The San Diego Padres were expected to be a perennial World Series contender after pushing all their chips in to acquire Juan Soto in a trade with the Washington Nationals. Instead of immediately competing for championships, the Padres’ title hopes were marred last season by Fernando Tatis Jr. suddenly getting suspended for 80 games.

Tatis will complete his suspension in 2023, re-positioning the Padres as a top-tier contender for the NL pennant. Xander Bogaerts was signed to a massive deal to play shortstop for the Padres, so Tatis Jr. will likely be slotted in the outfield when he returns from his suspension. Soto, Machado, and Jake Cronenworth are still with the team, along with a talented pitching staff highlighted by Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove.

The Padres’ offseason still needs to be finished. They still need to sign Jurickson Profar, who has yet to receive significant interest on the open market. Moreover, the Padres lost a slew of key pieces from last season’s roster, like Wil Myers, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, and Mike Clevinger. The team may need more than this current crop of players to beat the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers, but the likelihood of the Padres adding a couple more talented players via trade is high.

Padres’ last-minute trade target: Corey Knebel

This is an excellent buy-low opportunity for the San Diego Padres. Corey Knebel was a significant piece in the bullpen of the Philadelphia Phillies, but he suffered a season-ending injury before the postseason. It’s less than a month before the start of Spring Training, and it does not seem like the Phillies want him back, so San Diego must pounce on this before it’s too late.

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At 31 years of age, Corey Knebel would prefer playing in a franchise that will continuously compete for a World Series crown in the next several years. As he hopes to search for his rhythm again, Knebel will be a valuable and critical piece in the bullpen of San Diego. Josh Hader is still on the Padres roster and arguably the best closer in the majors.

Hader in the backend lessens the pressure on someone like Knebel, who is still searching for his old stuff during his days with the Milwaukee Brewers. As former teammates, that could be a considerable advantage for Knebel because he knows on the back of his head that Hader has his back in the latter part of the contest. 

Durability has been the primary issue for Knebel, but on the field, he has his share of failing to get ahead of the count and putting pressure on the batter. Thus, he tends to give up crucial hits that cause his squad the match. Furthermore, his control can slowly be developed back to what it was before.

If Knebel goes to San Diego, he can be inserted in the 6th or 7th innings first, so it is not in his usual high-leverage situations yet. Robert Suarez will be the primary setup man behind Hader, and they have other reliable options, such as Luis Garcia and Tim Hill. Even with these guys on their staff, they will need the arm of Corey Knebel in the postseason.

The offense of San Diego is lethal from top to bottom, but the pitching prowess will be magnified in the season’s biggest games. For instance, the Philadelphia Phillies had one of the worst bullpens in the MLB, but they stepped up in their NLCS series against the Padres. There are few options left in the market, but the Padres can sign a low-key asset who can be a magnificent piece in the latter part of the season.