With A.J. Preller, the Padres’ unrelenting head of baseball operations, virtually everyone is in play at all times. Almost nothing can be ruled out, though that does not mean Preller operates without parameters.
Three years ago, while he was still rebuilding a last-place team, the general manager signed free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer to a then franchise-record contract. On Sunday, Preller — who already had an All-Star second baseman in Jake Cronenworth — demonstrated trademark aggressiveness by agreeing to a trade for All-Star second baseman-outfielder Adam Frazier.
Amid the excitement of Preller’s latest acquisition, one detail largely escaped attention: As part of the trade, which is pending medical reviews, the Padres will receive about $1.4 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates. For San Diego, that might not end up being an insignificant sum. And it could help explain why Preller continues to discuss a seemingly endless array of scenarios — including potential trades involving Hosmer.
The Padres, thanks to their level of activity over the past year, find themselves in uncharted financial territory. According to major-league sources, San Diego is on pace to finish the 2021 season above Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax threshold of $210 million. While CBT figures are not exact — they include salary escalators, earned bonuses and other numbers not fully known until the end of each season — the league keeps estimates and shares those numbers with clubs. The most recent calculation, provided by MLB around the All-Star break, has the Padres over the CBT threshold by roughly $2 million.
Teams that carry a CBT figure — determined by the average annual value of each player’s contract on the 40-man roster — above the threshold are taxed on each dollar beyond that limit. A club exceeding the threshold for the first time must pay a 20 percent tax on all overages. Those exceeding the threshold for consecutive seasons face stiffer penalties. (Presently, the only other team estimated to be over the threshold is the Los Angeles Dodgers.) Shedding a portion of Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million contract would be one way for the Padres to get under the CBT threshold while possibly upgrading their roster.
Hosmer, 31, began Monday with a .710 OPS, second-lowest among qualifying first basemen. According to FanGraphs, he ranked last at his position with minus-0.4 Wins Above Replacement. While Hosmer performed markedly better in the shortened 2020 season — and has a .926 OPS this month — sources told The Athletic his name has surfaced in recent trade discussions.