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Commentary: Relentless Padres are tapping Dodgers and the rest of baseball on the shoulder

Rays pitcher Blake Snell throwing against Yankees at Petco Park
Rays pitcher Blake Snell delivers against the Yankees during the first inning of Game 1 of an American League Division Series on Oct. 5 at Petco Park.
(Associated Press)

Wad it up. Douse it in kerosene. Strike a match. The long, nagging and deserved narrative about the Padres failing to step up to the financial plate has dogged the franchise since Ray Kroc salted America’s french fries.

What once tormented like an annual migraine feels like ancient history. Watch. It. Burn.

The Padres are swinging for baseball’s fence and obliterating their sleepy reputation in one of MLB’s far-flung outposts, again. A five-player trade for Rays pitching star Blake Snell seems simply in wont of a doctor’s salute and ink.

Add in National League Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish of the Cubs in a seven-player swap and the relentlessness of it all truly staggers.

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Attack the international market? Check. Rebuild the farm system? Check. Incinerate the script with $300 million for Manny Machado? Check. Treat the most recent trade deadline like a piñata? Check.

When fans buried heads in hands at the loss of pitcher Mike Clevinger as the Dodgers loomed, it would have been enough to torch expectations for the Padres of old. Now? Go get Darvish, who has a 2.40 ERA since July 2019. Go get Snell, a 2018 Cy Young winner who tied the bullies in blue in knots this postseason.

The San Diego Padres might have been hurt more than any other MLB team by the pandemic but worked out deals to acquire Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.

As other clubs tip-toe through a pandemic with silent turnstiles, the Padres act like they’re lacing up the gloves to audition for The Rumble in the Jungle. They’re trying to win … now and with every ounce of organizational fiber.

Just hours after the Snell deal, the Padres also agreed to add Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim. The slugger and one of the most dependable bats in the Korean Baseball Organization (.306, 30 homers last season) would not play that position with Fernando Tatis Jr. in the lineup, obviously, but creates remarkable depth or trade flexibility.

Imagine the jolt the tireless run of roster upgrades is sending through the Padres’ clubhouse. You continue to tap the Dodgers and others on the shoulder, reminding everyone the foot remains firmly planted on the accelerator. You’re giving your fan base the vapors.

That’s not a growth on the side of General Manager A.J. Preller’s head. It’s a cell phone.

The glass-is-half-empty crowd will groan the price for Snell could be too high, surrendering pitching prospects Luis Patiño (ranked No. 3 in organization) and Cole Wilcox (No. 7), along with raw power-hitting catcher Blake Hunt (No. 14).

Watching Patiño blossom somewhere else would sting like lemon juice soaking a cut, but hardly fatal in the grander scheme. To understand the potential payoff with Snell, re-watch Game 6 of the World Series as he carved up the Dodgers with nine strikeouts, no walks and just two hits in 5 1/3 innings before manager Kevin Cash brain-cramped.

In a minor move, the Dodgers acquired left-handed relief pitcher Garrett Cleavinger from the Phillies while sending infielder Dillon Paulson to the Rays.

The lefty — and everyone knows how valuable they can be — used four pitches to handcuff the eventual champs, allowing four hits with a mindboggling 18 strikeouts in just 10 innings. According to Baseball Savant, Snell finished in the game’s 20th percentile last season for fastball velocity, strikeout percentage and whiff rate.

The $39 million owed to Snell the next three seasons constitutes a relative bargain, given his tools and track record.

The chatter nationally included Sports Illustrated grading San Diego’s side of the trade as an A-, while a Bleacher Report headline indicated “Padres’ trade for Blake Snell Is a Game-Changer for the NL West …” Bagging a starting pitcher was a no-brainer for the Padres this offseason, as Clevinger sits, ace Dinelson Lamet maps an uncertain return and Chris Paddack remains a head-scratcher.

Darvish comes at a cost of $59 million and five players, but Zach Davies is the only major leaguer heading east. This rotation now feels elite, even without Clevinger. Hiccups with enough unpredictable arms and minds could fester and change that. What’s clear, though: More is better. And with Snell and Darvish, that more feels a lot better.

The Padres showed the offense is potent and one of the best in baseball. The wheels came off when Clevinger and Lamet walked to the trainer’s room. Mending things on the mound had to be a priority and the pick-ups of Snell and Darvish illustrate a sizable commitment to that.

Beyond the machinations of everyday roster tinkering, the biggest takeaway is the Padres continuing to throw haymakers. They’ve become, in many ways, the talk of baseball. How long has a long-suffering fan base — one of the most patient in the game — waited for this wholesale change in organizational personality?

Jairo Castillo was a well-liked scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a champion for Mexican players. He died from COVID-19 complications Dec. 6 at age 31.

When majority owner Peter Seidler took over for Ron Fowler as executive chairman this offseason, some wondered what if anything would change. We learned the aggressiveness still comes with a capital A. Machado changed things, in a real way. Clevinger and Snell (and Trevor Rosenthal, et al) showed that the ceiling was even higher than anyone dreamed.

Few would blame the Padres if they rattled off the unprecedented efforts and bank-flexing that created a championship-level team, saying they needed to take a breath. They’ve done more, more often, than any time in franchise history.

Yet, here comes Snell. Here comes Darvish.

The old Padres? They’re gone.

Updates

12:31 p.m. Dec. 29, 2020: This column was updated with news of an agreement on the Darvish trade.


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