Pulling a #StealthLuhnow without Ross

After an MRI on Tyson Ross’ shoulder, the team announced that he wouldn’t need surgery and that they would re-evaluate him after a couple of weeks. But that was a couple of weeks ago and the team has announced that there is no timetable for their ace’s return.

Losing a player like Ross would be a blow for any team but the Padres aren’t just losing an ace – Ross’ trade value is at the center of Preller’s #StealthLuhnow. But just because Ross is at the center of the rebuild doesn’t mean that it revolves around him. Even without his +4 WAR team ace, Preller still has a lot to work with. Before August 1st, Preller has three opportunities to add to the team: through the draft, through international free agency and through other trades.

Of course, the Padres claim that they’re not rebuilding but they actively shopped Kimbrel and Upton and Ross at last year’s deadline and we know that they wanted high end prospects in return. It was important for Preller to make a big trade after cleaning out the farm and he did just that when he traded Kimbrel over the winter. Only three top 25 prospects have been acquired during recent rebuilds and Margot could be the fourth if the Padres ever announce their own.

The Padres also have the 8th pick, which carries $15M in surplus value, and the 24th and 25th picks, which carry $7M each. To put it another way, the 8th pick has the value of a top 50 prospect while the other two are akin to a top 120. Then there’s international free agency. The Padres are rumored favorites to four of the top ten international free agents and nine of the top thirty but here’s a different list of names: Alfaro, Profar, Odor and Mazara. All four signed with Texas when Preller and Don Welke were there and all four became top 50 prospects.

The Padres have a chance to add three top 120 prospects in the Rule 6 draft and even more high-ceiling prospects during the international signing period before August 1st. While a Ross trade would supplement those, he’s not the only trade asset that the team has.

Ross is attractive to other teams because he’s under control for 1.5 years and while control is valuable, it’s not everything. Availability can be just as important since a player can’t help you if he’s not on your team or, worse, if he’s on a rival team.

A lot can change before August 1st but the pitching market this year looks pretty weak. Of all pitchers scheduled to hit free agency before the beginning of 2018, Ross is the only one in the top 10 for WAR since 2014 who plays for a clear seller and the only other pitcher in the top 15 is Cashner.

2013 was a similarly weak year and the Cubs landed Olt, back when he was still a big deal, and Edwards for Garza, who had only given them +0.9 WAR that season and spent time on the DL. And Texas saw Garza as a #3 during their playoff push. Both Garza then and Cashner now entered their contract years looking like 2-3 WAR pitchers and in a quiet year, Garza brought back two top 40 prospects for his (former) team. Barring a meltdown in Washington or a change of ownership in the Bronx, Cashner could too.

There is also Norris, who isn’t a pitcher or playing well right now or even the player Preller traded Hahn for. He is, however, a durable starting catcher who has an All-Star appearance on his resume and two and a half years of team control left. There should be a market for him.

This should be a seller’s trade deadline and Preller should be positioned to capitalize even without Ross available. Add potential returns for Cashner and Norris to the draft picks and international free agents and the farm system will be significantly improved. And Ross can still come back.

We don’t know when Ross’ shoulder will be re-evaluated but if he can make it back by the beginning of June, he will still have time to make ten starts and he could get his WAR up to +1.4 in that time if he pitches like he’s shown he is capable.

To put that in perspective, Carlos Gomez missed twenty-nine games last year with a variety of leg injuries and put up +1.6 WAR in 74 games before the Brewers sent him and Mike Fiers to the Astros for two top 100 prospects and a 22-year-old right fielder.

Fiers is a wild card and it’s hard to guess a comparable throw-in for the Padres but last summer was a buyers’ market. (The Mets turned down deals for Gomez and Upton and still got Cespedes.) If Ross can come back healthy, Preller’s phone won’t stop ringing till August 2nd.

And even if Ross can’t come back and pitch like he did last year, it’s not that bad. We’ve heard for almost a year that Ross is available and that Preller wants everything for him and had anyone obliged Preller, we can assume that Ross would be gone. And if Preller has only turned down lesser packages, Ross’ value may not have dropped at all.

We’ve seen six #FullLuhnow’s this decade and the Padres are flirting with the seventh. Preller’s in charge of 2016’s 20th best system, including the package for Kimbrel, and he will draft three times in the first round, overspend internationally and probably make some trades before next year’s ranking come out. A big Ross deal would help, that’s true, but there’s no need to cancel the #FullPreller.

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