It’s interesting who did and didn’t put the “Wild Wild” in the NL West during free agency. The Padres made the big move. The Giants tried to make the big move … twice. The Dodgers nibbled around the edges.
This is not your father’s division. The Padres become the group’s free-wheeling big spenders? The bedrock Dodgers and Giants swing and miss?
The Dodgers signed the well-worn tires of J.D. Martinez and Noah Syndergaard, but little else. This offseason will be better known for the loss of multi-tooled talent Trea Turner to the Phillies.
They did not get Xander Bogaerts-better, as the Padres did with the $280 million outlay for the Red Sox shortstop. They did not make the annual splash that reverberates across baseball. Out: Pitchers Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and clutch bat Justin Turner. In: Bat-less outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Shelby Miller, he of the 8.24 ERA in 19 2/3 innings the last two seasons.
The Padres also reportedly wrestled pitcher Seth Lugo away from the Dodgers, who will tread uncertain health waters with throwers Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
The Dodgers, it still should be said, are good enough to win it all despite the milquetoast offseason and loss of Turner & Co. Freeman, Mookie Betts, Julio Urias and more are enough to make that possible.
Essentially standing pat, however, strayed from recent history.
And the Giants. Oh, man, the Giants. They thought they had landed AL home-run king Aaron Judge, only to be stiff-armed by the Yankees. They were within a few hours of introducing potentially franchise-altering shortstop Carlos Correa before a medical exam red flag caused agent Scott Boras to pivot to the mega-loaded Mets.
So, what did the health-concern-conscious Giants do next? They scooped up outfielder Michael Conforto, who missed the entire 2022 season with a balky right shoulder after other career injuries that included another shoulder surgery in 2017. He hit .232 with a .729 OPS the last time he played, in 2021.
Grabbing right fielder Mitch Haniger could provide an upgrade and snagging former Padres reliever Taylor Rogers might, too, but it was a mammoth whiff of an offseason for a franchise reportedly prepared to spend big and make a move heading into 2023.
The Padres? Urgency buzzes around the tight window on which they clearly are trying to capitalize. There’s two more seasons, trade deadline 2024 pending, with Juan Soto. There’s Manny Machado’s possible opt-out after next season. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Josh Hader sit one lap away from testing the free agency surf. The farm system absorbed massive body blows in the pursuit of Soto and others. The luxury tax penalties are piling up.
This is a time-is-now situation, without doubt. The Padres, sensing it too, show zero inclination to slow down or back off. Why build the pieces of a symphony over years, only to walk away before penning the final notes?
So it’s easy to understand the Padres’ motivation. It’s less crystal as to why the Dodgers are choosing to peck rather than pounce. They always lean on a productive farm system to avoid getting too old or too expensive all at once. It’s smart. It’s worked.
Still, it’s a bit of a head scratcher as the Padres continue writing big checks. They also locked down wipeout reliever Robert Suarez, the eighth-inning baton passer to Hader. The return of PED-sidelined Fernando Tatis Jr., if he can return to some semblance of pre-surgeries Tatis, has the potential to feel like a major addition to a suddenly lengthened offensive lineup.
The Padres could regret the losses of Brandon Drury and Josh Bell, whose bats are likely to awaken, but the Bogaerts pickup underscores how quickly the A.J. Preller-led Padres can wipe the slate clean and charge forward.
A season ago, the Padres showed the Mets and Dodgers that spending and résumé-chasing is no guarantee in the playoffs. In the NLCS, the 87-win Phillies showed the Padres the same.
There’s no arguing, though, about whether the Padres made themselves better since 2022 closed. The same can’t be said for the Dodgers and Giants in a division that has been a one-team afterthought for a decade.
Can Bogaerts be enough of a catalyst to make all of this meaningful when 2023 reaches October? Possibly. He definitely will buffer lineup protection, as will Tatis, for Machado and Soto. The latter also will benefit mightily from the end of the shift’s “rover” in short right field.
It’s not a one-player thing with Bogaerts. It’s the collective impact of a lineup growing more teeth that can ramp up run production, wear down starting pitching and increase the clutch factor on the lineup card.
The Dodgers, for reasons known only to them, decided not to match the Padres’ offseason vigor. They normally do. They normally surpass. They normally flex. But here we are, as 2023 nears.
The NL West indeed has become wild, but not for the reasons we normally think.