Padres swing at Ring 2023 with New York-style editions

Major League Baseball opens the regular season Thursday after another chaotic spring practice dominated by rules changeinjuries that World Baseball Classic and changing TV economy.

Despite the uproar, MLB’s 30 teams spent $3.8 billion on long-term contracts on 260 free agents. That’s a record that dwarfs the $1.4 billion spent by baseball owners on 183 free agents in 2021.

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In the last offseason, dominated by the owner-imposed lockout, free agent spending totaled $3.2 billion across 252 players.

While the New York Mets and Yankees provided big bucks for players, the tiny San Diego Padres, attempting to win the World Series for the first time in their 54-year history, joined them in a spending spree. The Padres got some good financial news on Wednesday when Diamond Sports, the parent company of Bally Sports San Diego, paid their TV rights fee to the club.

“It’s a team with a whole bunch of stars that I haven’t had a lot of in my career,” said Bob Melvin, who is entering his 20th year as a major league manager and leading the Padres. “And it’s a team with a very high payroll, which I haven’t had much of since I’ve been a manager.”

It’s no surprise that the Mets and Yankees are spending big. The Mets, under Steve Cohen, owner and second-year hedge fund manager, have the highest payroll in MLB at $334.2 million, well above this year’s luxury tax threshold of $233 million. Cohen’s net worth is $17.4 billion.

The Yankees, with resigned Aaron Judge for nine years with $360 million — the richest offseason contract in MLB — ranks second with $268 million.

But the Padres in third place come as a big surprise at $237 million playing in one of the smaller MLB markets.

“I don’t spend too much time thinking about what other people are thinking,” Padres owner Peter Seidler said at the start of spring training. “I’m really interested in what we think in this room in San Diego. It just feels great to me.”

The money is certainly there to be spent. Seidler is worth about $3 billion and minority partner Alfredo Harp Helú has a net worth of $1.6 billion.

Harp Helú, a Mexican businessman, was a major investor behind much of San Diego’s progress. He owns Mexico City’s Diablos Rojos and the redesigned stadium where the Mexican league team plays – the Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú – is named after him. This stadium opened in 2019 for 3 billion Mexican pesos ($164.6 million). The Padres played Diablos in an exhibition match on March 29, 2019 to open that facility. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became the first Mexican president since 1947 to throw a first pitch in a stadium.

Obrador will be there again next month as San Diego will face the San Francisco Giants on April 29-30 at the Mexico City Ballpark as MLB resumes international commitments this year. Before the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the Padres were scheduled to play two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks in this stadium. But the series was canceled along with all of MLB’s international games.

This is the first time Mexico City will host MLB regular season games. MLB has played numerous season games in Monterrey, Mexico beginning with the Padres versus the Mets in 1996. The Padres have played three times at the Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey.

In 2020, before the international series was cancelled, Padres chief executive Erik Greupner said how excited he was the team would be playing in Mexico that year. Northern Baja is a significant part of the team’s fan base due to its proximity to San Diego. The Padres have long sought to dismantle Mexico as a market, considering the international border and city of Tijuana are only about 50 miles from Petco Park, where the Padres are scheduled to open the season Thursday against the Colorado Rockies.

The team even once had a store in a Tijuana mall and drove buses back and forth from there to Qualcomm Stadium, the Padres’ former home, on Sundays. Although the project was unsuccessful due to economic reasons, the team has not given up on its Mexican fans.

The Padres are generally excited about the possibilities this season. They made the newly expanded playoffs as an NL wild card team last year and shocked almost everyone by beating the Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in a five-game NL Championship Series.

They have since surpassed the neighboring Dodgers by signing free agent shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million contract. Yu Darvish renewed on a six-year, $108 million contract; and making Manny Machado Padre through 2033 with a $350 million extension.

The Dodgers were downed to $217.6 million under the luxury tax threshold, which is the fifth-highest in MLB, and despite winning a franchise-record 111 games and beating the Padres by 22 games last year, they count in this season as very vulnerable. The Dodgers have won the NL West nine times in the past 10 years, but the Padres are hoping that streak is in jeopardy.

The Padres haven’t won the West since 2006 and have been to the World Series twice — in 1984 and 1998 — and lost both times. The excitement was very high in both seasons, but not like it is now. Such is fan interest in San Diego that the club halted season ticket memberships when that number hit a record 24,000 at 43,445 Petco Park.

They were fifth in MLB last year with just under 3 million viewers and an average of 36,931 per game. Three of the four teams that finished above them — the Dodgers, Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, and Atlanta Braves — play in larger stadiums.

While the Padres maximize stadium revenue, the goal is to win the World Series.

“We think we have a great opportunity to go after that trophy and give San Diego its first save,” Seidler said. “We are here to win a title. I expect that.”

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