2023 Opponent: San Diego Padres, the Bizarro Reds

The best way for small market teams to keep up with big market teams is to try.

That’s the philosophy the San Diego Padres have adopted under owner Peter Seidler. His Padres are conducting a fascinating experiment, taking a sledgehammer to Phil Castellini’s white-flag slideshow. Don’t tell them they’re out of contention on Opening Day.

Not that long ago, the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds were similar franchises. Both were faced with small economic markets and had signed modest local media deals with Fox, now Bally Sports. In 2019, the clubs had comparable payrolls — the Reds ($132 million) slightly outspending the Padres ($118 million). Back then, the Padres and Reds sold about the same number of season tickets. 2019 revenues for the Reds were $257 million compared to $277 million for San Diego. The Padres lost 92 games, their fourth season in a row with 90+ losses. The Reds under first-year manager David Bell lost 87 games, the first time in five seasons they had lost fewer than 94.

Then Seidler purchased controlling interest in the Padres and became the franchise chairman. His philosophy: Spend money to produce a winner. Winning will generate revenues to cover the cost. The Padres payroll has exploded and is estimated to be around $250 million in 2023. That ranks third behind the two New York franchises and ahead of the LA Dodgers.

By the choice of their primary owner Bob Castellini, the Reds operate under worst-case, risk-averse budgeting. Castellini has slashed payroll the last three seasons. The Reds are spending $82 million this year, with only a few teams doing less.

San Diego has taken a big swing. The Reds have done whatever the opposite of that is.

Early returns on the Padres strategy are promising. Last season, San Diego won 89 games and beat the New York Mets and Dodgers in the postseason. They lost to the Phillies in the NLCS, three games shy of making the World Series. The Reds lost 100 games.

“We have a sports-oriented and hungry fan base,” Seidler said in a recent interview. “We believe if we continue to build that trust, they will continue to come. And it’s about winning, and it’s about being exciting, and it’s about our fans young and old knowing that they’re going to be able to watch great, exciting players year after year after year.”

Reds ownership asks: “Where are you gonna go?” We know the answer to that in San Diego.

After another Padres offseason spending spree (see below), fan excitement for the team is so high, the organization had to cut off season ticket sales for the first time. Most games at Petco Park are expected to sell out at 42,000 people. About 50,000 people overran the Padres recent FanFest. In 2023, the Padres have averaged more than 38,000 fans at their first 14 home games, fourth best in the majors.

Meanwhile, after suffering their worst attendance since 1984 — 22% below 2019 — the Reds took a cleaver to payroll again and early attendance numbers for 2023 look even worse. In the eleven games at GABP after Opening Day, the Reds have drawn fewer than 15,000 per game, 27th in the league.

So, how are the Padres doing on the field in 2023?

Mediocre pitching, injuries and an early-season suspension for superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. produced a slow start that they seem to be shaking off. As the Padres head into May, their record is 15-14, coming off a sweep of the San Francisco Giants in two games played in Mexico City. Tatis is back and slugged two homers in his first eight games. He’d be tied for the club lead if he were on the Reds. Tonight’s game will be Tatis’ first this season at Petco Park.

This series: two night games then an afternoon get-away.

  • Monday (9:40 pm)
  • Tuesday (9:40 pm)
  • Wednesday (4:10 pm)

The Padres swept all six games from the Reds in 2022, and won six of seven in 2021.


As mentioned above, the Padres had an extremely busy offseason. They signed

  • Xander Bogaerts (SS) 11 years, $280 million
  • Manny Machado (3B) 11 years, $350 million extension
  • Yu Darvish (RHP) 6 years, $108 million
  • Jake Cronenworth (IF) 7 years, $80 million extension
  • Robert Suarez (RH RP) 5 years, $46 million
  • Nick Martinez (RH RP) 3 years, $26 million
  • Michael Wacha (RH SP) 4 years, $26 million
  • Matt Carpenter (DH) 2 year, $12 million
  • Seth Lugo (RHP) 2 year, $15 million

That came on the heels of their spendy 2022, when the Padres reached a 14-year, $338 million deal with Tatis Jr. and traded for Juan Soto, who is making $23 million in his second year of arbitration. The Padres have more than $160 million committed for 2024. The Reds are on the hook for Hunter Greene’s $3 million.

Position Players

The Padres position player roster is loaded with exciting, proven players: Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis, Jr. Throw in Ha-Seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth who each put up 4-WAR seasons last year and Gold Glove centerfielder in Trent Grisham and you have one of the top lineups in baseball. Here are the 13 Padres position players with their 2023 stats through Saturday.

Outfielders David Dahl and Adam Engel are on the injured list.

Here is the Padres probable batting order against a RH starter:

  1. Jake Cronenworth (L) 1B
  2. Fernando Tatis Jr. (R) RF
  3. Juan Soto (L) LF
  4. Xander Bogaerts (R) SS
  5. Manny Machado (R) 3B
  6. Matt Carpenter (L) DH
  7. Trent Grisham (L) CF
  8. Ha-Seong Kim (R) 2B
  9. Brett Sullivan (L) C

Nelson Cruz platoons with Matt Carpenter at DH.


Here is our chart for the San Diego pitchers.

Starting Rotation

The Padres pitching staff doesn’t share the glamour factor with the team’s position player roster. Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell return from last year. San Diego has to replace the 63 starts they got from Sean Manaea, Mike Clevinger and MacKenzie Gore. Manaea and Clevinger left as free agents. Gore was part of the Juan Soto trade. To fill those innings, the Padres signed Michael Wacha, who pitched for the Red Sox last year and Seth Lugo, who had been a reliever for the Mets.

Here are the probable starters:

  • Monday Luke Weaver vs. Blake Snell (L)
  • Tuesday Graham Ashcraft vs. Michael Wacha
  • Wednesday Luis Cessa vs. Seth Lugo

The Reds will miss Darvish, who pitched yesterday, and Musgrove who went the day before.


The Padres bullpen is led by old Brewers friend Josh Hader, who Milwaukee traded to avoid paying the $14.1 million he’s earning this year. After struggling a bit right after the deadline trade, Hader rebounded with a strong postseason recording four saves. He gave up one hit and one walk in 5.1 innings over five appearances that included 10 strikeouts. So far in 2023, Hader has regained his dominant form.

Second-year pitcher Robert Suarez has been shut down for a few weeks after experiencing elbow soreness and is on the 60-day IL.


As a fan of a small-ambition team, it’s hard not to cheer for the Padres when they aren’t playing the Reds. At least for the idea of the Padres. The success of their model.

San Diego has dominated the Reds the past two seasons. In 2023, they have exciting position players and a so-so pitching staff. With Tatis Jr. back, they are poised for a well funded take off. Given the recent good play from the Reds, it should be a fascinating series.

Image: Padres Facebook

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

1 Response

  1. Rus says:

    Interesting article. You compare the two clubs payroll and revenues for 2019, and make them appear similar (though it;’s hard to pretend the San Diego market is as small as Cincinnati’s) – but you left me hanging on the most critical analysis:

    How have the Padres been doing “off” the field? Is the plan working to cost wash/justify the spend with increased attendance, concessions, and ticket prices? Or are they bleeding cash? No one’s enjoying Castellini’s financial approach, but it’d be great if San Diego’s approach has also worked for them financially.