The Deafening Silence At The Trade Deadline

As I do most Mondays, I spent this morning reading Jonah Keri’s “The 30” on Grantland. It is probably the one baseball article (aside from PP content) that I make a point to read on a weekly basis. Within this morning’s article was a link to not one but TWO previous Grantland articles on the Padres inaction at the trade deadline. At this point I had read enough national media scribes to understand the feeling and opinions about A.J. Preller’s lack of trades come July 31 at 1:00pm. But I clicked anyway. Trade deadline winners and losers. A pointless exercise on par with grading drafts that nonetheless get churned out ad nasuem this time of year.

Not surprisingly the Padres were firmly in the “losers” category. Their reasoning:

And as the offseason’s biggest buyer went into the deadline with only a 3 percent chance at the playoffs (according to Baseball Prospectus) and a ton of veterans and free-agents-to-be on his roster, it was logical to assume that he’d make some moves.

Fair enough. Can’t quibble with that too much. Except, two paragraphs later, when explaining why the Marlins FANS (not the Marlins) were losers at the trade deadline, they said this:

So the Marlins, who currently sit 18 games below .500, did what they always do when they try to contend and it doesn’t immediately work: They sold the team off for parts. Latos and Mike Morse went to the Dodgers in a salary dump,1 while Dan Haren went to Chicago, even though the Dodgers were paying Haren’s $10 million salary anyway.

Again, this is criticism of the Marlins. Which leads to some confusing. The Padres are the laughingstock because they acquired a bunch of parts and didn’t contend immediately and then chose to not sell those parts off. The Marlins are criticized because they acquired a bunch of parts, didn’t contend immediately, and did sell off those parts.

I don’t know how to reconcile these two thoughts. So, instead of that exercise, I thought I’d try a nuanced reaction to the Padres trade deadline non-deals.

First, a few things we don’t know:

1) What was being offered for the Padres available players

Sure, a few stories have leaked about who the Yankees might have offered or who the Cubs were willing to part with. Is that real information? PR cover for contending teams who did little at the deadline? I don’t know.

2) How much the Padres have to spend in 2016

Again, numbers have been rumored, but no one knows this answer.

Second, let’s discuss the publicly available reason for not making a move. As has been cited numerous times since Friday, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Padres stood pat because they think they can contend. That seems ludicrous on its face, granted. Currently they have a 1.9% chance of making the playoffs per Baseball Prospectcus, down from 3% only a few days ago despite winning 2 of 3 from Miami. But they are only 6.5 games out of the Wild Card with two months to play. That’s not insurmountable, though it is a pretty high mountain to climb. The Padres have a soft August schedule and they’ve been playing better of late, including taking 2 of 3 from the Mets in NY (more on that in a bit). I don’t think AJ is so short sighted as to let one good week of games effect his long term outlook for the team. But then again, I don’t know AJ so maybe he saw the improvement, saw the schedule, and decided “Screw it, let’s go for it.”

What’s more likely is that the idea of “contending” is more PR talk then real talk. In my job I negotiate a lot of settlements. And sometimes who feel like you got the better end of the deal, sometimes you don’t. Either way, when it comes time to spin these deals to the powers that be, you spin it in the most favorable light humanely possible. It’s why the Yankees leaked that they would part with SS prospect Jorge Mateo.

In this case, the “contending” talk I think is more PR then reality. And it serves a secondary purpose. It was rumored at the time of Bud Black’s dismissal in mid-June that the front office had lost the players. Understandably, they were not pleased when Black was fired. It’s fair to assume that they felt, as many fans did, that firing Bud Black mid-season was a sign that the front office had given up on this team. Certainly the play of the team immediately following this mess, against presumably softer opponents, would provide some circumstantial evidence of a team not really trying all that hard. Smash cut to the end of July and the front office, despite overwhelming odds and every incentive to dismantle, stands pat and publicly says that this team can contend. Smart baseball move or not, it repairs any damage that may have been done by the firing of Bud Black and a month of trade rumors. As Justin Upton put it on Friday:

“I think just the sense around the clubhouse is that this front office wants this group, so we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that they didn’t make the wrong decision.”

It is at least worth pondering whether a combination of a market that dried up or simply wasn’t providing the value AJ wanted (especially after big name pitchers like Price and Hamels were dealt thus limiting the teams in need of pitching help) and the chance to curry favor in the clubhouse lead to the decision to do nothing. Or was it simply an unintended consequence of standing pat? We’ll likely never know.

The simpler answer may be this. The Padres most attractive players at the deadline were guys the Padres had locked up beyond this year (Upton excluded). Ross, Shields, and Kimbrel all drew the most interest by all accounts. They were also the players the Padres “had” to move the least unless they were shedding payroll. There’s been no indication that’s the case…yet. Upton is the only player where it seemed imperative that he move. Of course, when teams know you have to trade someone, you are not likely to get a ton of great offers. Considering the Padres will get a compensation pick for Upton should he turn down the Qualifying Offer in the winter (and hey, he does say he likes San Diego so who knows, maybe he signs here), coupled with a market that thinks you have to move him, it’s reasonable to assume the offers weren’t great. Is a Single A pitching prospect worth more than a 3% chance at the playoffs plus a draft pick? What about 2?

Baseball is a weird game of perception. The Padres are idiots for not selling. The Mets are heroes. The Padres have won 3 fewer games than the Mets…and beat them 2 out of 3 times head-to-head. Are the Padres as good as the Mets? Maybe. But they likely aren’t better than the Cubs or Giants, two teams they will have to leapfrog into that wild card spot. Then again, the Giants have won a few World Series recently without being the best team in baseball.

Maybe it’s blind naivete. Maybe it’s homerism run amok. But while I don’t believe that the Padres can make a run to the playoffs, nor do I think that’s why they didn’t make a move (as pointed at numerous times, they also didn’t add to the team except for a LOOGY), I don’t think the franchise is irreparable harmed by these moves. Salaries can be dumped in the winter, even if its for nothing. Players can be signed in the winter (and perhaps be more willing to now that AJ has shown he won’t cut bait come July 31). And maybe, just maybe, the Padres can play .650 baseball here on out and surprise everyone. It’s not likely, but its not unprecedented (See: Rockies 2007 or Rays 2011). And despite not thinking it can happen, I’ll be rooting like hell for it to happen. Which means there’s only one thing left to do:

 

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  • Tom Waits

    There may be a contradiction in how analysts see the Padres and Marlins, but it’s not that stark. There’s a difference between getting prospect lottery tickets for Kennedy or Venable or Benoit and the Marlins’ habit of dumping players for nothing but salary relief. Bauman criticizes Preller for not moving unimportant pieces in return for promising youngsters. How much promise those youngsters had is an open question, to be sure. He’s criticizing the Marlins for putting money ahead of procuring talent.

    • Geoff Hancock

      This of course assumes that there were any offers for guys like Venable and Benoit. And whether those offers were more valuable than a 3% chance of making the playoffs. I don’t think the Padres missed out on procuring a ton of talent for not trading Venable, Benoit or Kennedy personally.

      Moving Shields or Kimbrel on the other hand was primarily a salary dump move with the hope of obtaining prospects as well. To me that is no different than what Miami did (granted, they have a history of doing so). If they were going to have such drastically different opinions of two teams actions I think a clearer explanation would have helped.

      • Tom Waits

        That’s why I wrote “How much promise those youngsters had is an open question.” Traditionally you don’t get much for players like that, and it’s certainly possible that Preller thought the chaff he was offered was worth less than keeping the 2015 Padres as competitive as possble.

        Moving Kimbrel by himself would be mostly for prospects, but he hasn’t been great this year. That cuts his trade value. Shields has underperformed too and his backloaded deal makes him less attractive.

        Still, money changing hands has become a normal part of trades, even for great players. Cole Hamels is a terrific pitcher making less than he’d get as a free agent and the Phillies sent 9.5 million with him to Texas, plus taking on Harrison. Other teams including a financial offset to deals for Kimbrel and Shields is par for the course.

      • ballybunion

        The mention of Shields and Kimbrel does not mean they would be moved – unless it was a terrific deal that improved the club. In the absence of that, he would have looked for a couple small deals for the guys leaving at the end of the year, and just didn’t get reasonable offers. One of the reasons Preller was hired was his tireless effort to leave no stone unturned. He’s ALWAYS going to mention every player he has, even core players he’d want to keep, looking for that big deal.

        That’s what the Blue Jays did with Tulo, knowing they had valuable pieces and offering different combinations until they found one the Rockies would accept. Right after the deal, the NY press was asking why the Mets didn’t pull off such a deal. The answer is they (and others) took “not available” for an answer and moved on. Persistence and getting creative can work, but not if the other side doesn’t want to deal seriously.

  • Pat

    “But they are only 6.5 games out of the Wild Card with two months to play. That’s not insurmountable, though it is a pretty high mountain to climb.”
    I think this sort of view on games back, or games out, as you said, is misused. “only 6.5 games” misses the point, which is that to make up that many games requires a team which has played below .500 baseball for over half the season to all of a sudden play well above .500 for an extended period AND teams in front of them who have played above .500 for over half the season to play .500 or below for an extended period.
    Another way to look at it is the padres were 4 games below .500 going into the deadline, just 49 wins with 60 games remaining. It’s going to take ~90 wins to get a WC play in game, which means they have to win 40 out of 60, roughly. No, not going to happen, no way, no how. Looking at games back ignores these sort of stark facts.

    • Geoff Hancock

      I think I made it clear that I don’t think they are going to be able to do this. The hill is nearly insurmountable. It’s not unprecedented, but it’s pretty close. The X factor is whether this minuscule chance was worth more than the lottery ticket prospects being offered.

      It’s quibbling a bit but right now the 2nd wild card is projected to be 88 wins.