We’re all wondering how MLB’s decision to axe the August trade period will influence the way the in-season trade market unfolds. An even bigger rush at the end of July is one obvious possibility; perhaps also there’ll be an increase in early-season trade activity. It has long been fairly rare for significant assets to be moved before well in advance of the trade deadline. The Padres are now reaping the rewards of their decision to market assets early back in 2016, as MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell wrote recently. Nabbing Fernando Tatis Jr. was a nifty trick, of course. As Cassavell writes, both teams were intrigued by his obvious physical talent. The Friars able to pry him loose from the pitching-needy White Sox in part because he simply hadn’t yet appeared in game action. After a productive draft, the club targeted pop-up prospect Chris Paddack, gaining his rights when the Marlins couldn’t wait to secure the services of Fernando Rodney. Interestingly, as Cassavell explains, the Padres’ other notable haul of talent that summer came in the June draft. The club wielded a multitude of picks that year because it chose not to sell the prior summer, instead securing draft compensation for departing free agents Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy.
The Padres are off to a dream start, running out to an 11-6 record after a memorable offseason capped by some aggressive Opening Day promotions. Starting pitching was and is the area of greatest uncertainty, but San Diego GM A.J. Preller says the club’s rotation plans haven’t changed, as Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
“The way we’ve designed it, I don’t think this changes the planning,” says Preller, who has thus far been rewarded for his bold approach to managing the club’s staff. After looking into significant additions all winter, the club elected instead to bypass the market entirely and roll with a series of young arms. The rookie starters have been stunning, with Chris Paddack, Nick Margevicius, and Pedro Avila combining to allow just six earned runs in 35 1/3 innings.
Those fascinating early results don’t tell the entire story, of course. It’s still quite an inexperienced overall starting unit — just one pitcher, Matt Strahm, had appeared in the big leagues prior to 2018 — and there’s uncertainty to go with the talent. Strahm is still a bit of a wild card, while Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi are still working to build upon their promising debut showings to fully establish themselves at the game’s highest level.
Preller isn’t just going to lean on that group, however, as the surprise call-up of Avila demonstrates. He tells Acee that he plans to continue drawing from the well of talent in the Friars’ farm system.
There are certainly plenty of other interesting arms floating around. Preller has already proved he’ll dip deep into the farm to call up the pitchers he deems ready. But doing so means clearing and tying up a 40-man roster spot for a player who may not remain on the active roster for much of the season. Robbie Erlin and Anderson Espinoza are on the 40-man, but exciting hurlers such as Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill, MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon, and Michel Baez are not. Otherwise, Luis Perdomo and Matt Wisler (currently working in relief) join the recently outrighted Bryan Mitchell as conceivable depth options, with Tommy John recoveree Dinelson Lamet a potential mid-season boost.
The strategy is fascinating, particularly since many of these hurlers will face innings limits this year. Monitoring work load and discerning which pitchers are best prepared to deliver results — and least susceptible to developmental damage — will be a season-long juggling act.
There’s an argument to be made that the Padres should instead act now, or at least prepare now, to add a veteran stabilizer or two. Dallas Keuchel, whose free agency is showing no signs of coming to an end, represents the obvious option. Perhaps some early-season trade possibilities could also be explored, though Preller would no doubt be wary of overpaying just to get something done. (He has experience on the other side of just such a scenario.)
At the same time, a new veteran might make for some roster complications of its own. And there’s no rush to act with so many things going right — even if Strahm, Lauer, and Luchessi are all allowing more than four earned runs per nine at the moment. (Luchessi, at least, has sparkling peripherals.)
Preller suggests that the organization will begin to consider market possibilities when the calendar flips to June, by which time there’ll be much more information on where the Pads are heading and what can be accomplished by trade. Tempting as it may be to try to press an early advantage, particularly after such an aggressive offseason, the team obviously wants to see through its opening gambit and get a full look at the internal slate of talent. It’ll be fascinating to watch this strategy unfold and to see where it leads.
Former big league first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig has joined the Padres’ front office as an advisor to the baseball operations department, reports MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell (via Twitter). The move officially brings Craig’s playing career to a close.
Though Craig, 34, hasn’t been in the Major Leagues since 2015 with the Red Sox, he’d yet to hang up the spikes. He was in camp with the Padres on a minor league deal this spring and appeared in six games, and he spent the past three seasons with the Triple-A affiliates for Boston (2016-17) and San Diego (2018).
Craig’s peak in the Majors was brief but impactful. His 2010 rookie season didn’t stand out in any way, but he burst onto the scene in 2011 when he raked at a .315/.362/.555 clip and belted 26 extra-base hits (11 homers, 15 doubles) in just 219 plate appearances. Craig played a key role in the Cardinals’ postseason exploits that season as well and was rewarded with a World Series ring. He’d follow up that strong year with a highly productive .307/.354/.522 slash and 22 homers over an even larger sample of work (514 plate appearances) in 2012.
That sample was enough for the Cards to invest in Craig on a five-year extension back in Spring Training 2013. He made the move look like a bargain with another strong year in 2013, hitting .315/.373/.457 and landing his first (and only) All-Star nod.
Following that three-year peak in which he batted a combined .312/.364/.500 (136 OPS+), however, Craig’s bat completely evaporated. After suffering a Lisfranc injury late in 2013, he slumped through a woeful first half of the season in 2014 and found himself traded to the Red Sox alongside Joe Kelly in the deal that sent John Lackey to St. Louis.
Hitting .215/.279/.315 at the time of the trade, Craig saw his troubles grow even more pronounced with his new team. In 195 plate appearances with Boston from 2014-15, he mustered just a .139/.236/.197 line before being designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster. He’d finish out his extension in Triple-A before landing with the Padres in the 2017-18 offseason.
It’s not fully clear what Craig has in mind for the next phase of his career. As an advisor to the baseball ops department he could follow the path recently taken by former Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes, who is now an assistant general manager with the Dodgers. That’s but one of many roads to explore in retirement, though; current Astros manager A.J. Hinch worked in the San Diego front office, for instance, providing another potential blueprint for Craig’s post-playing days.
Whatever “The Wrench” has in store for him, he’ll embark on that journey with a career .276/.333/.435 batting line, 59 home runs, 107 doubles, three triples, 239 runs scored and 296 runs knocked in over the course of 534 big league games. Brief as his career was, he earned about $32MM as a player, made an All-Star team and captured a World Series ring — a successful slate of accomplishments if there ever was one. Best wishes to him in the next chapter of his baseball career.
- The Padres announced last night that lefty Aaron Loup and outfielder Franchy Cordero were headed to the injured list. Infielder Luis Urias is taking one of the open roster spots, thus putting another top San Diego prospect at the MLB level, with southpaw reliever Brad Wieck occupying the other. As Jason Freund of the East Village Times explains, arm issues drove both IL placements. The severity isn’t known in either case, but Loup’s forearm strain and Cordero’s elbow strain each echo injuries that those players dealt with last year.
This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
The Padres stunned the baseball world with a franchise-record free-agent signing for a second straight offseason as they look to emerge from an arduous rebuilding process.
Major League Signings
- Manny Machado, 3B: ten years, $300MM (opt-out clause after the 2023 season)
- Garrett Richards, RHP: two years, $15.5MM
- Ian Kinsler, 2B/3B: two years, $8MM (includes $500K buyout of 2021 club option)
- Adam Warren, RHP: one year, $2.5MM (includes $500K buyout of 2020 club option)
- Aaron Loup, LHP: one year, $1.4MM (includes $200K buyout of 2020 club option)
- Total spend: $327.4M
Trades and Waiver Claims
- Claimed SS/2B Greg Garcia off waivers from the Cardinals
- Traded LHP Clayton Richard and cash to the Blue Jays in exchange for OF Connor Panas
- Claimed OF Socrates Brito off waivers from the Diamondbacks and traded him to the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Rodrigo Orozco
- Traded C Raffy Lopez to the Braves in exchange for cash
- Traded RHP Colten Brewer to the Red Sox in exchange for 2B Esteban Quiroz
- Traded RHP Walker Lockett to the Indians in exchange for RHP Ignacio Feliz
- Traded RHP Rowan Wick to the Cubs in exchange for 3B Jason Vosler
Notable Minor League Signings
- Chris Stewart, Sammy Solis, Alex Dickerson, Allen Craig, Dietrich Enns, Carlos Torres, Boog Powell, Eric Stout, Paco Rodriguez
- Clayton Richard, A.J. Ellis, Freddy Galvis, Christian Villanueva, Cory Spangenberg, Carlos Asuaje, Kazuhisa Makita, Colin Rea
If the Padres’ signing of Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144MM deal a year ago raised eyebrows around the baseball world, then this offseason’s decision to sign Manny Machado to what was then the third-largest contract in MLB history prompted jaws to hit the floor. The move made some sense on paper even before the Padres were linked to Machado in earnest. But it’s one thing to observe that an on-the-rise team lacks a clear heir apparent at third base at a time when a 26-year-old marquee player at that position hits the market; it’s another thing entirely to legitimately expect the Padres, who have topped a $100MM Opening Day payroll exactly once, to take the $300MM plunge and alter the very fiber of their organization to this extent.
It sounds odd to call the deal a bargain for San Diego, but the market for Machado never developed to the point where the Padres had steep enough competition to bow out of the bidding. The Phillies were linked to Machado all winter but seemingly preferred Bryce Harper (whom the Friars also explored to at least some extent). The White Sox talked a big game early in the winter but only came through with an offer that no one would’ve expected to be competitive prior to the onset of free agency and, in the end, was two years and $50MM in guaranteed money shy of the Padres’ offer. The Yankees wined and dined Machado back in December, but it doesn’t seem that they were even keen on reaching the White Sox’ level of interest.
Machado has been worth 22 to 23 wins above replacement over the past four seasons, depending on one’s preferred version of the metric, and at just 26 years old, there’s little reason to expect imminent decline. It’s possible that Machado’s best offensive year(s) has yet to come, in fact, and a move back to third base could give him an even higher ceiling in terms of WAR given his superlative defense there (as compared to his glovework at short, which was met with mixed reviews). Penciling Machado in for 25 wins over the first half of his contract wouldn’t be particularly aggressive. Even if his output halved from that point forth, the Padres would still be paying just about $8MM per win over the life of the deal.
A simple dollars-per-WAR argument is perhaps too rudimentary a means of evaluating a contract of this magnitude. But, the fact that the Padres bought a huge portion of a star player’s prime while only paying him through his age-35 season (as opposed to the Albert Pujols/Miguel Cabrera-style deals that began on the tail end of their primes and run into the players’ early 40s) is a win in and of itself. From a bigger-picture level, it’s refreshing to see a team act in a win-now capacity. Granted, the Padres are as guilty as anyone when it comes to trotting out half-hearted rosters in the name of “rebuilding” toward a “sustained window of contention” — popular terms in today’s game but concepts that yield inherently diminished returns when a third of the league is acting in such a capacity — but they’ve made good on their promise to invest when their core is on the cusp of the Majors.
The Machado addition was far from the only blockbuster move the Padres tried to orchestrate this winter. San Diego was tied to ace-caliber arms like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Noah Syndergaard on the trade market. They were reported to be a legitimate player for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto before Miami flipped him to Philadelphia. They also explored a plethora of trades involving their glut of outfielders The Padres, as previously noted, at least internally discussed the possibility of adding Harper even after signing Machado, and they did have a face-to-face meeting with him at one point.
Ultimately, however, the remainder of the team’s offseason moves amounted to tinkering around the edges of the roster. The Padres know that for better or worse, they’re stuck with the contracts given to Hosmer and Wil Myers, and they entered the winter with a farm system teeming with near-MLB-ready options at a number of other key spots. Kinsler was brought in largely to serve as a leader who’ll function as a reserve player. General manager A.J. Preller knows the well-respected former All-Star from the pair’s days together in the Rangers organization. Preller & Co. also added a pair of affordable relief arms, Adam Warren and Aaron Loup, who can be controlled through 2020 via reasonable club options.
San Diego became the latest club to jump on the trend of guaranteed two-year deals for pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery as well. However, their $15.5MM promise to Garrett Richards doesn’t leave that much space for the team to consider the signing a bargain. Richards won’t pitch in 2019, meaning they’re essentially banking on the oft-injured righty to be a $15MM+ pitcher in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. It’s a tall order, although Richards has admittedly been that type of pitcher since 2014 … when healthy.
The biggest question surrounding the Padres may not even be whether Machado can prove their $300MM investment to be sound when all is said and done. Rather, the more immediate question was created by the organization itself with last week’s announcement that wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr. would break camp as the Opening Day shortstop.
Tatis is a lauded young talent who is generally regarded as one of baseball’s three best overall prospects. He’ll eventually team with another well-regarded young talent, Luis Urias, though Kinsler will fill out the initial double-play tandem. The Padres are confident that the Tatis-Urias duo will ultimately form an elite middle-infield pairing, but the sudden nature of Tatis’ promotion to the Majors only puts him in a larger spotlight. If he’s ready for a starring role right off the bat, the organization’s timeline to contention will be considerably accelerated.
It might be misleading to call the aforementioned bulk of outfielders on the Padres’ roster a “logjam” or a “surplus.” While the Padres have a large group — Myers, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Franmil Reyes and the currently injured Travis Jankowski — none is a lock to be all that productive. Myers certainly has a track record of hitting for power and stealing bases, but his glovework is questionable and his strikeout tendencies limit his on-base percentage.
None of the other four have established themselves yet as everyday Major Leaguers. It seems that something will have to give eventually, especially once Jankowski is back this summer. Perhaps it’ll sort itself out if some combination of Reyes, Margot, Cordero and Renfroe performs poorly enough to be optioned back to Triple-A, but a trade between now and July 31 also seems quite plausible.
The 2019 season could also serve as a proving year for the Padres’ catching corps. Austin Hedges, at this point, seems unlikely ever to be much of an on-base threat. His power and premium defense make that a reasonable trade-off, though. What to expect from Francisco Mejia will be the greater question with regard to this pairing. Mejia’s bat has long made him one of baseball’s most highly ranked prospects, but his defense isn’t as advanced. If he can cement himself as a viable option, the Padres could either look to deal Hedges or simply relish in a strong pairing that can be manipulated to focus either on defense or run production depending on the day’s opponent.
The other significant question facing the Padres this year is which of their touted young pitchers will take the next step and stake claims to long-term rotation spots. Joey Lucchesi looks to have done so with a solid rookie campaign in 2018, and there are extraordinarily high hopes for top prospect and Spring Training showstopper Chris Paddack, whose dominant Cactus League efforts put him under the microscope. Eric Lauer and Nick Margevicius are getting early opportunities, as is 27-year-old Matt Strahm (now that the former Royal is healthy). Waiting in the wings are Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Michel Baez, among many others.
The success of that group will determine how aggressively the Padres pursue rotation options. San Diego figures once again to discuss the possible acquisition of a high-end arm with multiple years of club control remaining in the coming summer or in the 2019-20 offseason to follow. The team would surely be more motivated to strike a deal if its collection of young arms struggles or suffers numerous injuries. (Jacob Nix is already sidelined by a partial UCL tear.) Looking ahead to the winter, Gerrit Cole leads a crop of free-agent pitchers that also includes 30-or-younger arms such as Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Alex Wood, Michael Wacha, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda.
The argument can certainly be made that the Padres should make a more immediate upgrade to the pitching staff right now by signing either Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel. Adding either would bolster the team’s 2019 outlook and possibly deepen the pitching staff in 2020 and beyond. Whether the organization wants to take on that kind of financial obligation when either pitcher might not be in a big league game before May is anyone’s guess, but there’s been very little in the way of recent connections between the Padres and either of those former All-Star pitchers.
Suffice it to say, there will be options for the organization to pursue if in-house options falter. But with Richards, Lucchesi and a host of young arms headlined by Paddack, the Padres hope that most of the answers are already pitching somewhere in the system.
2019 Season Outlook
The Padres might have more variance in their range of possible outcomes than any team in the game. Their heavy reliance on high-ceiling but unproven talents such as Tatis, Urias, Paddack, Mejia and whichever babyfaced pitchers get their first extended auditions could bring about huge yields if a few young players break out into immediate stardom. They’re a long shot to contend in a National League that is rife with strong clubs, but there’s enough upside permeating the roster to take a never-say-never approach.
More likely, however, the 2019 season will be one final year for the Padres to bide their time and evaluate a young core before relaunching into all-out “win-now” mode with regard to every spot on the roster.
How would you grade the Padres’ offseason? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors app users.)
There’s quite a bit of change afoot in the Toronto outfield mix. The club shipped Kevin Pillar out earlier today. Anthony Alford is on his way up, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). And to create 40-man space for the latest moves, the Jays shifted Dalton Pompey to the 60-day injured list.
Brito will give the Jays a left-handed-hitting, defensive-oriented option in center. He could pair there with Randal Grichuk, who seems likely to slide into the opening created by the departure of Pillar.
It was never really clear what the San Diego organization had in mind with regard to Brito, but it seems they nabbed him off waivers with an eye to flipping him. They’ll be rewarded for their efforts with Orozco, who turns 24 today and hasn’t yet played above the High-A level. The switch-hitter posted a .304/.375/.389 slash with forty walks and 53 strikeouts in 424 plate appearances last year. He also swiped 18 bags.
Padres righty Jacob Nix has decided not to undergo Tommy John surgery at the present, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on Twitter. Rather, he’ll attempt to rehab back from what is described as a small tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
It’s always good to hear that there’s a possible non-surgical path back from an injury to that area. TJ procedures are remarkably effective at giving pitchers a new lease on life, but they generally come with a year-plus recovery timeline and hardly guarantee a full return to pre-surgery ability levels.
The 23-year-old Nix has already had a circuitous path to the majors, so he’ll no doubt be relieved that there’s a possibility he’ll avoid another lengthy detour. Back in 2014, he was slated to sign an over-slot deal to join the Astros organization, but that fell apart as part of the Brady Aiken saga.
Nix landed with the Friars in the third round of the following year’s draft and moved steadily up the ladder thereafter. He turned in ten sparkling upper-minors outings in 2018, working to a 1.84 ERA with 44 strikeouts and nine walks over 58 2/3 innings, before getting his first call to the bigs.
While he was knocked around in his first taste of the majors, Nix entered camp this year with a shot at earning another look. The elbow woes eliminated that possibility, but he could still get back into the mix later this season if he’s able to progress through the rehab program.
Wisler’s career hasn’t gone the way some expected when he departed the San Diego organization in advance of the 2015 season. Then considered a high-quality pitching prospect who was a significant piece of the swap that sent Craig Kimbrel out west, Wisler failed to gain traction with the Braves.
For the most part, it was more of the same in 2018. Wisler turned in decent results in the upper minors and struggled badly in his limited opportunities in Atlanta, just as he had done in prior seasons.
After a late-season trade to the Reds, though, Wisler’s results perked up. He allowed just three earned runs in his 13 1/3 relief innings in Cincinnati. Things didn’t really get interesting until this spring, when Wisler ran up a 16:1 K/BB ratio in a dozen frames.
Since he’s out of options, Wisler will have to be carried on the active roster by the Friars. He could conceivably buttress a still-thin rotation, though the odds seemingly favor a relief role — perhaps including some multi-inning stints.
The Padres announced today that righty Bryan Mitchell was outrighted to Triple-A. He cleared waivers after being designated for assignment recently.
Since he’ll remain in the organization, Mitchell could yet provide the Friars with a return on the investment they made in acquiring him in December of 2017. To gain the rights to Mitchell, the San Diego organization took on a reported $13.5MM in obligations to Chase Headley (his 2018 salary and half of a $1MM assignment bonus), who ended up being dropped early in the season.
Mitchell hadn’t found MLB success when the San Diego organization picked up him up from the Yankees, but he had demonstrated some intriguing skills. The Pads hoped that his mid-to-upper -nineties heater, in combination with a cutter and curve, would allow him to become a quality big-league starter. Mitchell impressed at Triple-A in 2017, recording a 66:13 K/BB ratio and 55.4% groundball rate while allowing only one home run in 63 2/3 innings over 13 starts and one relief appearance.
But the struggles in the majors have continued unabated. In total, Mitchell owns a 5.15 ERA with 102 strikeouts and 87 walks in his 171 1/3 total frames at the game’s highest level. Now closing in on his 28th birthday, he’ll need to reestablish himself to earn his way back onto the 40-man roster.
As Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team race to the finish at Padres games, let’s take a look around the NL West…
- The Padres’ young rotation will be tested by an upcoming stretch of 11 straight games, MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell writes. There aren’t any offdays scheduled for the Padres between April 6-16, which could prove tricky for a team carrying two hurlers (Chris Paddack, Matt Strahm) on pitch limits, and southpaw Nick Margevicius, who had never pitched above A-ball before making his MLB debut on Saturday. “All options are on the table, from bullpen days to openers to protecting certain starters by pushing guys back and having guys step in front of them in the rotation. We’ll be creative,” manager Andy Green said. Cassavell also isn’t ruling out the possibility of a spot start by another minor leaguer, or perhaps even a newly-acquired pitcher joining the rotation mix.