2023 was a tough year for Padres fans. The team in 2023 scuffled through possibly their most disappointing season ever, let their manager leave for a division rival, had to take out a $50 million loan to address apparent cash flow issues, traded away all-world outfielder Juan Soto, and watched the Los Angeles Dodgers sign the second coming of Babe Ruth. Yet, like Lloyd Christmas, they believe they still have a chance.
“Hopefully, it’s a deal that works both ways,” said Padres president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller, according to The Athletic, referring to Soto’s trade to the New York Yankees, “and we’re seeing him in the postseason next year.” Since the Yankees play in the American League, that would mean the Padres playing in the 2024 World Series. Maybe that’s not so crazy.
The Pads will bring back all-stars and fan favorites in Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Ha-Seong Kim, Joe Musgrove, and Yu Darvish. The Soto trade returned several solid contributors, and they signed Japanese pitching star Yuki Matsui. This core will be led by new manager Mike Shildt, who was once named the National League Manager of the Year and led the St. Louis Cardinals to three consecutive postseason appearances. The Padres have never made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
Even though they’ll likely lose top pitchers Blake Snell and Josh Hader in free agency, the Pads still possess a “huge amount of talent,” said Michael Baumann, staff writer at FanGraphs. “Preller tried to build not just a good team, but a superteam.” Unfortunately, there are other super teams in the N.L. West.
The Dodgers being the Dodgers, signed two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani to a contract that exceeds the gross domestic product of ten countries. The salary structure is so team-friendly, though, it has allowed the team to splurge on pitcher Tyler Glasnow and they’re homing in on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the prized free agent pitcher from Japan.
For their part, the San Francisco Giants signed away star outfielder Jung Hoo Lee from his native Korea, and the Arizona Diamondbacks return more or less the same roster that steamrolled three supposedly better teams in this year’s playoffs on their way to the World Series. (There is a fifth team in the N.L. West, the Colorado Rockies, which is about all that can be said of them.)
Losing Padres’ Owner Peter Seidler
But the most impactful, and heartbreaking, development for the Padres this year was the loss of beloved team owner Peter Seidler. “The best thing a team can have is an owner that cares about winning,” Baumann said, and Seidler certainly did.
He gave Preller free rein to put together a superteam. He invested in the minor leagues and player development, which, either through promotions or trades, resulted in players like Tatis and Soto. He invested in Petco Park, making a Padres game one of the best game day experiences in professional sports. He even invested in his city, having emerged as a civic leader in the fight against homelessness. He did all this despite San Diego being a so-called “small market” team.
Following Seidler’s death in November, news trickled in about how the Padres would manage their roster. The consensus became that they still want to compete, but also need to shed high-cost players after carrying the third-largest payroll in the sport and missing the playoffs.
Looming over this strategic decision and the roster intrigue are larger questions about the direction of the franchise. Will the Padres keep pushing to win that elusive World Series championship? Or will they retreat to more familiar, more modest terrain? After trading Soto but recruiting Matsui, the jury is still out, and it seems San Diego’s other major league sports teams are at a similar crossroads.
San Diego FC Signs First Player, Duran Ferree
Earlier this month, Duran Ferree became San Diego FC’s first-ever signing, and in turn, the answer to a trivia question coming to a bar near you. Of course, local soccer fans hope Ferree becomes better known as the goalkeeper for Major League Soccer’s next great team. To the club, Ferree’s signing “underscores the Club’s commitment to identify and develop young talent, and build a youthful, dynamic and winning organization.”
Wave FC Acquires Savannah McCaskill
SD Wave have reached the National Women’s Soccer League semi-finals in back-to-back years, and this year they were the best team in the regular season. They were primed to contend again—at least, they were before the recent NWSL expansion draft, which was necessitated by two new teams starting play next year.
Forward Rachel Hill was poached by Bay FC, and SD Wave had to expend assets to get midfielder Sierra Enge back in the fold. Captain Alex Morgan was not pleased, and the team responded by signing midfielder Savannah McCaskill, a two-time NSWL Player of the Month. “We are confident that Savannah’s ability and experience will prove to be an important part of our continued success,” the team said.
San Diego Sports Fans Set Attendance Records In 2023
San Diego has fans willing to invest in these teams. Despite their struggles, the Padres set an attendance record in 2023 and at one point saw 25 consecutive sellouts. Eight thousand people went to Snapdragon Stadium just to attend SDFC’s brand announcement event, and the Wave were the biggest draw in the NWSL this season. Even our hometown rugby team, The Legion, set a league attendance record.
What’s to be determined in 2024 is if San Diego has teams who, in the face of setbacks, continue to invest in their rosters and turn their pronouncements about winning into reality.