Whenever transactions are again permitted to take place, A’s first baseman Matt Olson is among the most prominent names who’ll be discussed on the trade market. The 2021 All-Star and two-time Gold Glover has already been linked to the Yankees, Rangers and Braves, among others, and Dennis Lin of The Athletic suggests in his latest mailbag column that the Padres figure to be “in the mix” on Olson as well. President of baseball operations AJ Preller has already at least touched base with the Oakland front office as part of a broader sweep of exploratory trade talks throughout the league, per Lin.
Interest notwithstanding, the Padres seem like a long shot to actually pull off a deal involving Olson for myriad reasons. San Diego already has Eric Hosmer installed at first base and signed for another four seasons at a total of $ 59MM. The Friars have reportedly pursued various trade scenarios involving Hosmer in an attempt to create payroll flexibility and reduce their luxury-tax ledger, but those efforts have unsurprisingly come up short.
Hosmer’s eight-year, $ 144MM deal with the Padres was widely panned from the start, and the first baseman’s tepid .264 / .323 / .415 batting line (99 wRC +) since signing has not made the final four years of the contract any more appealing (though it should be noted that the contract is frontloaded, with Hosmer earning $ 20MM in 2022 and $ 13MM annually from 2023-25).
The universal designated hitter is viewed as something of a foregone conclusion by now, so one can imagine a scenario where Hosmer spends more time at DH and Olson plays first base. However, that’d still move the Padres’ payroll north by a good margin. Olson is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $ 12MM in 2022 before commanding one more raise in his final arbitration season in 2023. San Diego already has about $ 199MM on the books for the 2022 season, by Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez, in addition to about $ 215MM worth of luxury-tax bonds. The Padres narrowly exceeded the luxury tax in 2021, but it’s unclear whether they’d be willing to do so again in 2022 – particularly if it’s by a larger margin. Lin notes that owner Peter Seidler has “steadfastly declined” to discuss payroll and luxury tax to this point.
That $ 215MM figure is a substantial factor in the Padres’ reported efforts to move Hosmer and / or right fielder Wil Myers (who’s owed $ 21MM in the final season of a six-year, $ 83MM extension himself). Perhaps if the Padres could find a way to shed one or both salaries, the subsequent luxury breathing room could then be make a potential Olson acquisition more feasible. That, however, would require time to be on the Padres’ side – which is not the case. Post-lockout transactions are expected to be frenetic, and it does not figure to be easy for Preller & Co. to find a trade involving Hosmer or Myers. The San Diego front office has been investigating trades involving the pair for at least the past year, after all – and longer than that with regard to Myers. If an Olson acquisition is predicated on moving Hosmer and / or Myers, it’s hard to imagine there’d be time to complete that deal then circle back to the A’s.
Some might suggest that the Padres simply try to send Hosmer back to Oakland as part of a deal, offering better prospects in return to push a deal across the finish line. That scenario appears decidedly unlikely, though. The cost on Olson figures to be sky-high in the first place, and the driving factor behind Oakland’s ostensibly looming sell-off is a desire to pare payroll. Taking on Hosmer’s deal runs counter to that. Lin speculates that the Padres could try to engineer a three-team swap that places Hosmer with a third team and Olson in San Diego, but that’s obviously an even more ambitious undertaking than simply finding a taker for Olson in a more straightforward two-team deal .
One wild card in all of this is the uncertainty surrounding the status of the luxury tax / competitive balance tax itself. The tax thresholds are a key talking point in collective bargaining talks between the league and the Players Association. The MLBPA is seeking major increases to the tax thresholds, beginning with a jump all the way to $ 245MM this coming season and cresting with a $ 273MM threshold in 2026. The league, meanwhile, has only been willing to offer far more marginal increases: $ 214MM in 2022-23 and incremental increases up to $ 222MM in 2026. MLB is also seeking to greatly increase the penalties for crossing the threshold, which the MLBPA considers a nonstarter.
It’s possible that whatever middle ground is reached will come with enough of an uptick in the first threshold that the Padres could technically squeeze Olson into the fray without needing to pay the tax. However, the Padres are also facing needs elsewhere on the roster – namely in one corner outfield spot. If the hope is to add an outfielder and / or deepen the pitching staff or bench at all, then San Diego would be looking at shoehorning more than just Olson’s salary into the puzzle.
All of that is based on a theoretical stance that Padres ownership is deterred by the luxury tax alone, but we can not know that for certain. Last year’s bottom-line payroll of nearly $ 174MM shattered the former franchise-record payroll by more than $ 60MM. The current $ 199MM projection further trounces that number, and adding Olson and any others to the mix would bring the Padres well north of $ 200MM in actual 2022 salaries (and quite a bit higher in terms of AAV-based luxury calculations). It would require an unprecedented level of spending for the Padres, and we can not know at what point ownership will simply be uncomfortable with further expenditures. It’s possible they’ve already reached that juncture.
To sum up a bit, there’s good reason to expect the Padres will indeed try to make something happen on the Olson front. Preller has shown time and again that he’ll always explore creative options when marquee talents are available. San Diego hired manager Bob Melvin away from the A’s earlier this offseason, and Melvin would surely love to have his former franchise first baseman follow him down I-5. If the Padres were to somehow move Hosmer, they’d have an opening at first base. It all makes sense on paper, and various permutations of Olson-to-San Diego deals or three-team blockbusters involving Olson, Hosmer, Myers and top prospects make for fun hypotheticals with Major League transactions approaching a three-month standstill.
At the end of the day, however, there are so many moving parts involved even in these theoretical exercises that it’s hard to see the Padres finding a way to make the pieces work. Still, even a tangential Padres involvement in the Olson market is of some note. Their lurking presence could carry implications on the asking price Oakland can put forth to other clubs, and if trade talks with other suitors drag on long enough post-lockout, it’d only give the Padres more time to pull off their latest trade-market stunner.