Major League Baseball’s trade deadline during this strange shortened season came and went Monday, and the big winner was not the big market New York Yankees, New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers.
It may be the much smaller market San Diego Padres, who bolstered their starting rotation and bullpen by obtaining right-hander Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians and closer Trevor Rosenthal from the Kansas City Royals.
Like every MLB team, the Padres are anticipating at least $100 million in losses alone this season. But unlike others they are going for it. The window for finally winning a World Series is open despite marginal revenue coming in and an annual loan on Petco Park to pay.
“I’m super excited about [coming over],” said Clevinger, the top starting pitcher on the market. “They’re the most exciting team in baseball right now. This is definitely the place to be. I’m stoked they wanted me here.”
Clevinger and fellow hurler Zach Plesac were demoted by the Indians last month for violating coronavirus protocols, drawing displeasure from their teammates. It was a mistake he won’t make again, he said Monday.
“I wasn’t going to let that moment define me as a person going forward,” Clevinger said.
And prior to making the deal, management addressed the matter with the San Diego players.
“We spent a lot of time talking about that as a group,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller added. “We all make mistakes. I’ve made a ton of mistakes. The biggest thing for us is you learn from it, and you own up to it.”
It’s all about winning. The Padres and their faithful have suffered through four 90-loss seasons in a row, including 92 last year, leading to the firing of their manager, Andy Green. He was replaced by little-known Jayce Tingler.
Under Preller, the Padres came into the season 104 games below .500 since he took over as GM on Aug. 6, 2014. They haven’t had a winning season since 2010, haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. They’ve made it to the World Series twice since expanding into the National League in 1969, losing in five games to the 1984 Detroit Tigers and getting swept by the 1998 Yankees. The Padres lone World Series success was in Game 2 against the Tigers. They’ve never won a playoff game at Petco Park, which opened in 2004.
Despite all that, the team generated $299 million in revenue in 2019 and drew 2.4 million for 81 dates at Petco, good for 14th in MLB at a ballpark which has become a destination for fans and tourists.
But this season, all that has disappeared.
With no fans because of the coronavirus, their ballpark revenue from tickets, suites, concessions, advertising and parking is non-existent.
“We always are [cognizant],” Preller said. “Especially with the situation right now: no fans in the stands, the revenue crunch, and COVID. We’re always aware of the short term and how it affects the payroll next year.”
The Padres local television revenue this season was $46 million, but that was before the MLB season was truncated from 162 games to 60 games. Most regional sports networks broadcast 120 of those games during a full season. All MLB teams are looking at about 50 this year with a group of games going to national networks.
For the Padres, that’s a local TV figure of about $21 million.
The Padres rank eighth in MLB prorated player payroll, at $71.4 million, which will account for most of their losses. Their local TV revenue will barely cover the prorated contracts of top stars Manny Machado ($13.1 million of $30 million) and Eric Hosmer ($8.4 of $18 million). The two were signed in recent years as free agents.
Petco Park was built at the cost of $474 million with the Padres shouldering $150 million of that debt. The city has a bond issue to pay on the rest of it. The Padres operate the downtown facility and have spent millions of dollars annually in improvements and upkeep, which under MLB rules is all exempt from revenue sharing.
The club refinanced its original annual ballpark loan after it was sold in 2012 by John Moores to a group headed by Peter Seidler and Ron Fowler for $800 million. But their annual payments are not public.
Even during the best of times, the Padres seek cash calls of $20 million a year just to make ends meet. And these certainly are not the best of times.
Seidler is a nephew of former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley and founder of Seidler Equity Partners, which has a market value of $3 billion. He’s also a recent survivor of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He’s personally worth $3 billion, and his family is the big money behind the franchise. Fowler made his fortune in local beer distributorships. The club’s executive chairman, he’s 77 and worth $500 million, so there’s no time like the present.
“I don’t believe in the narrative that this is our only shot,” said Tingler, a former minor-league coordinator for the Texas Rangers under Preller with no previous managerial experience. “I believe that not only do we have a chance to be a better team for this year, we have a chance to continue to improve with this group as we jell.”
Thus, the Padres made six deals before the deadline involving 26 players, nine coming to San Diego. That includes an eight-player deal with the Cleveland Indians that netted Clevinger, and a six-player swap with the Seattle Mariners that brought in catcher Austin Nola, who made incumbent Austin Hedges expendable to the Indians. San Diego also acquired Jason Castro, another catcher, from the Los Angeles Angels.
In another deal of note, the Padres obtained veteran designated hitter/first baseman Mitch Moreland from the Boston Red Sox for a pair of minor leaguers.
The good news is their best young position player, Fernando Tatis Jr., is earning a prorated $219,105. Their best young pitcher, Chris Paddack, is making a prorated $217,963. Clevinger at $634,592 is arbitration eligible for two more seasons. Nola is making $91,495 and is under control for four more years. The Padres only have to pay the final month of those two deals.
“For the first time maybe we are under budget from what Ron and Peter gave us,” Preller said. “We’ll get ’em on the back end, probably in the draft or something.”
Because of the expanded playoffs—to 16 teams this season—it seemed like a perfect time for the Padres to makes all these moves. The top two teams in each of the six divisions make the playoffs, plus the next two teams with the best records in each league qualify for the Wild Cards. Heading into Tuesday’s action, the 22-15 Padres are in second place in the NL West, 4 1/2 games behind the Dodgers and four ahead of the Colorado Rockies with a 27-day sprint left to go. It all makes sense.
“I always believe actions are louder than words,” Tingler said. “We’ve talked about winning. We’ve stressed it. So far, we’ve put ourselves in a position to do so. These are good moves for now, for the rest of the season, and strong moves for the future.”