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What’s next for the Padres after trading Juan Soto?

Shipping Soto and Trent Grisham to New York leaves San Diego with much-needed financial flexibility but even more holes to fill.

Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by teammate Juan Soto after Tatis Jr. hit a two run home run in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on May 26, 2023 in Bronx borough of New York City. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The day San Diego long feared finally arrived on Wednesday, as the Padres — desperate to cut payroll ahead of 2024 after their TV deal imploded and left them drowning in debtshipped superstar Juan Soto, along with center fielder Trent Grisham, to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitchers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vasquez and Jhony Brito along with catcher Kyle Higashioka.

We won’t try and pretend like this is anything other than a dark day for the franchise and its fans; players like Soto come along a couple times in a generation, and it’s never fun when your favorite team lets one go. But the 2024 season is going to arrive one way or another, and Padres GM A.J. Preller still has eyes on contention — and now has a little financial flexibility with which to work. With Soto and Grisham traded, options declined on Nick Martinez and Michael Wacha and Blake Snell, Josh Hader and Seth Lugo hitting the open market, San Diego has shed a whole bunch of salary in recent weeks: According to the best public estimates, the Padres’ 2024 projected payroll now sits around $150 million, some $50 million shy of the $200-million range the team was reportedly targeting.

Of course, those departures leave holes that need to be filled. How might Preller use his newfound $40-50 million? Let’s dive in.

Padres needs after Juan Soto trade

A whole lot of help in the outfield

As things stand right now, here’s how San Diego’s Opening Day lineup could shake out:

1. Xander Bogaerts, SS
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., RF
3. Jake Cronenworth, 1B
4. Manny Machado, 3B
5. Ha-Seong Kim, 2B
6. Luis Campusano, C
7. Cal Mitchell, LF
8. Matthew Batten, DH
9. Jose Azocar, CF

The first five: not bad at all! The back half ... oh boy. Turns out shipping away one of the game’s best hitters will have a deleterious effect on a team’s lineup. First order of business: Soto and Grisham were two-thirds of San Diego’s starting outfield, and now they’re gone — without a ton of ready-made replacements. Preller is going to have to get busy here, and it’s already been reported that the Padres are interested in Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee. Lee would be a fine Grisham replacement — as would Kevin Kiermaier, Harrison Bader or Michael A. Taylor — and there are some decent corner options available like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham and Teoscar Hernandez.

Sign a first baseman/DH

The outfield situation isn’t the only thing wrong with that lineup. The Padres got near league-worst production from their first base/DH spots last season, and it projects as a weak spot in 2024 unless Preller addresses it in a meaningful way. There are free-agent options here as well, especially Rhys Hoskins, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler or even someone like Carlos Santana. If Preller chooses to go the trade route, however, he could always look to move Cronenworth, who’s underachieved after signing a seven-year, $80 million deal and has reportedly been made available. A swap of bad contracts could make sense, or the team could look to just clear his salary to allow more spending elsewhere.

Still more pitching

Pitching was San Diego’s strength last year — the Padres allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball — but there remains work to do despite the acquisitions of King, Thorpe, Brito and Vasquez. That’s what happens when you lose 60% of your rotation in Snell, Wacha and Lugo, plus a valuable swingman in Martinez. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are still around, and King figures to slot in nicely behind them. That’s only three names, though, and other options like Brito, Vasquez, Matt Waldron and Adrian Morejon all have as many warts as they do back-end potential. The Padres have checked in on all of the top starters on the free-agent and trade fronts, Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes among them. The odds of Preller landing an impact starter would seem slim given the team’s financial situation and their reported disinclination to trade top prospects, suggesting they’re more likely to find a fit further down the market. Who, precisely, that ends up being is to be determined, with names like James Paxton, Shota Imanaga and Hyun-Jin Ryu looming as options.