Earlier this morning, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported that the Red Sox had jumped into the bidding on star first baseman Freddie Freeman, and just hours later, Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes that the Padres, too, are looking into the possibility of signing Freeman.
The level of sincerity behind the Padres’ apparent interest isn’t clear. On the one hand, Freeman would unequivocally deepen their roster and bolster their lineup in a major way. On the other, the Padres already have a pricey first baseman, Eric Hosmer, whom they’ve been trying to trade in an effort to escape the remaining four years and $59MM on his contract. There’s also the fact that one of Freeman’s reported suitors, the Dodgers, just so happen to be a division rival for the Padres. Making an effort to drive up the price wouldn’t be out of the question.
That said, it’s worth taking a peak at just how a potential Freeman signing would impact the Padres, both in 2022 and in the long-term. The impact on the actual 2022 payroll would depend on contract structuring, but even a backloaded deal would boost the Padres’ currently $200MM payroll substantially.
Looking beyond the current season, the contracts of Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Fernando Tatis Jr., Drew Pomeranz, Ha-Seong Kim, Nick Martinez and Luis Garcia total about $114MM in guaranteed money. That doesn’t include player options for Jurickson Profar and Robert Suarez, which could be exercised — nor does it include arbitration raises to the likes of Dinelson Lamet, Austin Adams, Tim Hill, Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan. Factoring in all of that, a Freeman deal could take reasonable 2023 payroll projections north of $160MM.
The broader concern would be the luxury-tax obligations associated with a Freeman deal. If he is indeed seeking something in the vicinity of $30MM annually, that’d send the Padres back into luxury-tax territory for what would be a second straight season. The Padres currently have about $217MM in luxury obligations, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, and there’s no getting around the huge CBT hit associated with any potential Freeman deal.
In fact, even if the Padres were able to move the entirety of Hosmer’s contract — which seems unlikely without at least taking some money back on in return — the subtraction of that $18MM luxury hit would only narrowly drop the Padres below $200MM in total. In other words, even if San Diego somehow traded all of Hosmer’s deal and replaced him with Freeman, the new contract would still push the Padres right back up against CBT precipice.
It’d be a surprise to see San Diego draw up a five- or six-year offer at top-of-the-market dollars to bring in Freeman when they’re still trying to unload Hosmer’s contract, but Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller is never one to shy away from an unexpected move.