Ho-Hum, Another Preller Blockbuster

Just when I thought it was safe to settle in for a little Sunday Night Baseball action, A.J. Preller struck again, pulling off the sort of Opening Day/Night blockbuster far more likely to show up in your fantasy league than the majors.

This time Preller and the Padres sent OF Cameron Maybin, “OF” Carlos Quentin, RHP Matt Wisler, OF Jordan Paroubeck, and the 41st pick in the 2015 draft to the Braves for RHP Craig Kimbrel and OF Melvin Upton Jr. Here are some thoughts on this fascinating head-scratcher/headache-inducer.

Craig Kimbrel is really good.

It’s usually a plus when you get the best player involved in a trade, and it’s hard to argue that guy isn’t Kimbrel. In fact, he might just be the best closer in baseball. Let me take that back: he is the best closer in baseball. Here’s a list of the top five projected 2015 ERAs, per PECOTA:

Pitcher Innings ERA K/9 BB/9 HR Allowed
Craig Kimbrel 64 1.34 14.5 3.1 3
Kenley Jansen 50.3 1.73 13.6 2.7 4
Sean Doolittle 56.3 2.05 10.9 1.8 4
Aroldis Chapman 60.7 2.07 14.2 4.1 4
Koji Uehara 58.3 2.07 11.2 1.6 6

Using an algorithm that’s specifically designed to take a player’s performance and regress it back toward a league average, Kimbrel projects for a minuscule 1.34 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 64 innings. Kimbrel does almost everything well; he strikes out as many batters — per inning — as anyone in the game, he possesses solid control, and when batters do make contact, they hit the ball on the ground nearly 45 percent of the time. Oh yeah, he throws ridiculously hard (fastball average of 97 miles-per-hour last season), he’s just 26 years old (soon-to-be 27), and he has the kind of health history report that Dr. James Andrews has nightmares about.

The negatives: he’s a pitcher and he throws really hard, and those guys are bound to eventually break.

Kimbrel fits Preller’s preferred mold of a hard-throwing right hander.

Just last week we discussed A.J. Preller’s early tendency to acquire right-handed pitching, specifically guys who both offer a hard fastball and a power slider.

Meet Craig Kimbrel, quintessential right-handed, hard-throwing, power breaking ball guy. (Kimbrel’s breaking ball is technically classified as a curve ball, though it arguably defies conventional pitch classification.) Among pitchers with at least 100 innings from 2012 through 2014, here’s where Kimbrel ranks in various categories of interest:

Fastball velocity: 96.9 (third)
Swinging strike percentage: 16.4 (third)
wFB/C: 1.87 (second)
wCB/C: 2.66 (sixth)

Kimbrel’s fastball ranks fourth in the PITCHf/x era among relievers in whiffs per swing at 32.02 percent, while his slider (53.67 percent) ranks second.

Craig Kimbrel, the quintessential right-handed, hard-throwing, power breaking ball guy, was not surprisingly coveted by A.J. Preller.

The money involved

The Padres managed to trade the contracts of both Carlos Quentin and Camerin Maybin, two outfielders made expendable by Preller’s busy offseason, and actually add a good chunk of change to current and future payroll obligations with this deal. Here’s roughly how it breaks down:

Player Status 2015 2016 2017 2018
Craig Kimbrel IN $9.25M $11.25M $13.25M $1M (option)
Melvin Upton IN $15.05M $16.05M $17.05M
Cameron Maybin OUT $7.1M $8.1M $1M (option)
Carlos Quentin OUT $8M $3M (option)
Total Change + $9.2M + $16.2M + $29.3M + $1M

Melvin Upton is a lot like Cameron Maybin, except he’s older, he’s worse, and he’s a lot more expensive. In February, Jonah Keri ranked Upton’s remaining contract — three years and $46.4 million — as the third-worst deal in all of baseball, less bad than only Matt Harrison‘s and A-Rod’s.

Upton looked like a future superstar coming up through the Rays’ system, posting a 136 OPS+ as a 22-year-old regular in the majors, while swiping 22 bases and playing solid defense in center. Upton never lived up to the early hype, but he was valuable through most of his twenties. He’s cratered in his last couple of seasons, however, flirting with the Mendoza Line in both 2013 and 2014 while striking out 30-plus percent of the time. On the plus side, Upton won’t be able to start racking up negative WAR until May, as he’s out until then with a foot injury*.

*Yes, I’m being unreasonably harsh on Upton here. Forget the contract and he’s a capable defensive replacement with some base running skills and enough back-performance to make a return to adequacy at the dish a possibility. He’s also brothers with Justin Upton, a fact that will probably help both of their moods while perhaps making Better Upton *sliiightly* more likely to ink a long-term pact with the Padres. 

To get an ace reliever and shed the contracts of both Quentin and Maybin, the Padres had to take on one of baseball’s ugliest contracts. They also had to trade away more of the future …

Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck, and a draft pick.

Another constant theme with Preller’s offseason has been sacrificing the future for the short-term. San Diego has already traded a good portion of its farm system this offseason, along with young players like Yasmani Grandal and Jesse Hahn. No different here, as the Padres surrender arguably their best remaining prospect in Matt Wisler, an intriguing 20-year-old outfielder in Paroubeck, and another draft pick (the Padres already lost the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft when they signed James Shields) in an attempt to assemble the best bullpen in the majors.

It might not be a bad trade-off, considering how much emphasis the Padres have put on turning the 2015 team into a contender. If Kimbrel’s the piece that helps push them into the postseason, it’ll be hard to complain when Wisler’s a cheap, mid-rotation starter in Atlanta, especially if Kimbrel becomes a key cog in a deep October run.

Then again, with Preller dealing off such a significant portion of the future, if the Padres don’t win in 2015 (or ’16, at least), things could go spectacularly bad in a hurry. While we expect Preller and Co. to start churning out prospects of their own, they’re starting from a disadvantage with a farm system that’s been in self-destruction mode all offseason and a 2015 draft that’s light on picks and signing bonus money. Further, Preller’s area of expertise — international amateur players — is one that takes years to show results. Without short-term results in San Diego, it’ll be tougher to watch Matt Wisler develop into a cheap, mid-rotation starter in Atlanta … or Jordan Paroubeck turn into a solid right fielder by 2017 … or Trea Turner turn into an above average shortstop in Washington … or Yasmani Grandal … well, you get the point.

***

The good: the 2015 team looks really solid. The Padres are probably at least a favorite to make the playoffs, and who knows, if the Dodgers suffer a couple more injuries, maybe the NL West isn’t out of reach. They should also be fun to watch, with Kimbrel closing out games, a good starting rotation, and an offense that’ll display the nightly heroics of guys like Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.

The bad: The future payroll commitments are getting a bit scary — $75 million is already locked up in the 2017 payroll, and almost all of it goes to three over-30 players and a flame-throwing closer. The farm system, which still features plenty of upside in Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, Michael Gettys, etc., is on the downtrend while the Padres are parting with draft picks, playing a high risk game of big-market ball in a medium-market town. And somehow Alexi Amarista is still the starting shortstop.

 

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  • Benchedfan

    Dont know how Amarista is still our best option at short after this whole offseason.

    • ballybunion

      That’s easy to answer: there wasn’t anybody better available at a reasonable price. Who knows, maybe somebody remembers that Gyorko was a shortstop in both high school and college, and was converted to 3rd when he signed, then to 2b. If he could back up at SS, Spangenberg could replace Barmes on the roster and give Bud Black some guys to juggle.

      • Like barve mentioned above, getting the Braves to include Andrelton Simmons in this deal would have been sweet, though it obviously would have cost the Padres more in prospects/assets (A LOT more, probably). Still, one can dream.

  • barve

    go back for A Simmons at the deadline if top prospect Peraza has performed in minor s for braves. offer the young outfielder s for him, then both teams are set, Pads in 15-17, Braves from 17-20 if most prospect s pan out.

  • Shamu35

    Speaking of trading away young talent … did anyone who watched last night’s game miss having Grandal behind the dish?