With superstar slugger Juan Soto shipped off the the Bronx alongside center fielder Trent Grisham, the Padres suddenly have an acute need for additions to their outfield. Fernando Tatis Jr. is locked into an everyday role in right field, but Jose Azocar, who slashed just .231/.278/.363 in 91 trips to the plate with the big league club last year, is the only other outfielder on the club’s 40-man roster.
While president of baseball operations AJ Preller told reporters (including Jon Morosi of MLB Network) in the aftermath of the deal that the club has some internal options for center field to consider, including Tatis and Double-A outfielder Jakob Marsee (the latter of whom ranks as the club’s #12 prospect according to MLB Pipeline) it seems clear that some external additions will be necessary following the departures of Soto and Grisham. After all, the 22-year-old Marsee just wrapped up his first full professional season with a 16-game cup of coffee at the Double-A level. While he held his own in that first taste of upper-level minor league action and impressed with a .391/.509/.707 slash line during the Arizona Fall League last month, starting the 2024 season as the everyday center fielder would be a herculean task for a youngster with just 819 professional at-bats under his belt.
In terms of potential external options to man the outfield in San Diego next season, Jon Heyman of the New York Post suggested earlier this afternoon that the Padres could get involved in the market for star KBO outfielder Jung Hoo Lee. It’s a sentiment that has since been echoed by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, who suggested that the Padres have Lee “high on their wish list” and that they could act quickly regarding the KBO star now that Soto is off the club’s books.
Lee, 25, ranked 15th on MLBTR’s annual Top 50 MLB free agents list, with a projected contract of five years and $50MM. Lee has been an above-average hitter in the KBO ever since he debuted at 18 years old back in 2017, but broke out in a big way during the 2022 campaign with a .349/.421/.575 slash line in 627 plate appearances that earned him KBO MVP honors. Lee’s 2023 season was cut short by a left ankle injury that required season-ending surgery, but he nonetheless is considered one of the top free agent outfielders available this offseason. While some evaluators have questioned Lee’s ability to stick in center field at the big league level, placing him in left field alongside Tatis and either Marsee or an external center field addition could make a lot of sense for a Padres club that not long ago signed another KBO star in Ha-Seong Kim back in 2021.
Beyond the outfield, Preller indicated to reporters (including AJ Cassavell of MLB.com and Jon Morosi of MLB Network) that the club figures to continue prioritizing pitching additions, with the hope of adding more starting pitching and a late-inning reliever. The club figures utilize King as a mid-rotation arm behind Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, and while the duo of Randy Vasquez and Jhony Brito could at least feasible combined to handle the fifth starter spot while Drew Thorpe finishes developing in the minors, that still leaves on rotation spot left to be filled in San Diego. Meanwhile, the loss of Josh Hader to free agency last month leaves a clear hole alongside Robert Suarez at the back of the San Diego bullpen.
One potential option the Padres appear to be considering as they look for ways to add outfield and pitching help would be dealing from their infield surplus, as Feinsand notes that the Padres would be open to dealing Jake Cronenworth this offseason. That’s not exactly a surprise for the cash-strapped Padres, as Cronenworth signed a seven-year, $80MM extension last offseason that will kick in during the 2024 season. Unfortunately, Cronenworth went on to have a career-worst season in 2023, slashing just .229/.312/.378 in 522 trips to the plate. Given the hefty contract that extends through Cronenworth’s age-36 campaign and his down season in 2023, it would be something of a surprise if a rival club was interested in taking on the contract without the Padres eating significant salary.
That being said, it’s at least feasible that the Padres could look to deal Cronenworth in a bad contract swap that would net San Diego a similarly valued player who better fits the club’s roster. After all, Cronenworth is a natural second basemen who was moved over to first to accommodate an infield of Kim, Xander Bogaerts, and Manny Machado last season. If the Padres could find an infield-needy club with a starting pitcher or outfielder on a net-negative contract, it’s at least feasible that a deal could make sense for both sides.