When the Padres signed Seth Lugo to a two-year, $15 million contract a few days before Christmas, some in the industry thought it marked the end of the team’s notable spending on free-agent pitching. Some within the organization thought that, too.
The Padres had already had a stunning offseason, signing Xander Bogaerts, Matt Carpenter, Nick Martinez and Robert Suarez for $364 million in combined guarantees. At least one player agent received indications from the team that it did not plan to bid for Johnny Cueto or Michael Wacha, a pair of veteran starters who were expected to command short-term deals.
The general consensus: The ultra-aggressive Padres finally were nearing their limit.
The reality, less than two months later: San Diego courted Cueto before losing him to the Marlins, extended Yu Darvish through his 42nd birthday and, on Tuesday, agreed to a four-year contract with Wacha.
These Padres do have at least a rough idea of a limit — club officials say Wacha’s deal will increase their estimated luxury tax figure to just shy of the $273 million threshold — but they remain willing to go to unusual lengths, especially for a franchise operating in one of baseball’s smaller media markets. So, around the sport, they continue to be an object of great curiosity.
Why, for example, did the Padres give Darvish such a lengthy commitment? According to sources briefed on negotiations but not authorized to discuss them publicly, the Japanese star initially asked for two years and $60 million on top of the $19 million he was owed in 2023, the final season of his previous contract. The two sides went through a variety of concepts before settling on a new six-year, $108 million deal that starts this season, replacing the final year of Darvish’s old contract. In the process, the Padres substantially lowered the deal’s average annual value — helping them stay below the third of four luxury tax thresholds — but also guaranteed Darvish, 36, almost $30 million more than he originally sought.