Padres fell short in 2020, but franchise playoff window is propped wide open

If the Padres had been at full strength — meaning, if they had a healthy Dinelson Lamet (2.09 ERA in 2020) and a healthy Mike Clevinger (3.02) starting Games 1 and 2 — they could have given the mighty Dodgers a run for their money in the best-of-five NLDS. 

But injuries suck, and the Padres weren’t fully healthy. 

Lamet wasn’t on the roster and Clevinger lasted just one inning and a couple of pitches in Game 1 before he had to leave. And, let’s be honest here: The Dodgers are the best team in baseball. That doesn’t mean the healthy Padres would have had no chance, because anything can happen in October, but the Dodgers are the better team in 2020.

“We made some significant steps forward,” manager Jayce Tingler said during his Game 3 postgame press conference. “We’re still not where we want to be. We know we’ve got some work to do.”

This was San Diego’s first trip to the postseason since 2006, but the Padres have just cracked open a window that should be propped open for years to come. In mid-August, Baseball America ranked the Padres’ farm system talent No. 2 in all of baseball. MLB.com has five Padres prospects in its top 75, including three of the top 25; LHP Mackenzie Gore, SS C.J. Abrams and RHP Luis Patino.

And then there’s this guy, the superstar and possible 2020 NL MVP who won’t turn 22 until January. He seems motivated. 

Tatis has played, essentially, two partial seasons. His rookie year was cut short by injury issues, primarily by back trouble that sidelined him in August for the rest of the season. So he’s played 143 games in the bigs. His numbers are crazy. 

He has a .301/.374/.582 slash line, to go with 39 homers, 98 RBIs, 27 stolen bases, 111 runs, a 154 OPS+ and a 6.7 bWAR/6.5 fWAR. For Padres fans, another important number: He’s under club control for four more seasons. Tatis is arbitration-eligible for the first time heading into the 2022 season, and he’s eligible to become a free agent after the 2024 season. 

He’s not alone. San Diego is rich with young talent either not yet to arbitration or at least a couple of years away from free agency. Here’s the list of some of the other impact players without long-term contracts who are under club control through at least the 2022 season:

Add that group to the guys under contract — 2020 MVP candidate Manny Machado (through 2028), Wil Myers (through 2022 with a 2023 option), Eric Hosmer (through 2025) and Drew Pomeranz (through 2023) — and that’s an impressive group of people who could be around for a long time. 

There are a few guys are free agents, of course. Kirby Yates, who was the club’s outstanding closer for years before his own personal 2020 debacle — an elbow injury that led to a 12.46 ERA and then season-ending surgery — is a free agent. So is catcher Jason Castro, pitcher Garrett Richards, utility man Jurickson Profar and closer Trevor Rosenthal. And two key pieces are free agents after 2021, too: outfielder Tommy Pham and starter Zack Davies. 

And, of course, general manager A.J. Preller isn’t exactly the type of front-office executive to sit on his hands without improving his already good team. 

So, yeah, the Padres will be back, often. And, better. 

“The experience, I know we’re gonna walk away with an empty feeling because at the end of the day, we didn’t achieve our goal,” Tingler said. “There were a ton of positives, though.”

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