Comparing the 2019 Padres to the 2007 Cubs

The San Diego Padres finished the 2018 season with a 66-96 record. The 2006 Chicago Cubs finished exactly the same, at 66-96. Besides identical records, what exactly do these two teams have in common? The Padres just went out and signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract. After the 2006 season, the Chicago Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million contract, the largest in team history. According to Sarah Langs on Twitter, no team has made a bigger deal after such a bad season:

The following season, the Cubs went out and won the NL Central with an 85-77 record. I am going to compare the 2018-2019 Padres with the 2006-2007 Cubs to see if we can expect similar results from the Padres after the Machado signing.

The Chicago Cubs finished the 2006 season in last place in the NL Central, their first last-place finish since 2000. They didn’t necessarily have a bad team, they just weren’t performing. Derrek Lee was limited to 50 games due to injury, and they lost Mark Prior due to a career-ending shoulder injury. The team had a total offensive bWAR of 13.7, which ranked 26th in the MLB. The Cubs had the lowest walk rate among batters at 6.4%, the second lowest OBP in baseball at .319, and the worst WRC+, at 84. However, there were still some positives to this Cubs team. They had a solid young pitching core of Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, Rich Hill, and Carlos Marmol, and their pitching posted the highest K/9 in baseball. Not to mention they also had a prime Aramis Ramirez. Still, they finished in last place, had the third worst record in baseball, and needed to make adjustments.

In the following offseason, the Cubs bolstered their rotation after the departure of Greg Maddux and Prior by signing Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis. They also made a nice signing in utility man Mark DeRosa. But the move that made the biggest difference was the largest move in team history at the time: on November 20th, 2006, the Chicago Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million contract, averaging $17 million per year. Soriano had a 6.1 bWAR in 2006 with the Nationals, good for 6th in the MLB.

In the 2007 season, the Cubs finished 85-77, winning the NL Central. By the end of that season, they had improved in every offensive category. They increased their walk rate for 6.4 to 8.0%. They increased their team OBP from .319 to .333. They increased their WRC+ from 84 to 90. These are small adjustments, but they were a good sign of things to come. Perhaps the biggest adjustment was the increase in their team bWAR from 13.7 to 21.1, a jump of almost 10 bWAR. That season, Soriano hit .299/.337/.560 with 33 home runs. He was worth 4.3 bWAR, which was second highest on the team behind Ramirez (5.3). Lilly was worth 4.1 bWAR, the 3rd highest overall on the team, and DeRosa posted a 2.2 bWAR. The total bWAR among the four most notable players the Cubs signed in the 2006 offseason (Soriano, Lilly, DeRosa, Marquis) was 11.4. When all was said and done, the Cubs finished 19 games better in 2007 than they did in 2006.

The 2018 San Diego Padres finished with a 66-96 record. They had the second highest K% rate in baseball, striking out 26.3% of the time. They had the worst OBP in the league, finishing at .297 OBP. They had the exact same WRC+ as the 2006 Cubs, 84. The Padres offense finished the season with an abysmal 7.8 bWAR. There were not many bright spots on this season. The team signed Eric Hosmer to an 8-year, $144 million deal after the 2017 offseason, but he severely underperformed in his first year in San Diego (.253/.322/.398).

In the 2019 offseason, the San Diego Padres were very quiet for the most part. The first move they made was signing Garrett Richards to a 2-year contract, even though he is expected to miss the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. If Richards can come back strong in 2020, he might turn out to be a very good pickup; otherwise, it could be questionable. The only other move the Padres made up until February 19th was signing aging veteran Ian Kinsler to a 2-year deal. Kinsler, now 36, has suffered a decline on offense but did win a Gold Glove in 2018. Luis Urias should get the second base start anyway, and Kinsler will be nothing more than a depth piece and mentor on this young Padres team.

The quiet offseason showed that the Padres were fully expected to put complete faith in their rebuild and let their young stars develop with the current roster. That was, until February 19th. The San Diego Padres signed star SS/3B Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract. Can the Padres compete in 2019, similar to how the Cubs competed in 2007 after their big signing?

Machado had a 6.2 WAR in 2018, roughly the same as Soriano’s 6.1 in 2006. The 26-year-old is projected to have a 5.0 WAR in 2019, 0.7 higher than Soriano’s first season with the Cubs. Machado is certainly capable of surpassing that career-high 6.2 WAR, but will his impact be enough to make the Padres a competitor in 2019?

The biggest difference between the signings of Machado and Soriano is their relative age at the time of the deal. At the time of the Soriano contract, he was turning 31. At this age, the average baseball player would be considered past his prime and on the decline. Coming off Soriano’s incredible age-30 season, however, the Cubs were willing to take that risk. Obviously, one of the biggest problems in today’s game is that teams seem to be too afraid to take risks on low-30s All-Stars when they hit free agency. The Cubs took the risk anyway and it definitely paid off in the first year. In the second year, his production was nearly cut in half, posting only a 2.0 bWAR. By the third year, the downfall had begun. Soriano had a -1.6 bWAR.

For the rest of his contract from 2009-2014 (including a season and a half with the Yankees), Soriano averaged just 0.8 WAR per season. The average $/WAR value over those six seasons was roughly $6.7 million, whereas Soriano made about $18.2 million per year in that span. Soriano was making roughly three times his value in the final six years of his contract. For comparison, in the first two years, Soriano averaged 6.3 WAR and the average $/WAR value was $5.45 million.

Machado, on the other hand, is just 26 years old, and is believed to be entering the prime of his career. If he puts up that 5.0 projected WAR, then he would be worth about $50 million per year ­­­–– he is currently making $30 million. If he posts 2.6 WAR (his PECOTA projection), he would be worth about $26 million per year. According to, Machado is projected to have a total WAR of 22.5 over the next 7 years, averaging about 3.2 per year and making him worth about $32 million per year. Soriano was able to turn the Cubs into a competitor in his first year with the Cubs; are the Padres set up for Machado to do the same?

The biggest problem with Padres in comparison to the ’07 Cubs is they do not have an Aramis Ramirez. Their highest bWAR players in 2018 were Wil Myers and Hunter Renfroe, who tied at 2.4 –– compared to Ramirez’s 3.5 from 2006 ­­–– and will be fighting to play every day in a crowded Padres outfield. Myers and Renfroe are about the same age as Ramirez was in 2006, so if one of them wants to replicate Ramirez’s 2007 season, now would be the perfect time. Hosmer can also be that guy ­­–– he is certainly getting paid to be that guy. From 2015-2017 Hosmer was worth roughly 9 bWAR, an average of 3 bWAR per season. His best season came in 2017, where he posted 4.1 bWAR. Hosmer is also entering his age 29 season, the same age as Ramirez was in 2007. If at least one of Hosmer, Myers, or Renfroe can improve from their 2018 season, it would provide some nice support for Machado and take a lot of the pressure off of him being a one-man show.

The other problem here is that Padres have weaker pitching than the Cubs. They have a projected rotation of Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, Robbie Erlin, Jacob Nix, and Matt Strahm. The only one projected to post an ERA below 4.00 is Lucchesi, projected for a 3.63 ERA, which doesn’t make him an ace. However, their current payroll is only around $110 million and Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are both still available, along with All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and reliever Tony Sipp. Keuchel and Gonzalez, combined, are worth a projected 5.2 WAR in 2019. Keuchel is projected 3.3 WAR, higher than the Padres’ entire current rotation, which is projected for 3.2. The Padres could sign both and would still just barely make the top ten for payroll. Take a look at the Cubs’ signing of Lilly and Marquis in 2006. They already had a strong young rotation, but they went out and signed a Dallas Keuchel and a Gio Gonzalez, and Lilly ended up winning 15 games and leading all Cubs pitchers in WAR.

The 2019 Padres have a better farm system and more young talent than the Cubs did in 2007. Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manuel Margot, and Franmil Reyes represent young, MLB-ready talent at five different positions, and all five should see plenty of playing time in 2019. At two others, they have Hosmer and now Machado. While the Padres might not exactly have an Aramis Ramirez, they have one of the best MLB-ready farm systems in baseball. Led by superstar prospect Tatis Jr., the Padres will certainly be a force to reckon with in the MLB for years to come. There is no doubt that in at least three years the Padres will be a competitive team, but can they contend in 2019?

After the Machado signing, Baseball Prospectus updated their PECOTA projections and now have the Padres finishing at 78-84. This is only a 3-game improvement from the pre-Machado signing and clearly not enough to get into the postseason. The biggest improvement comes from Padres’ projected 17.6 batting WAR, up nearly 10 full points from their 2018 total. PECOTA only has Machado projected for 2.6 WAR, compared to the 5.0 projection from Fangraphs. Machado has posted WAR totals this low before, most notably in 2017 for the Orioles, but this was on an Orioles team that finished in last place. If the support is there from the other Padres players, Machado will perform well. If the group of Myers, Renfroe and Hosmer can be productive, it will definitely boost Machado’s production and take a lot of the pressure off of him. If not, then it’s not that big of a deal; though some might call the signing a failure, the Padres will be competitive with or without Machado thanks to their amazing farm system. The best part about baseball is that it is not like basketball, where all you need is one superstar to make the championship; in baseball, it takes a complete team. For the Padres, Machado cannot create a championship from scratch, but he can certainly push a young, talented team over the edge sometime in the near future.

The Padres can certainly compete in 2019, but there are a lot of “what ifs.” Many players need to make big improvements, whether it be young talent blossoming or Myers and Renfroe making big strides. If all goes right with Machado, they can certainly be right there, competing for a Wild Card spot. Even if they don’t get there this year they definitely will not finish with 96 losses again, and with the Dodgers’ inevitable decline and no real resurgence from any other team in the NL West, several division titles should be in store during Machado’s tenure in San Diego.

Can Machado do to the Padres what Soriano did to the Cubs? Only time will tell, but it is nice to finally have him on a team, and it’s definitely going to be an interesting season for Machado and the Padres.

Images from Ian D’Andrea and Ben Grey from Flickr

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