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Finding the Padres of next offseason

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Which team will have a manic, busy offseason next year and completely transform their roster? We have a guess.

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How the movies depict the morning after a night of heavy drinking: An actor suddenly waking up, wondering where he is.

How the mornings after a night of heavy drinking usually go: Weird dreams, elevated heart rate, dry mouth, the desperate need to pee, and a feeling that you need more sleep so you keep your eyes shut, but you're awake for good.

It's the same with the Hot Stove League. You're not at Opening Day, ready to go. You're not in the middle of September, aware of the moves that worked out brilliantly and the ones that failed. It's February. You have weird dreams. Did you really have an opinion on David Robertson? Seems weird. You have a dry mouth because the rumors left you dehydrated. You have a desperate need to pee because, well, it's been a while, this column will still be here when you get back. The offseason chewed you up and spit you out, as it always does.

I have bad news for you. This year's free-agent class kind of stunk. You're reeling after a couple of sweet drinks and a beer. Next year's free-agent class is great. It's all sweet, syrupy drinks with umbrellas in them, and you're going to wake up nauseous. Here's a partial list of the free agents next year:

  • Matt Wieters
  • Mike Napoli
  • Ben Zobrist
  • Ian Desmond
  • Yoenis Cespedes
  • Alex Gordon (player option)
  • Justin Upton
  • Jason Heyward (omitted from original list because I'm a dummy)
  • Dexter Fowler
  • Austin Jackson
  • Jordan Zimmermann
  • Mark Buehrle
  • Doug Fister
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Zack Greinke (opt-out)
  • Mat Latos
  • Cliff Lee (vesting option)
  • David Price
  • Jeff Samardzija
  • Johnny Cueto

At least a couple of those players will sign extensions with their current teams. Some of them will have down years and be partially forgotten. Some of them might be hurt. Still, there are aces. There are power hitters. There's even a shortstop, for once. Kenta Maeda might come over, as might Chihiro Kaneko. And there will also be 73 different Cuban players whom you haven't heard of yet, but your team absolutely must have. It'll be the kind of class that a team could build an entire roster around. No, really.

C - Matt Wieters
1B - Ryan Howard
2B - Chase Utley
SS - Ian Desmond
3B - Ben Zobrist
LF - Alex Gordon
CF - Austin Jackson
RF - Justin Upton

SP - Cole Hamels
SP - Cliff Lee (option picked up)
SP - Zack Greinke
SP - David Price
SP - Johnny Cueto

Cost: About $280 million per season, give or take. But the Phillies owe it to themselves, in my opinion.

Velvet slippies, cashmere socks. Velvet pants, cashmere turtle. Do it, Phillies.

Alas, the Phillies probably won't have the payroll space to do it. Or the inclination. Also, it's a stupid idea that would backfire in about one season, if not sooner. Still, there will be a team that spends a surprising amount of money next offseason. With very little offseason left before Opening Day, it's time to look ahead and guess at the Padres of next year.

Requirements

The Padres were able to do what they did because they didn't have onerous payroll commitments. Even after the wheeling and dealing, even after absorbing Justin Upton's big salary and paying for James Shields, the Padres are still likely to be a bottom-tier team when it comes to payroll, with a chance to be one of the 10 or so teams under $100 million. The Padres of next season are probably set up in a similar fashion.

Think about the Mariners before the 2014 season, too. They clearly had money to spend, and they walked away with the best player on the market. For a lot of money. For a long time. That's OK though, considering they didn't have a lot of other messy payroll commitments.

The Yankees that offseason also went bananas, spending the money because they were desperate and old and desperate. They'll keep active, but I think their days of plunking a half-billion in payroll commitments down in one offseason will have to wait until Alex Rodriguez retires, or some of the other players drop off the ledger. We'll stick with the assumption that a clean-ish payroll is the best way to add two or three (or four!) of those players up there.

Another requirement is that the team comes from a big market and/or has shown an ability to spend in the past. A real ability to spend, not a wishy-washy one like the Marlins, although they make it because of the market size. The Reds could sure use a lot of free agent help next year, but they've never been bullies on the open market. Same goes for the Pirates, Royals and Indians, who aren't going to sign David Price even if they would really, really like to.

The Contenders

The Orioles will have guaranteed commitments to Adam Jones, Ubaldo Jimenez, and J.J. Hardy, but no one else.

The Cubs have $82 million in guaranteed contracts already for 2016, but some breakout prospect seasons could embolden them to make risky win-now deals.

We joked about the Phillies up there, but they'll have money, especially if they deal Jonathan Papelbon or Cole Hamels without eating a lot of money.

The Angels will ... nope, they'll pay five players about $113 million next year. This is a monthly reminder that Albert Pujols will make $30 million in 2021.

There are two great contenders to be the Padres of next offseason, though. The first is the Marlins, again, because dammit Marlins. The gigantic Giancarlo Stanton contract is heavily backloaded, again, because dammit Marlins, which means that there's only $37.5 million in guaranteed salary on the roster next year. They'll have a mix of pre-arbitration players and early-arb guys, and they still play in one of the largest single-team markets in the country.

The trick is convincing free agents that, no really, this time the owner is committed to acting like he owns a big-market team, and even though they don't give out no-trade clauses because of team policy, this time it's different, pinky swear. Yet the weather, nightlife, and lack of state income tax might be enough to convince more than a few players, especially if the Marlins are relevant this year. Go figure.

They're not my pick, though.

The Padres of Next Offseason

Here are the Astros players with guaranteed money next offseason:

  • Scott Feldman ($8 million)
  • Jed Lowrie ($7.5 million)
  • Pat Neshek ($6.5 million)
  • Luke Gregerson ($6.25 million)
  • Jose Altuve ($3.5 million)
  • Jon Singleton ($2 million)
  • Chad Qualls ($250,000 buyout or $3.5 million option)

Valuable players like Evan Gattis and Dallas Keuchel will be in their first year of arbitration. A chunk of their young core will be pre-arbitration. Carlos Correa should be ready or close to it, and they'll have a much clearer idea of which current players will help the next contending Astros team. They play in a large market, and while the new ownership hasn't shown that they'll spend yet, it's looking like the plan all along was to raze the condemned building they bought and build something much more functional on the valuable land.

Next year, I'm telling you. The Year of the Astros. Or, at least, the Offseason of the Astros. We'll be sitting around, in February, gawking at all of the players they acquired, and marveling at a roster that looks markedly different from the one with whom they finished the season. Everyone write this down: it's gonna be ...

Aw, hell, it's probably going to be the Dodgers. We all know this. But of the teams that would actually surprise you, give me the prop bet on the Astros picking up two of those fancy free agents. It's a long shot, but someone's going to do it. They make the most sense.