2024 Padres payroll excuses don’t hold water

2024 San Diego Padres Spring Training
2024 San Diego Padres Spring Training / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages

The San Diego Padres are quietly confident about their chances to contend for a postseason berth in 2024. You may be puzzled by their confidence because of the lack of player movement to improve the roster this past offseason.

The talk all winter was about being fiscally responsible and lowering payroll. The days of big-money, long-term contracts are over until further notice. But that approach does not hold water, especially if they expect to contend. The Padres are sending mixed signals. It is impossible to make roster upgrades while cutting payroll.

How Did San Diego Padres Get Here?

The biggest question is how did the Friars get here? Well, a report from The Athletic (subscription req'd) on the Padres taking out a $50 million loan to meet payroll obligations began the conversation. Sources reiterated in the article that the loan addressed short-term cash flow issues with the franchise. But aren't cash flow issues a result of poor business decisions?

Immediately, this story gained traction and forced Padres CEO Erik Greupner to issue a statement. His objective was to ease everyone's concerns. Greupner stressed the organization had the required financial resources to field a championship-level team in 2024.

The statement projected too much confidence. Maybe Greupner was trying to gain some time for the organization before the next bombshell story came out: mandated payroll reduction.

The Dreaded Bally Sports Television Deal

The Padres cash flow issues are much more than having baseball's third-highest payroll in 2023. Another contributing factor was Bally Sports Regional Network's failure to meet its contractual obligations (20-year/$1.2 billion deal) with the franchise. It forced the Friars to scramble and attempt to recoup lost television revenue ($110 million per year).

The company was never honest about its wealth with the franchise. The Friars did not want to believe the inevitable to be true. They misread the importance of having a lucrative broadcast rights deal with a reliable regional broadcast network provider.

The late Peter Siedler partnered with a dysfunctional group that believed declaring bankruptcy would provide a path to financial success. Bally Sports wanted a bigger slice of the MLB digital streaming service. Major League Baseball objected to giving away money to a broadcast entity with a damaged reputation. Once the Friars' television deal derailed, it put broadcasting their games in jeopardy.

MLB promised to take over the broadcast rights and help the Padres regain at least 80 percent of their television revenue. However, the team’s existing advertisement deals ended once Bally Sports backed out of the agreement. Also, you can add the $20 million renovation project of Gallagher Square that temporarily closed the Petco Park concert series (another moneymaker venture) for the winter. All are factors that put the franchise in a temporary cash flow issue.

The Padres' new digital streaming programming should increase revenue for 2024. It will allow the franchise to tap into the national media market. The upgrade will be a welcome relief from the limited revenue options available as a local market team.

The Friar Faithful’s Frustration

The fan base's frustration stems from Friars interim chairperson Eric Kutsendra not being honest about the franchise’s economic state in 2024. The Padres front office claimed they were open for business, but their one big transaction was moving Juan Soto in a trade that provided financial flexibility to make other minor deals.

It is difficult to see other divisional foes improving their rosters while the Friars remain relatively silent. The Los Angeles Dodgers added Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to an already star-studded lineup. The San Francisco Giants landed Jung Hoo Lee, Blake Snell, Jorge Soler and Matt Chapman, while the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Eduardo Rodríguez to a free-agent deal. The lack of urgency shown by the Padres was disappointing but not surprising,

Yes, the Padres did add a starting pitcher before leaving to start the regular season in Korea. Despite all the issues with payroll reduction, team president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller acquired Dylan Cease from the Chicago White Sox. The addition did not change what the Friars lost this offseason. When push came to shove, the franchise recognized they could not afford another wasted season, as their star players' playoff window is rapidly closing. It's also not lost on San Diegans that Cease' meager $8 million salary pales in comparison to Snell's $30+ million.

The 2023 season was a failure at every level for the Padres. The dream was to deliver San Diego its first World Series title, and that dream disappeared like it never existed. The front office must look in the mirror and commit to winning at all costs this season.

We do not need more talk of being fiscally responsible, especially if the Friars are in the postseason hunt. If you can trade for a player who improves the team's chances of making the playoffs, do not sit on your hands; make the deal. Anything less would dampen the spirits of the Friar Faithful.

Trust your business instincts, as an empty Petco Park is bad for business.