Padres set to be MLB’s greatest show amid unprecedented turnaround

PEORIA, Ariz. — The Padres are the greatest show going, and if anyone is as excited as the fans, who reserved 150,000 spots for the team’s one-day Fanfest and are expected to sell out the season, it is the players, who also can hardly believe their good fortune.

Padres games now guarantee thrills, thanks to a possibly unprecedented collection of positional superstars.

Juan Soto may be the game’s best hitter, Manny Machado the best fielder and Fernando Tatis Jr. the best all-around talent, assuming his shocking PED brush was borne out of immaturity, and not necessity.

“Walking into this clubhouse, it feels like walking into an All-Star Game,” said Matt Carpenter, who signed with the Padres for his best chance at a championship.

Indeed, that locker room is something to behold, with a combination of superstars, plus a few former stars and resurrected stars who are also boldfaced names lining the east wall here. In this relatively spartan spring facility resides one shockingly shiny team quite obviously ready for prime time.

Their stacked lineup started raking the minute they began playing in Peoria. The combination of thin air and outsized talent is almost unfair for opposing pitchers. Not that these Padres need help.

Juan Soto
Juan Soto is primed for a monster season.

Soto in particular appears primed for a monster season, according to teammates (and the stat sheet). He spent a half year adjusting to his new locale but seems ready to show why he could become the game’s first $500 million player (if the mid-market, previously penurious Padres can continue to overcome former reality and lock up their youngest superstar; they are expected to try soon). Soto has batted 11 times in spring, gathering eight hits, four of the extra-base variety.

“He’s been locked in since Day One,” said Nelson Cruz, who like Carpenter came to win a championship, which would not only be the first championship in the history of the Padres but the first major sports title in the history of otherwise America’s finest city.

A brilliant foursome highlights baseball’s most daunting lineup. Likely leadoff man Xander Bogaerts appears ready to start things for an offense that may never stop.

Folks around here envision the quartet of stars as honest-to-goodness NL MVP candidates, although Tatis being banned until the game of April 20th will put him at a bit of a handicap in the competition among the first four hitters in their eventual lineup.

But don’t count him out. Tatis stole a base after his first plate appearance in more than a year. He said he feels great, and he does look great. They expect big things, and the reality is, he better deliver, with almost all his $340 million left to go on his deal.

“With Tatis you’re liable to see something you’ve never seen before,” Carpenter said. “You could make a case all four of these guys could win MVP.”

Manny Machado makes a throw during the Padres' spring training game against the Rangers on March 1.
Manny Machado makes a throw during the Padres’ spring training game against the Rangers on March 1.

Fernando Tatis Jr.
Fernando Tatis Jr. was suspended for using PEDs.

Here, in the most unlikely gathering place for superstars and future Hall of Famers, optimism reigns. The Padres have undergone a turnaround like none before. 

They are the West Coast version of the Mets for their spending but a much more shocking variety following a history of just scraping by. No one could have foreseen this would become a gathering place for superstars.

The team that upset the Mets in the Division Series last year will be even better. Bogaerts was added for $280M, and Tatis will be back, in effect doubling their everyday superstar index.

“It’s a great feeling,” Soto said. “The whole team is excited to see what we can do. We played a couple spring training games, and you see how much damage we can do when we are almost together. It’s amazing.”

What’s most amazing is that payroll zooming right to the cusp of the third-tier tax threshold of $271M. It’s third highest in the game, ahead of the Dodgers, the big rival 90 miles to the north, and behind only the Mets and Yankees. No one could have ever imagined this.

But that was before Peter Seidler, a private equity whiz and member of the O’Malley family of the rival Dodgers, took over as the team’s managing partner. With four of the 15 biggest contracts having now been signed by the Padres under his relatively new watch, and them about to embark on talks with Soto, it’s no surprise he’s seen as a God-like figure around these parts.

Xander Bogaerts
Xander Bogaerts signed with the Padres this offseason.

“We’re not a big-market team. But we’re using our resources to compete with the best of the best,” closer Josh Hader said. “We play this game to win a World Series. And to have an owner and a front office that want the same outcome, it kind of gives you an extra edge.”

No one’s quite sure how Seidler is doing it considering geographic limitations and a weak local TV deal. Anyway, winning is the whole game here, which differentiates them from everyone else but the Mets.

Former World Series MVP Cole Hamels, who grew up rooting for the Padres and is here as another late signee in a parade of them, said, “This city is starved for a championship, and they’re going to make it happen.”