The Padres are said to be “scouring” the trade market for shortstop upgrades over internal options Clint Barmes and Alexi Amarista, and while significant trades at this stage of the season are indeed rare, the Sunday’s blockbuster acquisition of Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton from the Braves shows that GM A.J. Preller isn’t averse to making trades at any stage of the season.
Both Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports beat me to writing something on the subject, and each piece is well worth the read. However, there are a vast expanse of shortstop options available for the Padres to explore, and Rosenthal reports that the team seems likelier to add a low-cost upgrade than to make an extravagant splash for the likes of Elvis Andrus or Starlin Castro. (The Padres have concerns about Castro’s glove at shortstop, in fact, Rosenthal adds, and have not recently been in touch regarding Chicago’s middle infielders.)
Cameron discusses a wide range of shortstop possibilities for the Friars, concluding that an acquisition of Jean Segura might be the most logical upgrade for San Diego. While I agree that Segura makes some sense for the Padres, there are some additional low-cost names (from a financial standpoint, that is) that could be replaced within their respective organizations.
Before delving into some speculative candidates, let’s first take a quick glance at the current options in San Diego. Barmes batted a decisively sub-par .245/.328/.294 last season, with six of his nine walks coming while batting eighth, in front of the pitcher. While he’s well-known as a plus defender, Barmes projects to be roughly a replacement level player when looking at the ZiPS and Steamer projection systems. Likewise, Amarista is a light-hitting infielder, who projects to be scarcely more than a replacement-level option. He’s younger than Barmes but is also just a .233/.278/.335 hitter in more than 1200 plate appearances. It’d be a surprise to see him contribute anything close to league-average production at the dish.
The Padres have a pair of serviceable gloves at shortstop, but neither comes with much in the way of offensive upside, and as such, their search for a shortstop upgrade isn’t unexpected.
All that said, let’s look at some options around the league that could serve as alternatives to Amarista and Barmes…
Luis Sardinas, Brewers: Preller of all people should be familiar with Sardinas, who was signed by the Rangers and developed into a promising prospect while Preller was still in the Texas front office. The jury is out on how much Sardinas will actually hit — he’s batted .290/.310/.374 in limited Triple-A action and didn’t fare much better in the Majors last year — but he’s regarded as a plus defender and has more upside at the plate than either incumbent option in San Diego. Sardinas is blocked in the Majors by Segura, who, as Cameron noted, could be a fit in San Diego himself, if the Brewers believe that Sardinas can adequately step into the everyday role at shortstop.
Javier Baez, Cubs: While much of the talk surrounding the Cubs and Padres has centered around Starlin Castro, one could make the case that Baez is a better fit. The Padres’ payroll undoubtedly has to be nearing its apex, and squeezing Castro’s sizable contract into the books may be too tall a task. Additionally, the Cubs are trying to contend this year, and jettisoning one of their core pieces and more proven hitters could be a lateral move, or even a step backwards, depending on what the Padres are willing to offer. Baez isn’t a definitive upgrade, but his light-tower power unequivocally gives him more upside than current options, and Preller’s Padres have an affinity for right-handed power bats. The Cubs could commit to Arismendy Alcantara at second base in the event of a Baez trade, though the Padres have parted with most of their upper-level pitching prospects, making a trade perhaps more difficult.
Jordy Mercer, Pirates: Moving Mercer now would likely accelerate that Pirates’ timeline for getting Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang regular at-bats at the big league level, and they may not be comfortable moving Mercer until seeing how Kang adjusts to the Major Leagues (admittedly, they may not be comfortable moving him even if Kang hits). However, Mercer is a solid enough hitter and fielder that the Padres could reasonably expect him to be worth a couple of wins per season, and they could send Amarista back to Pittsburgh along with any potential prospects to give the Bucs an immediate alternative in the event that Kang struggles. If the Padres offered a means of improving the Pirates’ 2015 roster, it’s at least plausible.
Eugenio Suarez, Reds: Acquired from the Tigers in the offseason, Suarez isn’t as gifted a defender as Barmes, but he but he held his own from a defensive standpoint last year in the eyes of Ultimate Zone Rating (Defensive Runs Saved was a bit more pessimistic). He comes with significantly more upside at the plate, however, as evidenced by a .278/.362/.415 batting line. ZiPS projects him at two wins, for those who are interested in projection systems, and the Reds, who stand to lose both Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto after the season, might be interested in adding some pitching to the upper levels of their system, even if it’s not an elite prospect with front-of-the-rotation upside.
Eduardo Escobar, Twins: Minnesota seems set to give Danny Santana every opportunity to prove that he’s their shortstop of the future, leaving Escobar as a perhaps overqualified utility infielder. The switch-hitting 26-year-old grades out as average or slightly better in the field over the course of a relatively small sample of 1053 innings, and he delivered a .275/.315/.406 batting line in the Twins’ pitcher-friendly home park last year (102 OPS+/wRC+). His offense may trend downward a bit, as he may not sustain his .336 BABIP, but he’s probably a better hitter than Amarista/Barmes and won’t sink the Padres in the field. Of course, the Padres could try to pry Santana away from the Twins as well, who could then use Escobar at shortstop until the more highly regarded Jorge Polanco is MLB-ready. But, I’d think the asking price on Santana would be higher, even if he clearly won’t repeat last year’s .405-BABIP-fueled offensive output.
Brad Miller/Chris Taylor, Mariners: Both Seattle shortstops were oft-mentioned as trade candidates throughout the offseason. For the time being, Miller’s getting a look at shortstop after Taylor fractured his wrist in Spring Training. Miller’s first half in 2014 was an unmitigated disaster (.204/.273/.330), but he quietly had a nice second half (.268/.330/.464), performed quite well in spring and has hit well in this season’s minuscule sample size. Miller struggles against lefties, so perhaps there’s some merit to the idea of a platoon, but either of these two would likely be an upgrade in San Diego (once Taylor is healthy, of course).
Obviously, there are far more names that could be suggested. The likes of Erisbel Arruebarrena and Deven Marrero come to mind, though each strong defender has drawn questions about his bat. Danny Espinosa has far more big league experience, but he offers a similar tale of plus defense and a questionable bat. Jonathan Villar has been displaced in Houston, but he grades out as a poor defender and hit his way into a demotion to Triple-A last year. Nick Franklin, now with Tampa following last year’s David Price trade, could be a consideration, but he’s injured at the moment and has also drawn questions about his glove at short.
The temptation for Padres fans, based on Preller’s track record, might to expect the moon and set their sights on Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro, but the market does bear plenty of affordable options that are perhaps superfluous to their respective organizations. While that doesn’t mean they can be had for nothing, the presence of viable, starting-caliber alternatives within the organizations listed here makes a trade easier to envision.