Kyle Blanks’ long, mostly enigmatic San Diego Padres career came crashing to an end last week, as he was dealt to the Oakland A’s for outfielder Jake Goebbert and a player to be named later or cash considerations.
A draft-and-follow from the 42nd round of the 2004 draft, Blanks raked at every level in the Padres minor league system. Blanks’ prospect breakout came in 2007 when he hit .301/.380/.540 and popped 20 home runs in High-A Lake Elsinore. He solidified that performance in 2008 when, as a 21-year-old, he hit .325/.404/.514 in pitcher-friendly Double-A San Antonio. By 2009, Baseball America rated him as the No. 1 prospect in the Padres system and 50th in all of baseball.
At that point, the only thing blocking Blanks from a full-time job in San Diego was Adrian Gonzalez, who just so happened to play Blanks’ natural position of first base. Even that wasn’t much of a roadblock, as the nimble-for-his-size Blanks, who stands at 6’6’’ and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 275 pounds, was able to make a largely (no pun intended) seamless transition to the outfield, splitting time between left and right field for the Padres in 2009. He also hit .250/.355/.514 that year as a 22-year-old rookie, smashing 10 home runs in just 172 plate appearances. Season-ending plantar fasciitis in September both put an end to Blanks’ fantastic rookie season and foreshadowed an injury-plagued future.
Blanks followed up his rookie campaign by OPSing just .607 in the first month and half of 2010, then fell victim to season-ending Tommy John Surgery. He started off 2011 in the minor leagues and forced his way back into the major league fold after posting an 1.100-plus OPS in hitter-friendly Tucson. Blanks received regular playing time with the Padres, mostly in left field, from late-July through the end of the season, but hit a near league-average yet uninspiring – at least based on that rookie year promise — .229/.300/.406 in 190 plate appearances.
A torn labrum and subsequent shoulder surgery put Blanks out of action for almost all of 2012. He was given plenty of playing time in 2013, but again failed to impress with the bat, hitting just .243/.305/.379 in 308 PAs. He also missed most of July and August with Achilles tendinitis. Coming into this season, with a crowded outfield and Yonder Alonso entrenched at first base, Blanks was pretty much a forgotten man. Blanks’ Triple-A slugfest,* a rash of injuries, and an inept major league offense gave him one final shot in San Diego this year, but it was short-lived. He was traded just over a week after being recalled from the minors, gone to hopefully (for Blanks, anyway) greener pastures in Oakland.
*As Geoff Young noted last week, Blanks feasted on sub-par pitching in El Paso, at least when he was hitting home runs.
It’s hard to blame the Padres for cutting ties with Kyle Blanks. By this point, maybe it’s clear that things just weren’t going to work out in San Diego. And a trade to Oakland, with the DH slot available and their penchant for reclamation projects, always seemed like it was destined to one day come to fruition.
The problem with this deal for the Padres involves the timing of it. First, Blanks’ value is at an all-time low. A once-hyped prospect with light-tower power, solid contact ability, and league-average defensive potential, Blanks is currently just a shell of his former self. The blame for Blanks’ struggles might not belong to the Padres*, as Blanks’ chronic injury issues and lackluster performance have derailed his career as much as anything the organization has done. But at this point, he is what he is: a potentially usable player at first base or in the outfield, but not a trade asset. With this year being his final option year, the Padres hands weren’t forced quite yet.
*You could argue that by shifting Blanks from first base to the outfield the Padres exacerbated his injury issues. With Gonzalez at first, there was little else they could do but try Blanks in the outfield, though, and it’s hard to attribute his injuries to the position switch. Blanks’ most significant injuries were both arm/shoulder related, and as we’ve seen recently with Carlos Quentin, sometimes just running the bases can cause problems. Staying out of the outfield might have helped Blanks stay healthier, but you can’t run an injury-prone player out there in bubble wrap.
The other issue with the trade is that the Padres current first basemen, Yonder Alonso, is hitting .197/.237/.293 so far this season. Getting worked up over small sample sizes is always to be avoided, but Alonso’s been really bad this year, and his career number have gradually been trending downward. Since coming to the Padres in 2012, Alonso’s bat has been nearly league-average. For a first basemen, that isn’t going to cut it for long, and it probably isn’t anything more than what Blanks could provide if given an everyday role.
The outfield is still somewhat crowded, especially with the emergence of Seth Smith and the presence of the perpetually underrated Chris Denorfia, but Will Venable’s struggles have almost reached Alonso-level depths this year and Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin (specifically Quentin) are as injury-prone as Blanks and are always a tweak or two away from the DL.
You could probably argue, if you wanted to stretch it a bit, that Kyle Blanks is the perfect bench player for this iteration of the Padres. He can spell Alonso at first against lefties (or take over full-time if Alonso doesn’t turn the corner), he can play the outfield when needed, and he’s a power-hitting pinch hitting option late in games. That’s painting a rosy picture, of course: Blanks’ injury issues probably aren’t going to go away and his offensive profile has been heading south since the rookie breakout. Still, as a bench player, Blanks has his value, and that’s probably why Billy Beane and the A’s came calling.
Jake Goebbert appears to be a fungible extra outfielder at best, and there’s no room on the Padres major league roster for him now. He has six years of service time left along with all of his options, so that’s a plus, but it’s not entirely certain that he’ll be around to use up all of that service time or option years, as he has the look of more of a fringe player. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft by the Houston Astros, and acquired early last season by the A’s for LHP Travis Blackley. Blackley is 31 years old, owns a 5.28 major league FIP, a minor league ERA that’s pushing four, and is currently pitching in Japan. That tells you a little bit about Jake Goebbert’s trade value.
Of course, there’s the player to be named later (or the cash) that will be sent to San Diego to complete the trade, which makes it impossible to fully evaluate the deal right now. While PTBNLs are often just bit pieces, it seems possible, if not likely, that the Padres will get something decent back here, if only because Blanks has plenty more value than Goebbert as far as role players go. We’ll see.
Maybe the Padres are simply making a good-faith gesture towards Blanks here: we don’t want ya anymore, but Oakland does, so good luck. Maybe. It just seems like a strange time to finally deal him. Adrian Gonzalez is no longer at first base, the Anthony Rizzo/Yonder Alonso logjam cleared itself up two years ago, and even Jesus Guzman, who saw plenty of action at first from 2011-2013, is now in Houston. We’re left with Alonso, and he’s failed to live up to expectations thus far. Sure, Tommy Medica’s stashed at Triple-A and Alex Dickerson is a fringy prospect (although he may miss the season after undergoing heel surgery in April), but neither offer the upside of Blanks.
Kyle Blanks spent far more time on the disabled list with the Padres than he did on the baseball field and, when he was on the field, his performance didn’t build on his rookie season success. All didn’t go as planned, but it still feels like the Padres gave up on Blanks a year or two after he had any real trade value and a year or two before he had lost all on-field utility, especially with the current construction of the roster. Not an ideal time to trade a player, whether the Padres are trying to win right now or in the future.