January 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Padres acquire Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Ha-Seong Kim

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts already thought highly of the San Diego Padres.

During a video call with reporters two weeks ago, he placed star shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. among “the top few of best players in all of baseball” and praised third baseman Manny Machado’s “MVP-type” 2020 season. He highlighted the Padres’ bullpen and commended the construction of their young roster. He lauded their rotation, too, saying “the pitching is certainly on the [way up] — starting pitching.”

The message: The Padres didn’t have many holes to begin with. They were the biggest current threat to the defending-champion Dodgers in the NL West, if not all of baseball. They were entering 2021 as a team on the rise, no matter what.

Then, in the span of two days, the Padres made the offseason’s biggest splash anyway. On Sunday night, they acquired former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays. On Monday, they reached an agreement with Korean star infielder Ha-Seong Kim. And Monday night, they reportedly agreed to a trade with the Chicago Cubs to acquire 2020 Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini.

In the flurry, the Padres sent veteran starter Zach Davies and four prospects to the Cubs and four other prospects to the Rays. Yet, they lost only two of their highly touted farm system’s top-10 rated prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, and added two decorated veterans to a rotation that includes budding stars in Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack and will welcome Mike Clevinger back from injury in 2022.

Chicago Cubs and former Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish will join the San Diego Padres along with several other acquisitions.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

If the Padres weren’t waging an arms race with the Dodgers already — they signed Machado to a $300-million contract in 2019, traded for Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth last offseason, and acquired 10 new players at the trade deadline en route to a 37-23 record that trailed only the Dodgers in the NL — they certainly seem to be now.

If 2020 was the opening act of a renewed Southern California rivalry between the two clubs — tempers flared repeatedly in their regular season and NLDS meetings — the best could be yet to come.

“We know we’ve made significant steps in 2020 and there were a lot of positives to take away,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said earlier this month in a video call with reporters. “But we know we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to improve in areas.”

Improve, they have.

Dodgers fans will remember Snell well after the 28-year-old left-hander anchored the Rays’ rotation in this year’s World Series. Winner of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award, Snell bounced back from an injury plagued 2019 campaign by going 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 2020. His only real disappointments came in his two Fall Classic outings.

In Game 2 against the Dodgers, Snell had a no-hitter through four but was pulled after surrendering two runs in the fifth. In the decisive sixth game, he was working on a shutout when he was infamously replaced in the sixth inning after just 73 pitches.

As Snell walked back to the dugout frustrated and confused, the Dodgers took a collective sigh of relief. Over the final 3⅔ innings, they turned a one-run deficit into a title-clinching 3-1 win.

“We were all just excited that Snell was out of the game,” Roberts said that night.

Now Snell presumably will face the Dodgers often, especially with Clevinger set to miss the 2021 season because of Tommy John surgery.

Darvish will help share the workload, returning to the NL West three years after the Dodgers acquired him at the 2017 trade deadline.

Though Darvish faltered in that year’s World Series defeat to the Houston Astros, the 34-year-old right-hander slowly regained his form over the last three seasons in Chicago. This year, he was the NL Cy Young runner-up and received MVP votes after leading the majors with eight wins and recording a career-low 2.01 ERA.

The Padres also rounded out their lineup by adding Kim, who hit .306 with 30 home runs in the Korean league last season, and Caratini, a four-year veteran who will replenish the Padres’ catching depth after they sent young backstop Francisco Mejía to the Rays in the Snell deal.

But it is the additions of Snell and Darvish — each of whom are signed through the 2023 season — that will rightfully dominate headlines, exceeding even the most ambitious expectations for the Padres’ offseason plans.

It might not yet be enough for them to be considered preseason favorites over the Dodgers, who will return the core of their World Series-winning roster and still have several months to make additions of their own.

But it’s clear the Padres are hoping this is the week they leveled the scales in a NL West the Dodgers have won eight years running. It looks like their boldest attempt yet to shake up the division’s once-tilted balance of power.

“Very talented team. A lot of energy,” Roberts said of the Padres, even before this week’s moves. “We’re going to have some good series and games here in the future.”