Can the Padres take down the Dodgers after Snell, Darvish traded?

In the west they turn around the wagons.

The San Diego Padres, the oncoming candidates of 2020, are already making it clear that they do not want to be second fiddle in the North West in 2021. But when you talk about defending the defending champion, Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s a power move.

As AJ Preller, GM of Padres, would like to do, he’s going all out in 2021, with a spate of moves Sunday and Monday that brought San Diego two potential baits and the best international free agent on the market.

Yu Darvish joins the Padres after the news was announced Monday night of an agreement with the Cubs that will send Zach Davies and four prospects (none of them in San Diego’s top 10, it should be noted) to Chicago. The Padres reportedly agreed with Korean star Ha-Seong Kim hours earlier. Kim is not quite Fernando Tatis Jr. not, but he is a versatile fielder who beat 30 players in the homer-happy KBO last season.

On Sunday night, in their first move to the throne, Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays for a handful of prospects.

The final result: the Padres can make a comeback from Snell, Darvish, Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack, the starter of the previous season, with the prospect of MacKenzie Gore waiting in the wings and Mike Clevinger is expected to return to Tommy in 2022 John. With Tatis, Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer anchoring the series, the Padres have a wide open window to compete.

If they were in a different department, that would be the easy choice. In the shortened season of 2020, their 37 wins would have led to four of MLB’s six divisions. Only two teams scored more victories and they met in the World Series.

So this wave of moves is not only about becoming one of MLB’s top teams, but also about jumping the Dodgers.

Profits over replacement may not be the sharpest tool to measure this type of thing. But just for the sake of boiling things down: FanGraphs’ WAR projections for 2021 allow the Padres 9.3 WAR value in Darvish, Snell and Kim. They will, of course, pull Davies down as well, but if you think the Padres finished six games behind the Dodgers in 2020, the additions should make Padres fans feel good about the season ahead.

So does that make the Padres the better team? Well, no. The roster as currently drawn up will be more talented than any team except … the Dodgers. There is still a lot of out of season ahead, and that does not take into account the additions that the fighter can make. But the Padres can take it seriously.

This is all presumably until the off-season is over and the games are played. But what is the off-season for suspicions? So let’s take a closer look.

Blake Snell, who is notorious for a dominant outing in World Series 6 in the sixth innings, will now have many more games against the Dodgers.
Blake Snell, who is notorious for a dominant outing in World Series 6 in the sixth innings, will now have many more games against the Dodgers. (Photo by Cooper Neill / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

How the pitch matches

Both teams will face rotational question marks in 2021 despite these moves. Because it’s baseball and all teams do it.

The Dodgers are well armed at the top with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. But what about David Price? Will he return in 2021 after opting for the COVID shortened season?

Meanwhile, the Padres also have questions. Lamet suffered an injury that kept him out of the post-season in 2020, and Darvish, as good as last year (with a 2.01 period), was often up and down his career. When he’s on, he’s on fire, but his term in office in Chicago is a case study of how control can come and go quickly. Paddack also did not measure his star rookie season in 2020, so his outlook is a bit tossed

The Dodgers had the best ERA in baseball last season. As good as Padres were, they were still almost a worse run – the Padres were at 3.86 while the Dodgers were at 3.02. A big part of this, however, is the bullpen, where the Dodgers are the no. 2 in baseball and the Padres at number 14. The start of the pitching was a bit more even: the Dodgers ‘ERA was 3.29 and the Padres’ was 3.46. It’s all very close.

Both the Dodgers and the Padres would expect to reach the national season in 2021, thus avoiding catastrophic complications, so one way to look at this is who looks best in a short series.

If the Dodgers have Price, their top three look pretty scary. And they could also benefit from further improvements by Dustin May or Julio Urias. Snell, Darvish and Lamet look good, but not quite as good as the Dodgers could roll out. If the Padres had Clevinger, this debate might be a little closer.

How close are they? It’s the Dodgers when Price is back, but the Padres are narrowing the gap. After years of head and shoulders over their neighbors, LA may need to stand back and find a ruler to gauge the difference at this point.

The Dodgers have wiped the Padres out of the playoffs in the NLDS, but it's San Diego who are clearing out the off-season.
The Dodgers have wiped the Padres out of the playoffs in the NLDS, but it’s San Diego who are clearing up in the off-season. (Photo by Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

How the lineouts match

It’s a little more incomplete because the Dodgers have to make some decisions. As if they’re signing Justin Turner and Joc Pederson again. Whether they are trying to trade for one of the bigger bats on the market, namely Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.

But let’s enlarge what we know:

While these Padres moves will definitely help the offense – and perhaps make things harder on Dodgers hits – the Dodgers seem to have more to earn on their current list than the Padres will get from Kim, who will have to adapt to the pace of MLB.

Cody Bellinger was not great in 2020, so any regression to his previous production level can only cancel Kim’s addition. Gavin Lux, a former prospect, is also likely to improve. Will Smith, another young Dodgers talent, is still on the way.

You can say the same about many of the good young players of the Padres. But the Padres had an MVP season from Tatis and Machado and still could not match the Dodgers.

How close are they? LA feels a little more proven here. The Padres should actually win an arm wrestling match to know it is possible.

What the Padres should do next

If we know AJ Preller, chances are he’s not done even after landing two potential baits, but there are still some moves he needs to make to close the gap between the Dodgers:

  • Fix the bullpen: This was where the Dodgers were one of the best teams in 2020. To beat them in October, a deep bull will be needed. The Padres will return some pieces, such as Drew Pomeranz, who missed portions of 2020 with injuries but also lost some key contributors.

  • Get another starter: The Padres certainly do not have to get Trevor Bauer – in all respects: but after trading Davies, they need at least one more reliable arm to lock in behind their top four. Maybe this is the time to buy a former bait layer. There are many on the market. Or look for another cheap guy who at worst can take turns eating and will go at his best in October.

No matter who you think is the best team at this stage, it’s pretty clear – the NL West just got a lot more interesting.

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