yes, but my gut says Ronald Acuna Jr. is the better long term play. Am I going to fault you for taking Tatis with the first pick? Absolutely not, but I think if I draw R1.P1. I’m going Acuna. Nothing to say about what the Padres are going, he’s the every game starter for the next decade unless the Padres decide to sell high in seven years. No one is touching his playing time until newborns are in their teens.
Outfield: Wil Myers, Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham, Jorge Ona, Brian O’Grady, Joshua Mears, Robert Hassell III, Ben Ruta, Taylor Kohlway, Robbie Podorsky, Jose Azocar, Jawuan Harris, Tirso Ornelas, Grant Little, Dwayna Williams-Sutton, Jack Suwinski
Just like 1B, 3B and SS, the outfield appears to be set in stone. Gold Glove winning CF Trent Grisham is back for his age 24 season and looks like he might be a budding star. The highest Padre OF off draft boards in the early-to-mid 20s, Grisham seems to be a very good bet to sustain playing time with his elite defense and since that ties him to a potent offense he seems to be a great long-term buy. Wil Myers had the best season of his career in 2019 with his .950+ OPS and 159 OPS+. It’s very possible that at age 30 Myers will grow into a very boring, very solid piece and as the 30th OF off boards, he is another solid buy. Pham is the OF who’s price I question the most, as OF #33 in standard drafts, he’s a 33-year-old OF who’s primary skill is getting on base and he only slugged .312 last year. He’s definitely a guy who I’d want to buy due to his ties to the Padres and likely playing time, but he’s going at the same price as Myers who’s cheaper, younger, and was much better last year. Everyone listed is depth and shouldn’t see any playing time this year, with Hassell being the big time prospect but he’s only 19 so he should be years away from making a dent in any playing time.
These Padres are going to be very good, very fun, and have a whole lot of excitement this year, just make sure you don’t pay too much for these guys. Machado seems to be the best buy out of everyone, and as of today no one is getting over drafted by a huge amount, but there isn’t much room for growth with the high rounds, buy beware of rising costs.