Padres leaning into new identity after learning from disappointing 2023 season

PEORIA, Ariz. — It’s hard to find a bigger disappointment from last season than the San Diego Padres. Coming off an NLCS appearance in 2022 and getting a full season with superstars Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., and free-agent acquisition Xander Bogaerts, the sky seemed to be the limit.

But the success never materialized and they remained an enigma all season as they struggled to find their footing in a competitive NL West. By the time they began playing their best baseball in September, it was too late.

A year later, Soto is now with the New York Yankees, the Padres now has a new manager in Mike Shildt and, after missing the postseason, it’s time for the Padres to start playing like the team they were built to be.

“I think [our] edge comes from going through what we went through last year,” Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove told Yahoo Sports at spring training. “Not only high expectations from the fans in the city of San Diego, but high expectations of ourselves and what we're going to accomplish. … we didn't do that last year.”

San Diego has been talked about for the past several seasons as one of baseball’s elite teams. Going down its 26-man roster during those seasons, it’s easy to see why with the top-end star power the Padres had. But if their season in 2023 proved anything, it’s that talent alone can take a team only so far.

Beyond the wins and losses, the Padres’ issues last season seemed to come from the fact they simply had no identity. And with no identity or idea of who they were as a team, they had to rely on their talent flipping the switch, which proved unsuccessful.

The Padres wanted to be a team that slugged and hit homers. But their real issue was once they got punched in the mouth, they didn’t know how to respond. This was laughably evident in extra innings games, where San Diego went 1-12, ending the losing streak only in late September.

San Diego promoted from within for their managerial opening by hiring Shildt, who had been serving as the team’s bench coach, to take over for Bob Melvin. One advantage of doing so is Shildt has been in the building and seen the areas that need to be addressed.

“We talked about and used the word identity a lot this spring, internally [and] externally,” Shildt said. “The thing about identity is you find out how strong your identity is relative to challenges that you face. And so we're always working on strengthening and deepening our identity where it's just the fabric of who we are.

“The good news is that it’s ongoing and it just continues to evolve. Because as soon as you think you're ripe, you're rotten. … I'm pleased with where we are with establishing identity in camp. It’s probably the thing I’m most pleased with overall.”

The Padres will have their work cut out for them this season as their division will be one of the most competitive in baseball. Between the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, who are a better team on paper than the one they took to the World Series four months ago, the Padres aren’t going to catch many breaks.

San Diego clearly got knocked down last year and the disappointment of missing the playoffs with one of the highest payrolls in the sport has been felt within the organization. We’ll see if it knows how to get up and respond to failure this season.

San Diego's season kicks off on March 20 against the Dodgers in Seoul, South Korea. And with the baseball world focusing on L.A. and the attention shifting away from San Diego after falling short of expectations, it may wind up being the best thing for the Padres in the long run.

“We didn't check ourselves and do those little things throughout the course of the season when we're not driving in runs the way we expected. You got to adjust,” Musgrove said. And [Shildt] says that all the time, he says the best players are the elite adjusters. You always have an expectation and your A-plan, but when that plan is not going good, how long do you hold on to that plan and expect things to change without making some adjustments around?

“We didn't do that very well last year, so we’ve talked about that a lot this year. Meeting the demands of the game and looking at what the game is asking us to do and what we need to do as a group and getting that done.”