In other words, #Padres plan to continue on path described earlier: Trying to compete while collecting prospects and possibly shedding $$$.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2015
Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday on this offseason plan for the Padres.
Traditionally, because gathering resources is difficult, teams try to focus on acquiring players that complement a team expected to win, or they try to use remaining resources of a bad to acquire players for the future. This is an oversimplification of course, but it’s generally true that focusing priorities into one area helps from being spread too thin everywhere.
The Padres, according to Rosenthal are trying to do both: acquire assets to compete in the future, while simultaneously turning a team with 71 context neutral wins (known as baseruns) the previous season into a winner. And also, they want to spend less money in the process.
In case my skepticism isn’t yet apparent, let me be explicit: I’m skeptical of such a plan. It sounds like the plan an ownership group with high ambition, but little patience or baseball operations experience would think is a good idea. Here’s Peter Seidler in July: “We think we’re smarter to put all of our energy into competing year after year after year.”
Ownership might be especially willing to agree to that plan if promised by a young, brazen general manager looking to make good on what were likely similarly risky promises made a year before. Sounds great as a plan, but is also difficult to pull off in reality.
How’s the plan so far?
As Rosenthal explained, the model for the offseason was the Craig Kimbrel trade. Kimbrel, one of if not the best closers in baseball, would often go long stretches without an appearance for the Padres. He had no business playing for a team with 71 context neutral wins, and was traded for a strong package of young talent including Manuel Margot (see Dustin’s writeup) from the Red Sox.
Something similar can be said for the Padres trade of Joaquin Benoit (see Dustin again). Although the prospect return wasn’t nearly as valuable, Benoit doesn’t have the pedigree, nor the years of control of Kimbrel. Enyel De Los Santos might be nothing, but he might also go on to be a useful player, on the cheap. If you scout not-terribly and collect enough of those players, you can build a useful core without breaking the bank.
It’s easy to see how the Kimbrel and Benoit trades fit Rosenthal’s model: the Padres strongly improved their farm system that had been raided the previous offseason, saved money, and gave up a guy who pitched a few innings every week. If the Padres wind up with a great team and lackluster bullpen, that’s a fixable problem. And to his credit, AJ Preller has already began collecting what may be useful bullpen arms on the cheap to fill things out. So far, so good.
Which brings us to Jedd Gyorko
Tuesday, the Padres traded second/third baseman Jedd Gyorko to the St. Louis Cardinals for centerfielder Jon Jay.
As for Jay, he has a reputation as a strong defensive centerfielder, though in a large career sample size Ultimate Zone Rating has more confidence in his defense than Defensive Runs Saved does, the latter of which measures Jay as merely an average defender. Jay had offseason wrist surgery last year, so an opinion on how he compares to current Padres Travis Jankowski likely hinges on whether he’s fully healed. Here’s a comparison of their 2016 Steamer projections, courtesy of Fangraphs:
|Travis Jankowski||.259||.313||.348||86||$0.5* million|
|Jon Jay||.266||.337||.359||93||$6.2 million|
Steamer may not be be picking up on Jay’s injury issues last season, so suppose it is under forecasting Jay based on injury problems in 2014, not performance problems. Even still, one probably prefers the lefty Jay to the lefty Jankowski, but it might be a closer competition than at first glance. Since Jay is a free agent in 2017, what you get is somewhere between a slight and, we’ll say, medium one year upgrade to Jankowski. That’s in exchange for $5.8 million extra, and of course the services of Jedd Gyorko. Which finally actually brings us to Jedd.
A somewhat polarizing figure, I’ve long argued for Jedd’s value based on his upside power potential, strong batted ball velocity, and ability to hold his own at second base. It’s the power that makes him valuable. As one of three second/third baseman in a flexible 2015 infield, Gyorko faced competition from both Yangervis Solarte and Cory Spangenberg. To their credit, both put together fine seasons, enough so that the team will likely award the starting second base job to Cory Spangenberg with Gyorko out of the picture.
I still prefer Jedd. His upside of high power potential from a middle infield spot is what gets me. That’s the problem–while Solarte and Spangenberg deliver less promise, they did deliver more consistent performance this year, in the real world. Throw in Gyorko’s awful start which clouded his performance on the season, and you and understand why people were down on him. Here’s why I stuck with him all year:
|Jedd Gyorko, 2nd Half of 2015||0.259||0.299||0.440||104|
That’s the player I think he can be. I don’t think it’s out of the question, because he’s been that player. While he appears to have trouble against righties, that stat line above includes them. That’s how good he was. As a fan of a team consistently devoid of stars, a potential one he makes me flutter. I’m not willing to give up so easily.
The other issue is Gyorko’s contract. He’s owed $4 million in 2016, and a total of $33 million through 2019. I argued in August, and Jeff Sanders of the UT shared a similar line of thinking, that his is still a very reasonable contract.
If the Padres can’t afford a deal like that they have bigger problems. As long as baseball is still a popular sport that cable companies value the rights to tremendously, prices will keep rising, making the money owed Gyorko down the road more reasonable. This isn’t just pitchers. 35 year old Ben Zobrist just got $56 million from the Cubs. Hell, the Cardinals, the team who have apparently hacked baseball, were willing to give up Jay and pay Gyorko $26 million to apparently use him as a backup. Like the Padres, they already have an infield in place, but find Gyorko’s versatility valuable.
Back to the plan
If you’re building for the future, Gyorko’s the one you want, not a year of Jay. But for an ownership group and general manager already committed to the short term, they took the bird in the hand instead. And the extra money in the hand, as the Padres’ payroll flexibility is hampered by Melvin Upton’s contract (which the team nicely parlayed into two+ solid prospects), James Shields‘ contract, and Matt Kemp‘s (which the team parlayed into a pile of broken down hip cartilage). I pray they use that money to find a shortstop, because three years is a long time for a Major League Baseball team to go without one.
I’m skeptical, which I think is reasonable after watching the team mortgage its future for 2015. After this move, we’ll see how the plan plays out. It’s hard to be sure about things with AJ Preller at the helm, but I’m as sure as I think is possible he isn’t done yet.
Update: Originally I had Gyorko’s 2nd half numbers higher than they were. Thanks to Joe G on Twitter for pointing that out.
If you’re into rants about Jedd Gyorko and sometimes other Padres and baseball things, I’m on Twitter.