It's no secret that the San Diego Padres are all-in for the 2021 MLB season. Get excited Padres fans because Yu Darvish looked like the best pitcher in baseball for about 2-3 months last season.
But should Padres get that excited? After all, this is the same franchise who has only been to the postseason once since 2006. In fact, most of their previous playoff appearances came with Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy as the skipper of the ball club.
Still, blockbuster trades for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish would make it seem as though the Padres are AT LEAST the second-best franchise in the National League, right?
Well, on paper at least, the Padres seem to be a legitimate threat to overtake the Dodgers and make it to the 2021 World Series. But as famous broadcaster Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast my friend!"
While a 2021 National League pennant seems to be right within their grasp, fans should still be skeptical after that mediocre showing the team showed during the 2020 postseason. Granted, the 2020 season just wasn't normalized baseball. A 60-game regular season, coupled with several teams having to play multiple doubleheaders in order to get as close to 60 games finished as possible, is hard to take seriously as a legitimate sample size to what constitutes good versus bad ball clubs.
Still, the Padres were lucky to even advance to the National League Division Series last October. The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the best run organizations in baseball, but there's no excuse for San Diego to have to squeeze by a Best-of-3 series to a team both ravaged by injuries and having to overcome 18 cancellations due to major COVID-19 outbreaks within the clubhouse. The Cardinals barely survived the regular season by finishing with a 30-28 record and having to play six doubleheaders in September just to mathematically qualify for the playoffs. It's easy to say that the Cardinals were exhausted going into the playoffs, and yet the Padres looked anything but a National League juggernaut during the first round of the playoffs.
Now the 2021 Padres are certainly different from the 2020 squad. The main reason that the Padres are mortgaging the future for Darvish and Snell is because Mike Clevinger might not be the same pitcher once he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. The Padres obviously needed pitching after having to scrape by during a do-or-die elimination game to the Cardinals, the final score being 11-9.
But what versions of Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are the Padres and general manager A.J. Preller getting? Are the Padres getting the 2020 Cy Young candidate in Darvish, or the 2018 and 2019 oft-injured and massively underperforming Darvish? And why are the Tampa Bay Rays trading Snell after finishing just two wins shy of a World Series title?
The obvious reason for the Rays wanting to trade Snell is salary arbitration concerns and eventually having to pay him a long-term deal once he gets closer to unrestricted free agency. The crazy part is Snell's statistics don't scream out, "Franchise-changing pitcher." Besides his completely dominant 2018 Cy Young Award-winning season where he finished with 7.5 Wins Above Replacement and won the AL Wins and ERA crown, Snell has been a decent pitcher. But nothing more. Besides his 2018 spectacular season, Snell's WAR has been below 1.5. This means that Fangraphs' next-level statistics attribute Snell's location and velocity of his pitches to that of an above replacement-level pitcher, but definitely not a No. 1 or even a No. 2 in the rotation.
What's even more troubling about Snell is baserunners can run on him. In a non-COVID 2019 regular season, Snell allowed 15 runners to steal on him on 24 total attempts. He also allowed 13 steals of 17 attempts during the 2018 season. Some of this can be blamed on his catchers' pop times, but still, in an overproduced video production baseball world, MLB teams will analyze the tape and try to steal bags on him in 2021.
Other than wondering if Darvish can stay healthy in 2021 and if Snell is kind of overrated, the main problem for the Padres might be their manager. The old adage "players play and managers manage the team" is very true, but come on now. Joe Torre didn't just fill in the lineup card during his glory years in New York and Los Angeles. The players respected Torre and how he made the pitching changes. Can the same be said about manager Jayce Tingler after his team barely won two games during the 2020 postseason?
Once again, 2020 can probably just be thrown out as an evaluation of the Padres since A) We as baseball fans will never have to watch that many doubleheaders in one season ever again and B) Everything was just out of whack in 2020 since spring training had to be halted due to the pandemic. There's no guarantee that baseball will start on time in April, but since football, basketball, and hockey aren't having major work stoppages, then the 2021 MLB season should be good to go with at least 140 regular-season games. If the Padres miss the NL Championship Series in 2021, then it's definitely time to consider if Tingler is the right manager for the job and if the Darvish-Snell 1-2 punch will truly work out in southern California.
What's the final consensus here? It's just hard to trust the Padres. A three-game embarrassing sweep to the Dodgers in the divisional round makes me question as a sports writer if Tatis, Jr. has what it takes as a leader on this team. And it's easy to question why the Cubs would throw in the towel on Darvish. Perhaps Jed Hoyer truly believes that Darvish will regress more to the 2018 and 2019 versions of the right handed fireballer as Darvish gets closer to age 35. That being said, it's hard to believe that the Cubs included Victor Caratini in the Darvish deal, especially since Anthony Rizzo's back continues to bother him. Actually, if the Cubs didn't include Caratini in the deal, the Padres might have said no to obtaining Darvish's large salary. The Darvish deal is still somewhat questionable since Darvish is rather old, but since Preller also received a capable catcher/first baseman, then it was definitely an agreement that had to take place for San Diego.
Should the average baseball fan bet on San Diego to win the Fall Classic? There's not much of a Return on Investment for the average sports gambler, as the Padres currently only have 9/1 odds. Betting $100 to win $900 is a nice bet, but seeing how the Braves were one win shy of a World Series appearance in 2020, the Atlanta Braves at +1,100 (Bet $100 to make $1,100) might be the better bet. The Astros, who almost came back from a 3-0 series deficit, have very interesting odds at +1,800.
The Padres just don't have a significant history of winning on their side, and considering that Snell and Darvish have their fair share of question marks, I would personally stay away from betting on the NL West team. Then again, I love underdog stories and teams who haven't won the World Series yet. I want the Padres to win the 2021 World Series, but I'm also very skeptical when it comes to betting on the same team who lost by at least four runs twice during that 2020 three-game sweep to the Dodgers. My advice? You can bet on the Padres, but don't be surprised if they let you down in October. They're known to do that.