Will flurry of trades be enough for Padres to beat Dodgers to a World Series title?

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger warms up in the bullpen before a simulated baseball game, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger warms up in the bullpen before a simulated baseball game, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
<figcaption class="C($c-fuji-grey-h) Fz(13px) Py(5px) Lh(1.5)" title="The San Diego Padres acquired starting pitcher Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians on Monday as part of a flurry of moves before the trade deadline.  (David Dermer / Associated Press)” data-reactid=”18″>

The San Diego Padres acquired starting pitcher Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians on Monday as part of a flurry of moves before the trade deadline.  (David Dermer / Associated Press)

On a lovely spring morning five years ago, Dave Roberts was excited. Roberts was a coach for the San Diego Padres then, and his hometown team had spent the winter loading up on talent. The Padres had imported Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel.

“We’re the talk of the town,” Roberts said then.

Kemp lauded general manager A.J. Preller as a “rock star.” The nickname stuck, but the optimism did not. As it turned out, a few stars could not cover up all the blemishes on an 85-loss team.

Preller blew up that team and fired its manager. The Padres went into tank mode, and the Dodgers hired Roberts as their manager. Since then, the Padres have given the Dodgers nothing to worry about — until Monday, that is, when Preller transformed the Padres into the most formidable hurdle between the Dodgers and the World Series.

For the first time in five years, the Padres are the talk of the town. For the first time in 14 years, they could make the playoffs.

Their timing is exquisite. For one, the National League appears terrible. On Monday, four of the 15 teams had winning records: the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and the Padres.

In this pandemic year, eight teams in each league make the playoffs, with each team playing a best-of-three series in the first round.

In a normal year, if the Dodgers won the division, they would advance to the division series, and the Padres would aim for a one-game wild-card playoff. In that scenario, perhaps the Padres do not embark on such a shopping spree.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Padres’ acquisition of star pitcher Mike Clevinger on Monday capped a 48-hour whirlwind in which Preller made five trades, with nine players inbound and 15 players outbound. The new Padres included a designated hitter, two catchers and three relievers.” data-reactid=”35″>The Padres’ acquisition of star pitcher Mike Clevinger on Monday capped a 48-hour whirlwind in which Preller made five trades, with nine players inbound and 15 players outbound. The new Padres included a designated hitter, two catchers and three relievers.

“They’re trying to win,” Clevinger said on a videoconference. “In anybody’s eyes, that’s a very promising thing, not just for the Padres but for the game of baseball itself. That’s something I think the game needs: more teams out there pushing to win.”

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. In 2012, the Dodgers made five trades for nine players within a month. They played barely above .500 the rest of the way — in part, they said, because the clubhouse chemistry took time to develop. That could be an issue in San Diego, particularly in introducing two new catchers to the pitching staff.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But talent plays above all, and the Padres have it, most notably in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., arguably the best player in the NL so far this year, and third baseman Manny Machado. The Padres lead the league in runs and OPS; they trail only the Dodgers in home runs and run differential.” data-reactid=”38″>But talent plays above all, and the Padres have it, most notably in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., arguably the best player in the NL so far this year, and third baseman Manny Machado. The Padres lead the league in runs and OPS; they trail only the Dodgers in home runs and run differential.

“I think, before the trades, it was a World Series-caliber roster. … This is a team [that is going] to make a serious, serious run,” Clevinger said.

“I don’t think there are going to be many teams that can get in the way of what we’ve got right now.”

This isn’t 2015, when Preller was trying to make a bad team into a good one. In 2020, he is trying to make a good team into a great one.

And he has done it by going against conventional wisdom, which values home-grown players above all. If Clevinger starts Game 1 of the playoffs, the Padres could feature a lineup in which none of the 10 players would be home grown: Machado and first baseman Eric Hosmer were signed as free agents, the rest acquired in trade.

That would seem to indicate Preller had blown up his farm system to go all in on 2020, but no. The Padres poured money into Latin American amateurs in the last year before Major League Baseball capped international spending, developing a prospect base so deep that Preller could complete his trade blitz while still retaining his top three prospects, most notably pitcher Mackenzie Gore.

The Padres still have eight of their top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, and six of the top 100 in the major leagues.

“Knowing that this organization has a chance to win — not just this year, but for the next five, six, seven years — you’ve got to be excited for it,” Clevinger said.

If the Padres blossom in October, they could beat L.A. and still have something left to play for.

“We’re aiming for the big cake,” Tatis told reporters on the eve of the Padres’ 2020 opener. “Why not? Let’s go win a World Series.”

“Knowing that this organization has a chance to win — not just this year, but for the next five, six, seven years — you’ve got to be excited for it.”

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