At a time where Major League Baseball seems plagued by an endemic apathy among its middle-tier teams, it’s radical and refreshing when a team actually tries to win. With the new collective bargaining agreement implementing an expanded postseason field, there’s never been less incentive to try to be good—what’s the point of spending the requisite cash to win 97 games when a cheaper, more threadbare roster can sneak into the playoffs with 87 wins? Being a baseball fan can sometimes feel distressingly like being a fan of some other guy’s stock portfolio. In that sense, the San Diego Padres should be your new favorite baseball team
For the last two seasons, the Padres have been MLB’s most ambitious team. Since adding Manny Machado in 2019, the Padres have aggressively pursued talent. Going into the 2019 season, their payroll was a touch over $104 million; today, it’s more than doubled, topping $209 million. Despite a disappointing 79-83 campaign that was sabotaged by an epic late season implosion, the Padres redoubled their efforts over the offseason, trading with the Oakland Athletics for both workhorse starter Sean Manaea and Bob Melvin, the three-time Manager of the Year.
But even beyond the fact that the Padres have cool and charismatic players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Yu Darvish, the coolest thing about them is how they disregard every fan-antagonistic aspect of the status quo. The Padres are a mid-market franchise that share a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers (the consensus best team in baseball by a large margin) and the San Francisco Giants, who are fresh off a 107 win season. No matter how honorable and rare, their spending hardly guarantees success; from a purely economic perspective, the Padres would have every incentive to maintain the meagerest possible payroll and rake in that sweet revenue-sharing profit, which makes their efforts to contend even bolder and more endearing.
Accordingly, the Padres’ roster reads like a roster in a 12 team fantasy baseball league. The rotation is headlined by 2018 AL Cy Young Winner Blake Snell and five-time All Star Yu Darvish; the lineup is anchored by Machado and, eventually, Tatis Jr., who’s the best baseball player in the world (albeit one of the worst motorcyclists). Even with Tatis slated to miss the first half of the season, Draftkings and other Vegas sports-books peg the Padres as a top five team in the National League and a legitimate World Series contender. If the Padres succeed, they could provide a blueprint and inspiration for the rest of the league to try as well.