The San Diego Padres smartly started the offseason by re-signing Nick Martinez and Robert Suarez. The moves quell concerns about Bob Melvin’s starting rotation and bullpen, as Martinez is capable of performing both roles at a high level, and Suarez could take over the closer role if Josh Hader leaves after 2023.
While the pitching staff could use more reinforcements and left field is currently vacant after Jurickson Profar declined his player option for 2023, the Padres’ biggest remaining hole is first base and designated hitter. Knowing how AJ Preller operates, he’ll likely knock out two birds with one stone in that regard.
But whom exactly should top San Diego’s shopping list? Anthony Rizzo felt like a perfect target, and was even linked to the Friars before the offseason started, but he has since re-signed with the Yankees for $34 million over two years.
With Rizzo off the market, let’s take a look at three first basemen/DHs the Padres should prioritize in free agency.
3 first basemen Padres should prioritize in free agency
3. Josh Bell
The Padres likely acquired Bell at the deadline with the intention of re-signing him to a multiyear contract in the offseason. Maybe he was just included in the Juan Soto mega-deal to help Washington shed salary, but Bell’s first half was indicative of a player any team would love to have in the middle of its lineup.
In 437 plate appearances with the Nationals, Bell hit .301/.384/.493 with 14 home runs, a 143 wRC+ and an .877 OPS. For whatever reason, Bell never got off the ground with the Padres, slumping to a .192/.316/.271 line in 53 games before breaking out in the NLCS against the Phillies with a .353 average and three RBI.
The question Preller has to ask himself is if he’s willing to trade Bell’s extended down periods for his scalding hot stretches.
At the end of the day, Bell is a switch-hitter who draws walks in over 10% of his plate appearances — which fits San Diego’s hitting philosophy — has three seasons with at least 25 home runs, and owns a strong hard-contact percentage and low strikeout rate compared to the league average.
We wouldn’t make Bell a top priority, but he’d be a solid consolation prize if the Padres whiff on these next two names. While Bell struggled post-trade, he can’t be any worse than he was in the second half, and he came alive in October.