SAN DIEGO — Maybe it was a Freudian slip. Maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe AJ Preller is just keenly aware of what he wants.
Asked to re-evaluate his Trade Deadline splash three months later, the Padres general manager reflected on the impact that Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury made during the team’s run to the National League Championship Series. Then he had this to say:
“Probably the biggest thing, at least with Hader and with Juan Soto, is this carries forward,” Preller said. “Ultimately, it wasn’t just a rental piece. They’re guys that, you know, in Juan’s case should be here for many years to come.”
Hmmm. Many years to come?
Soto has two more years of arbitration eligibility, meaning he is not scheduled to hit the free-agent market until after the 2024 season. But the Padres gave up a sizeable portion of their farm system to acquire Soto in an eight-player deal at the Trade Deadline. So, naturally, they’re interested in locking him up for the long haul.
“We’ll have that conversation,” Preller said. “From Juan’s standpoint, he’s getting to know the city and getting to know the organization. When we made the deal we made it knowing that we’d have him for three pennant races but also understanding that … he’s an incredibly talented player, an impact player, and we’ll have those conversations here. This offseason is kind of taking the temperature, seeing where his head is going forward.”
Soto, of course, is a generational superstar in his prime. He only turned 24 on Tuesday. Prior to the trade that sent him to San Diego, he turned down an extension reported to be worth $440 million with the Nationals.
It’s unclear what it would take to get an extension done, but the Padres seem poised to at least pursue one this winter. Since his arrival, Soto has refused to comment on a potential extension. But speaking after the Padres’ Game 5 loss in Philadelphia, he expressed enjoyment at playing in San Diego.
“Since I got here, they’ve made me feel at home — the crowd, my teammates, everybody,” Soto said. “It feels great. I was very comfortable here, even when things weren’t going my way at the beginning.”
Indeed, Soto struggled upon his arrival in San Diego — at least by his own lofty standards. He batted .236/.388/.390 with six home runs in 52 games after the trade.
But Soto authored some of the biggest hits in the postseason, including key home runs in Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS, to go along with the game-tying single in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Dodgers and the back-breaking two -run single off Edwin Díaz in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the Mets.
“Since I’ve gotten here, it was incredible, those fans, how loud they can get and how fun they can be,” Soto said. “We’re going to come back next year stronger and more ready to go. … We have a really good, really talented team. A really young team. I think we can do a lot of damage.”
Padres will consider 1B reunion(s)
As for Bell and Drury, the two true Deadline rentals, it’s possible the Padres look for a 2023 reunion. They have a vacancy at first base — and further playing time available at designated hitter. That means Preller expects to be in touch with Bell and Drury, along with Wil Myers — the trio that formed the Padres’ 1B/DH platoon during the postseason.
“All three, there’s a scenario,” Preller said. “We’ll definitely have a conversation with their agents and them personally, where they’re at, what they’re thinking about. I wouldn’t close the door on anything.”
Offensively, first base is the biggest offseason question mark in a Padres lineup that will return most of its starters. Part of that equation, of course, is how the Padres plan to use their designated hitter.
For much of the season, their lineup lacked power (although that should change somewhat in 2023 with the return of Fernando Tatis Jr.). Would they be looking for a settled DH/1B-type thumper like Bell? Or would they be looking for a more versatile piece like Myers or Drury?
“In general, having some flexibility and some ability to rotate around is attractive,” Preller said. “We’ll look at how the whole roster fits together and what are the best options that are out there. … If there’s somebody that fits that’s more fixed in that spot, we’ll consider it.”
Coaching staff continuity?
Last offseason, Bob Melvin set about assembling a coaching staff from scratch, after his early-November hire as Padres manager. He settled on a unique and diverse group, and a year into his tenure, Melvin was pleased with the results.
“I think this coaching staff was very inspirational with the players,” Melvin said. “All these guys had a role in getting the attention of the group that they were in charge of. I was happy with everybody.”
Preller noted how pleased he was with the job the rest of the coaching staff did when Melvin missed time earlier in the season on two separate occasions, due to prostate surgery and COVID-19.
Both Preller and Melvin said they couldn’t fully commit to the return of the coaching staff for 2023 until they’d gone through some postseason meetings. Plus, there’s always a possibility that other teams might contact the Padres to ask about interviewing their coaches.
“Nothing’s for sure,” Melvin said. “But we were happy with what the staff did.”