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 the Padres 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 with the New York Yankees, the Padres have a new manager in Mike Shildt, and after missing the postseason last year, 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. Looking at 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 2023 season 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 that they simply had no identity. And with no identity or idea of who they were as a team, they had to rely on talent alone to flip the switch, which proved unsuccessful.

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

In the offseason, San Diego promoted from within to fill its managerial opening by hiring Shildt, who had been serving as the team’s bench coach, to take over for Bob Melvin. One advantage of the move 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 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 that went 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 the team knows how to get up and respond to failure this season.

San Diego's season kicks off March 20 against the Dodgers in Seoul, South Korea. The baseball world will be focusing on L.A., with the attention shifting away from San Diego, which might 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. "... [Shildt] 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.”