Giving away the farm for ill-fated runs

In a Saturday morning article, Time for the Padres to get bold, the U-T San Diego’s Matt Calkins advocated surrendering the farm system’s pitching depth for an impact bat. Calkins’ suggestions centered around the addition of either Giancarlo Stanton or Mark Trumbo, “the Angel with a lifetime OPS of .768 over four seasons.”

These players have been mentioned before during this off-season and rather than rehashing the pros and cons of adding their bats right now I would rather focus on Calkins’ idea about how the Padres should compete with today’s behemoths of the game:

The Padres aren’t anywhere close to a team like the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Yankees, who can bulldoze their way to the postseason with sheer force. They, however are one that can pirouette their way in with some good fortune and a critical extra piece.

Now’s the time to get that piece. Now’s the time for the index finger to stop wagging “no” and instead pull the trigger.

This is an interesting approach and it begs the question: When is the right time for a team like the Padres (i.e. limited resources and less margin for error) to push all in and go for it?

I wish Calkins’ article had included mention of the last time the Padres chose to deal a prospect for a missing piece of the puzzle. To do so would have been to turn the clock waaaaay back.

Turning the clock waaaaay back – Now!

On December 15th, 1997 the Padres sent prized prospect Derrek Lee (chosen 1:14 in the 1993 amateur draft) along with Steve Hoff, and Rafael Medina to the Florida Marlins for no-shit-number-one-ace Kevin Brown.

Kevin Brown had been an integral component of the 1997 championship in Florida and had accrued 15.0 WAR during his two seasons in south Florida. But the Marlins were dismantling their team and Brown made perfect sense to trade based on his around-the-corner status as a free agent.

Meanwhile in San Diego the Padres assessed themselves and determined that they were close to contending again – perhaps one player away.

The Padres had gone to the playoffs in 1996 but then sputtered to a 73-89 record in ’97. What made the Padres think that adding one pitcher could help push them over the hump in 1998?

Well, they had the defending batting champ (Tony Gwynn), the defending gold glove winner at 3rd base and 1996 MVP (Ken Caminiti) and a gold glover in center field (Steve Finley), not to mention a strong cast of contributors, a solid bullpen and a pitching staff whose top three hurlers (Andy Ashby, Joey Hamilton, and Sterling Hitchcock) were a collective 5.8 wins above replacement.

The Padres pulled the trigger on the deal and added Kevin Brown for what would likely only be a one season rental. For his part, Brown posted the best season (8.6 WAR) of his career in 1998. With the addition of Brown the Padres made it to the World Series and ultimately got a new ballpark out of the deal. Dealing a prospect like Derrek Lee turned out to be pretty wise.

Back to the future

It is no longer 1998. There is a massive gulf in payroll disparity in today’s MLB, which brings us back to the 2014 Padres: Are they that close to making a serious run that emptying the farm system of its pitching depth would be wise at this moment?

If we examine the Padres farm system we see serious pitching depth in the lower minors as well as a premier defensive catcher that industry experts cannot stop gushing about, in young Austin Hedges. To deal away the system’s depth in pitching would be to nullify one aspect of the defensive wizard’s skill-set – managing a staff of young pitchers – which he has done very well since he fell to the Padres in the 2nd round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.

If the Padres had the 2010 versions of Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson (as Calkins alludes to) I would say deal away – but the Padres cannot post such a claim about their current rotation. It is not 2010. Nor is it 1998 when it took just one prospect to pry away an expensive pitcher ($4.5M), on the verge of free-agency. A player like Mike Giancarlo Stanton is cheap ($537K) and under contract through 2017. To acquire such a bat it would take pitching prospects: plural.

It is true that the Padres face a huge challenge in competing with teams like the Dodgers and Giants. Those teams are in the enviable position of being able to throw money at problems but more importantly their pockets are so deep they can see their decisions fail miserably and still survive such maladies. The Padres do not have that luxury.

The Padres cannot pirouette past teams like the Dodgers but instead must build something strong from within so they can become bulldozers themselves (for a brief 5 year window if fans are lucky). Then with true all-around strength in the farm system they can pull the trigger on a deal if they are “a critical extra piece” away from making a run.

Unfortunately, the Padres are more than a critical piece away right now and to deal away the strength of the organization for an outside chance in 2014 would be the equivalent of plowing under the fields of your farm to build a baseball field because a mysterious voice told you to do so despite the fact that your ginger haired brother-in-law is in cahoots with the bank that holds the deed to said farm. Seriously . . . how well did that work out for Ray Kinsella.

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I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly outraged by the location of statues around Petco Park. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM. The dusty archives of AJM are located at avengingjm.blogspot.com

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