After years of small market, bottom-fifteen payroll chatter, something has changed in San Diego. Apparently, all that was needed was a General Manager with the vision and gumption to make moves. After all, the ownership group cannot necessarily still be considered new. So with that, recently ousted GM, Josh Byrnes, seemingly could have gone for it the same way AJ Preller is in his first offseason with the Padres. That’s not to slight Byrnes as he did make some quality moves – some of which included players used in Preller’s recent flurry of activity. It is simply shining light on the vastly different approach this new GM is taking with a team that is used to seeing its players on the way out rather than welcoming new players to the fold.
In barely over a week’s time, Preller has completely transformed a roster that finished with a historically barren offense in 2014. Moreover, he has done so without giving up any of the top three starting pitchers – Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy – and has retained three of the top four prospects (from the 2014 MLB.com midseason list) in Austin Hedges (#1), Matt Wisler (#2) and Hunter Renfroe (#4, now #3).
Come Opening Day, the Padres will feature potentially five new faces in the starting lineup with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks (a reported deal). With a glaring hole still at shortstop and 10 (yes, 10) legitimate Major League outfielders – you thought the Dodgers had a logjam – on the 40-man roster, you can be sure the dealing is far from over. Assuming the newest acquisitions remain in San Diego, the following outfielders may want to have their bags packed just in case their name comes up (just ask Rene Rivera how fast fortunes can change): Abraham Almonte, Jake Goebbert, Rymer Liriano, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith and Will Venable.
So what is Preller saying with all these moves? Well, a few things. First, he and the Padres are ready to win now. In a season in which the World Series champions reside in the same division and the Dodgers are just flat-out financial monsters, that hasn’t deterred the Padres from going all in now. Secondly, it says that Preller identified the prospects he liked upon taking over and worked deals to keep them, even if it meant giving up more of the others in each deal (read further for a full list of players traded away). Thirdly, Preller is showing that he isn’t afraid to take an injury-prone player (Kemp) or one coming off an injury-shortened season (Myers, Middlebrooks) with the potential of great upside. He also isn’t afraid or concerned about defensive metrics which have not been kind to Kemp or Norris, particularly. The last thing of note is that right-handed power plays at Petco. Maybe it is just a lack of a left-handed market, but Preller has certainly targeted right-handed power hitters.
The potential downside to all these moves, however, are the upsides of the players that have been sent out. Eleven of the organization’s top 30 prospects will find themselves in different training camps next year (with the exception of Trea Turner who will have to play for the Padres organization until he can be officially moved in June) as a result of these moves including: Burch Smith, Jake Bauers, Joe Ross, Turner, Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith, Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, RJ Alvarez, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.
The farm system has been depleted as a whole, yes, but if this doesn’t work, and the Padres find themselves out of contention in July, there are pieces on this team now that can be flipped for minor-league depth. On the other side of that, assuming the Padres contend all year and cannot get long-term deals worked out with pending free agents (i.e. Upton, Kennedy), they have the option to make a qualifying offer and recoup a high draft pick in those instances should those players decline the QO. And, don’t forget about the glut of outfielders still on the team that could also be swapped for younger talent.
The other two upside players moved this week but don’t qualify as prospects were Jesse Hahn – who came over in the Alex Torres deal and showed great promise in ’14 with a big curveball – and Yasmani Grandal, both of whom were big parts of the 2014 squad assembled by former GM Josh Byrnes.
One other question the team faces now is who plays centerfield? Do they go with the aging, declining skillset of one-time centerfielder Kemp or the younger, more agile Myers, who, while hasn’t played more than 53 innings of centerfield in the majors, played 200 games there in the minor leagues.
So, take the title of this piece as an extreme compliment towards first-time, first-year Padres General Manager, AJ Preller. Whatever he does from here on out, it’ll be hard to surpass the level of activity he has created in the 2014-15 offseason.
How many times can the Padres say that they have been on the receiving end of the marquee player at the time the deal was struck, let alone in multiple trades during the same year? In five years when Kemp’s deal is up, Myers hits free agency and we have a clear picture of what all the young talent the Padres gave up has become, we can take time to evaluate this offseason. Until then, enjoy it Padres fans, the waiting is over.