San Diego Padres: Could Mookie Betts bring the Pads back to the postseason?

The San Diego Padres don’t yet have what it takes to win in 2020. Even with Mookie Betts, could San Diego overcome other NL superpowers? It’s tough to say.

Rumors about the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox discussing a Betts deal began swirling around the baseball world on Thursday, Jan. 24. The Padres aren’t just considering Betts though, as Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Starling Marte has also been linked to the team.

To me, this indicates that the Padres really are looking for another big piece in what has already been a whirlwind of an offseason. To date, San Diego general manager A.J. Preller has already added Tommy Pham to man left field, Zach Davies to settle into the middle of the rotation, a former top prospect in baseball in second baseman Jurickson Profar, and up-and-coming right fielder Trent Grisham.

Even with all of these moves, the Padres did not give up any top-100 prospects, at least according to MLB.com’s list, which leaves them perfectly situated to make a splash and add either Marte or Betts.

At the same time though, these moves combined to bring the Padres up to a projected win total of 83 wins according to the Caesars Palace Sports Book. That would not be enough for a Wild Card berth, and it certainly would not bring the team into the discussion for a division title, especially while the Dodgers, who are projected to win 99 games, are healthy.

If the San Diego Padres can swing a deal for Mookie Betts though, would that be enough to propel them into the NL Wildcard discussion? Could it maybe set up a battle for the NL West with the LA Dodgers?

Betts, entering his sixth full season in the MLB, has never put up a WAR lower than 4.8 while topping out at 10.4 WAR in 2018. Steamer projects Betts to put up a 6.6 WAR season in 2020, with 32 home runs, 19 steals, and a .300 AVG. No current NL West hitter has this sort of upside, and Steamer projections are notoriously on the conservative end.

Adding Betts into the top three slots of the Padres’ current lineup would help take some of the pressure off of Fernando Tatís Jr. while certainly helping both Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer see more pitches in the zone. Betts would give the Padres one of the most imposing lineups in all of the National League.

Along with Pham and a full season of Tatís Jr., the Padres should already improve upon some of their 2019 team offensive rankings. Last season, the team ranked 26th in OPS and 27th in runs scored. Betts would bring a likely OPS of around 1.000, and his steals could help lift the Padres into the top ten in steals (they finished 15th last season).

But Betts is unlikely to be able to bridge the 16-win projected gap between the Dodgers and the Padres. This is largely because of the pitching staff. Dinelson Lamet, Joey Luchessi, Chris Paddack, and Garrett Richards all are projected to pitch less than 190 innings next season, and none are projected for WARs over 3.3. The lowest ERA amongst this group is Lamet’s projected 3.74 mark.

That is not a rotation built for success, especially because none of these pitchers have pitched more than 165 innings in a single season at any point since 2016. In fact, only Luchessi and Paddack have eclipsed 140 innings in that span. Some analysts feel that Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patiño, the top two pitching prospects in the Padres’ system, are expected by MLB.com to arrive in the MLB in 2021.

Adding Betts could incense the Padres to rush these prospects into the MLB rotation, but it is unlikely that either of these pitchers would throw more than 150 big-league innings in 2020 based on league-wide trends and on how the team treated Paddack last season.

Even if the Padres would remain just outside of the playoff picture with Betts this season, does 2020 really even matter to the Padres? Couldn’t adding Betts now help them more in 2021 and beyond than it could in 2020?

If Patiño and Gore arrive in 2021, they could work alongside a more mature core of Paddack, Luchessi, and Lamet, and Machado, Hosmer, and Tatís Jr. all should still be under contract. The only caveat is that the Padres would need to convince Betts to resign with them, something their payroll may not allow for.

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Either way, if the San Diego Padres add Betts, there will be plenty of talk surrounding the team and a franchise that already has been seemingly on the cusp of making a run for the last few seasons.

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