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The San Diego Padres are one of the more complicated teams in baseball this offseason, but we'll still attempt to put together a plan that'll make for a quality winter in San Diego. Fresh off a trip to the NLCS in 2022, the Padres kept pushing their chips to the center of the table with another explosive offseason and entered 2023 with the largest payroll in franchise history. 

Their long-term deals are very notable here, with Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts set to make a combined $90.26 million ... in 2028. Yu Darvish is owed $15 million that season while Jake Cronenworth will make $12.29 million. 

Still, in looking only at next year, the salary situation isn't nearly as untenable as one might think. If we loop in arbitration and pre-arbitration players, Baseball-Reference estimates the Padres' payroll for 2024 right now is $168.4 million. So much goes into the calculations for what payroll ownership is willing to run, but reports have indicated they are looking to cut payroll for next season. There are also conflicting figures out there about where the payroll currently sits versus where it'll end up. 

Factor in that while the Padres were one of baseball's most disappointing teams last season, they still only finished two games behind the NL champion Diamondbacks. Not only that, but the Padres were 9-23 in one-run games and 2-12 in extra-inning games. A few better bounces and they're back in the playoffs and if that happens, who knows where they end up? 

This is all why I said it's complicated. 

They'll head into 2024 with a new manager in Mike Shildt. As for the rest of the roster, they are in pretty good shape on the position-player side, but the rotation lost Blake Snell, Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo to free agency while closer Josh Hader and Nick Martinez -- who worked both as a starter and setup man last year -- also hit free agency. With that in mind, here's an offseason plan.

1. Do not trade Juan Soto

The best way to make more money is to make a deep playoff run and win it all. The Padres' best chance to win the World Series in 2024, when the choices are keeping Soto or trading him, is to keep him. If they are able to win the World Series -- and don't you dare scoff after the Rangers just won the World Series, considering their situation entering last offseason -- the financial windfall will make it easier to assess the state of the franchise next offseason.

Sure, they could try to trade Soto to save some money and demand cheap, MLB-caliber talent back in exchange, but it's tricky. Any team trading for Soto is planning on contending in 2024 -- otherwise they wouldn't be trading for a player one year away from free agency -- and how many teams in that position want to give up multiple MLB players in order to land him? Remember, the Padres are trying to win now, too, so they'd want good players and not just "here's some junk we don't want!" from a possible trading partner.

Basically, I'm saying the move is to kick the proverbial can down the street. The Padres have already committed all those gigantic contracts for the future and there's no going back. Might as well try to win it all in the meantime. 

2. Sign rotation lottery tickets

Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish as the only pitchers cemented in the rotation at present. It's possible Matt Waldron and/or Pedro Avila show themselves worthy of long-term rotation spots next season, but it seems unwise to head into 2024 both expecting to contend and with both in the opening-day, five-man rotation. 

Simply, the Padres need to sign at least two starting pitchers and maybe three. 

The top lottery ticket here probably isn't doable in Lucas Giolito. He was awful down the stretch for the Angels and Guardians and it's entirely possible he'll take a one-year deal in an attempt to re-establish his All-Star value before hitting free agency again for a big payday, a la Cody Bellinger. Assuming the Padres are serious about being frugal this offseason, I'm betting Giolito will get deals too rich for their blood. 

Luis Severino really would've worked, but he already signed with the Mets on a one-year, $13 million deal. If not Giolito, it would behoove the Padres to swim in a Severino-like pool here, so maybe James Paxton, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Michael Lorenzen and/or Martín Pérez could be part of this plan. 

Maybe sign two from this group? 

3. Trade for a starting pitcher

If the plan is to go all out for now, trading from a good farm system for a third starting pitcher makes sense. Again, there are likely salary constraints, so forget about someone like Shane Bieber or Tyler Glasnow. Dylan Cease is still two years away from free agency and could be workable. That would be a bit of a coup, actually. Would the Mariners make Logan Gilbert available? If so, he works. 

Otherwise, the list of options is less exciting. The A's would probably part with Paul Blackburn. The Cubs would very likely ship out Drew Smyly. Spencer Turnbull of the Tigers could be an option. 

With the position-player talent the Padres have, a rotation of Musgrove-Darvish-Ryu-Lorenzen-Smyly (with Waldron and Avila as backup options) could be enough to make the playoffs. They'd need a lot to go right with the bullpen, latter third of the lineup and, obviously, this rotation, but so much went wrong last year, maybe it's time for things to even out?