SAN DIEGO — Already a source of league-wide fascination, the Padres’ trade-deadline calculus might have gained some clarity amid an eventful Sunday afternoon.
A confounding, still-kicking team beat the Rangers 5-3 to complete just its second three-game sweep this season — and its second sweep this month. Blake Snell alternated between walking and overwhelming hitters on his way to another relatively brief but effective start. Fellow trade candidate Josh Hader extricated himself from a bases-loaded jam in a scoreless ninth. Catcher Gary Sánchez supported both pitchers with his first two-homer performance in almost two years. Elsewhere, four teams ahead of San Diego in the National League wild-card fray lost games of their own.
And in the bottom of the third at Petco Park, the Padres temporarily lost one of their most productive players.
The subsequent news came as a relief: Leadoff hitter and second baseman Ha-Seong Kim is day to day after jamming his right shoulder sliding into home plate on a sacrifice fly. Initial tests did not reveal any dislocation or other structural damage, and Kim was hopeful he would return to the lineup soon, though perhaps not as soon as Monday’s series opener at Coors Field against the lowly Rockies.
Sunday’s result versus a first-place club brought additional comfort.
“It was a huge series for us,” Kim said through interpreter Leo Bae. “And obviously, we’re at the moment that every win matters right now.”
It does. Not only for the Padres’ playoff odds — now close to 40 percent, according to FanGraphs — but also for their chances of staying together.
While league sources early Sunday evening said the Padres were still listening on Snell and Hader, there was a growing feeling around the industry that San Diego would hang on to both pending free agents through Tuesday’s trade deadline. President of baseball operations A.J. Preller has maintained high asking prices for either pitcher, and it seemed safe to assume a third consecutive victory over an impressive Rangers team would not significantly lower his target.
But at this time of the year with this particular club, it is safe to assume next to nothing.
“I’m very happy we got a sweep. Hopefully that helps our chances more to be buyers. I believe it does,” said Snell, who walked four and struck out nine over five innings of one-run baseball. “I don’t know. I’m not gonna think about it at all. Whatever happens, happens, but I can focus on my pitching and really just lock into that.”
“Like I always say, that’s out of my control,” Hader said after collecting his 25th save. “I’m not sure what the outlook for (the front office) is, but for me personally, we have a really good team and we’re playing good baseball. So we’ll see what they decide to do in the next couple days. … I love it here, I love this team and, yeah, I’d love to stay.”
Whatever happens, Sunday was the final pre-deadline showcase for arguably the best available starter in the majors and clearly the best available closer.
Snell has logged a 0.73 ERA over his last 13 starts. His overall ERA is down to 2.50, the best among qualifying pitchers. Hader, pitching for a second consecutive day, lowered his ERA to 0.90. He and Baltimore’s Félix Bautista share the major-league lead among qualifying relievers.
Blake Snell’s 3Ks in the 2nd.
5Ks thru 2. pic.twitter.com/heLOdHTAtL
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 30, 2023
Both Padres’ elevated walk rates — 13.6 percent for Snell, 13 percent for Hader — are among the reasons other teams would hesitate to surrender a bounty to acquire them. But attractive alternatives are not exactly plentiful in a dwindling market.
Before Snell took the mound Sunday, the Blue Jays traded a pair of Double-A pitchers to St. Louis for rental reliever Jordan Hicks. And the Rangers, who had already landed 39-year-old Max Scherzer in an abrupt development, agreed to trade three prospects to the Cardinals for rental starter Jordan Montgomery and rental reliever Chris Stratton.
For a St. Louis team buried in last place, these were deemed necessary moves as a storied franchise seeks to cut its losses. For a San Diego club hoping to salvage a historic investment, trading Snell and Hader could bring back a rare amount of potential help for 2024 and beyond.
Without one or both, the Padres also would struggle to keep this season alive. Unsurprisingly, according to league sources, certain conversations with other teams have included San Diego asking for top-50 prospects in the entire sport. In some talks, the Padres have aimed toward the top end of that list.
Less than 48 hours before the trade deadline, it remains unclear if anyone will meet that level of asking price. Also uncertain: whether the Padres are deliberately shooting high because they do not intend to move Snell or Hader.
Sunday, the Padres continued to produce like a team that does not want to suffer subtraction.
“I try not to pay much attention to it. So, I haven’t heard a whole lot,” manager Bob Melvin said about the ongoing distractions of trade season. “Obviously, everybody’s playing here so we do (get to) keep this group together, because we still think we have a good chance.”
The afternoon also demonstrated why, if the Padres do decide to stay the course and make a genuine run at the 2023 postseason, they can’t afford to not add at least a little.
Kim, who ranks 10th in the majors in FanGraphs’ version wins above replacement, right behind Juan Soto, was replaced in the top of the fourth by unheralded rookie utilityman Matthew Batten. The other bench options were Matt Carpenter, Alfonso Rivas and Brett Sullivan, who was recalled Saturday to serve as a third catcher.
While Sánchez starred, the other catcher on the roster made his third start at designated hitter in five days. Luis Campusano finished 0-for-4, striking out three times and grounding into a double play. Although it was an off day for a young hitter who has looked promising, the Padres’ recent deployment of two catchers in each lineup is more evidence of their lack of overall depth.
And despite it all, the Padres won again. They moved to within five games of the National League’s third wild-card spot and 5 1/2 games of the top spot. Whatever happens at Tuesday’s deadline, there is plenty of baseball left.
“I like where we are,” Snell said. “I like where we’re going.”
(Top photo: Denis Poroy / Getty Images)