Well, We Got A LOOGY

Ahh, baseball’s weird. A.J. Preller and the Padres treated the offseason like that trade-happy guy in your fantasy league when everyone expected them to be quiet. Now, with the baseball world anticipating another run of trades, the Padres responded by sending Abraham Almonte to Cleveland for Marc Rzepczynski. They stood pat, basically.

I’ve tried to write about this a few times and I really don’t know what to say. If the Padres really think they are contenders this season, that’s a little scary. Baseball Prospectus has their playoff odds at three percent. They have to make up six or seven games on teams like the Pirates, Giants, and Mets, a proposition made tougher because each of those teams projects to be significantly better than the Padres going forward.

Of course, there’s a chance the Padres really do contend down the stretch. The schedule’s not too bad, a few players should improve, and heck, anything can happen. Baseball’s weird, remember. But fans are supposed to be the ones with unrealistic dreams about miracle pennant runs. At some point, a front office is expected to sit down, evaluate what it has, and move forward in a direction best suited for the franchise’s long-term success.

It’s possible — likely, even — that the Padres did this. They’re smarter than us, for sure, and they have a bit more on the line. There’s little reason to expect that they didn’t try to move some players. Maybe they just didn’t find the right match on a deal, ran out of time, and decided not to pull the trigger on a less-than-desired return package. From all of the rumblings on Twitter, it at least appeared that the Padres were involved in a variety of trade discussions. Justin Upton here. Tyson Ross there. Craig Kimbrel to New York or Arizona or Saskatchewan.

What’s most surprising is that the Padres didn’t trade anybody? Justin Upton will at least net a compensation draft pick when he leaves via free agency in the offseason, but Ian Kennedy likely won’t and Will Venable and Shawn Kelley surely won’t. What about Joaquin Benoit? Sure, he’s got an $8 million club option for 2016, but it’s unclear if the Padres want to give that much to a 38-year-old set-up man with declining peripherals. Then there’s all the other guys, like Andrew Cashner, Ross, James Shields, and Derek Norris.

There’s an argument the Padres should have dealt a few of those players just to open up space to hold auditions for younger players for the second half. Allowing Austin Hedges to get every day reps behind the dish, for example, or opening up a rotation slot for someone like Colin Rea would have simultaneously prepped younger players for 2016 while also adding more talent into the organization.

The Padres can still make trades in August — so long as the player clears waivers — and in the offseason, but they’ve likely lost the chance to cash in on soon-to-be free agents like Upton and Kennedy. And, remember, in the offseason they’ll have to compete against the free agent market (one potentially heavy on starting pitching), where plenty of teams will fill their needs without the added pressure of an impending playoff chase. The Padres can recover from both this season and the missed deadline opportunities, but you can’t help but wonder if inaction set the organization back a few steps today.

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  • ballybunion

    It appears there was no cash to cash in on the lesser players. Preller’s moves raised fans’ hopes with the promise of no more tear-downs, and that resulted in an extra 5,366/game attendance boost, and extra 253,000 fans in 49 games, with the promise of another 172,000 over the last 32 home games. That’s extra payroll money for next year.

    Preller would have made a deal if it were positive, but the writers put out the tear-down meme and the other GMs bought it. It takes two to tango, and Preller refused to take lowball offers. The team has flaws, but is playing well now, has an easy schedule in August, and the fans, from what I’ve heard, are relieved there hasn’t been another massive sell-off. Preller may not have intended it, but keeping faith with the fans is a major part of building the franchise.

    • Good points. I wasn’t necessarily advocating a fire sale of sorts, but you could argue the Padres could have made some deals without actually hurting this year’s team while improving the future. Dealing Upton to the Mets for shortstop Wilmer Flores — a deal I’m not sure was ever considered by either side — might have done just that, for example. It just seemed like there were some logical pieces to move without going into full sell-off mode.

      • ballybunion

        I’m not so sure about Wilmer being any kind of answer for the Padres – Ian Desmond will be a FA after the season, and I’d REALLY rather see Barmes at SS every day – but my point is that the other GMs were convinced Preller was desperate to slash payroll, and no meaningful trade was possible.

        The dealing with Cashman of the Yankees was instructive. The Yankees wanted Kimbrel, but wouldn’t include any of their top prospects, and Preller said no. Cashman came back with an offer of Mateo, nothing like a decent prospect, but wanted Gyorko too – the Padres starting 2b and one of the two best closers in the game, assuming Preller would jump at the payroll slashing deal. Preller registered his disgust by not even returning the call. If Cashman thought getting value for nothing more than salary relief was enough, all the others likely thought the same.

        With the press really pushing Preller as some kind of trade wizard, I’m convinced the other GMs were more than a little resentful of the attention he was getting, and that may have played into it. Don’t tell me they’re adults – they’re a small club of 30, and they can collectively be as immature as a girls’ high school clique. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cleveland made the swap of Eyechart for Almonte to avoid the shutout and keep Preller from charging collusion.

        The baseball press went overboard pushing the pump and dump meme, and lavishing coverage on what Preller would do, and they ended up poisoning the well. Preller was pretty blunt about the unserious offers, but he was right. He can’t make moves when his counterparts are in a snit over his unprompted notoriety and actually believed the Padres are too broke to sustain a $100 million plus payroll.

      • Tom Waits

        The press is to blame? That’s Nixonian. The reason no trades were made is because Preller wanted more for his players than other GMs were willing to give up. It’s simple baseball economics, no reason to invent a conspiracy theory involving the media.

        That doesn’t mean Preller’s valuations were wrong — if you have an undervalued asset, you hold it. The Padres are composed almost entirely of undervalued and depreciated assets. The lack of moves actually gives me hope that Preller won’t repeat the Grandal-Kemp fiasco.

        Gyorko is a -.2 win player in 2015. Describing him as “the Padres starting 2b” is factually accurate (until Spangenberg returns) but vastly overstates his worth to the team. Cashman didn’t need Jason Stark or Ken Rosenthal to tell him that Gyorko is a negative. Every member of every front office, down to the lowliest intern, knows that. Just because Preller gave in to the Braves on Kimbrel doesn’t obligate other GMs to follow his example.

      • ballybunion

        Tom, it’s not Nixonian to see that the reason for other GMs undervaluing Padres players was because the press heavily pushed two memes: that the Padres were dumping salary, and that the draft deadline would be dominated by wheeler-dealer A.J. Preller.

        A.J. wasn’t shopping Kimbrel, the Yankees thought what the Bozos of Bridgeport were saying, that the Padres don’t have any money and can’t sustain a $100 million payroll, and the owners ordered Preller to dump salaries. Cashman made a low ball offer, way below Kimbrel’s value, and Preller rejected it, expecting value, not reduced payroll. Cashman doubled down by offering a fringe SS prospect and insisting on Gyorko, whom you, personally, seem to undervalue, but look at what the Yankees have at 2B.

        Cashman offered nothing of value for one of the two best closers in the game, signed for three years. He’s smart enough to know Kimbrel was worth more than that, but assumed Preller would take much less to slash payroll.

        That was, as I wrote, instructive: the other GMs thought, like Cashman, that Preller was forced to slash payroll. Where oh, where did they get that idea? Look at the press coverage leading up to the deadline: it was all over the baseball web sites, that the Padres were going to tear down the team, and Preller was going to dominate the deadline with bargain giveaways galore. Maybe you didn’t see that online “coverage”, but I did, and so did the other GMs.

        The press coverage altered the thinking of GMs dealing with Preller, and he was unable to get value for value. That wasn’t a case of “simple baseball economics”, that the GMs were misled by the press into thinking Preller was desperate to slash payroll and offered far less than actual value for players, expecting to get a huge bargain for peanuts and assumed salary.

        So, yes, I’m claiming it was the press that prevented Preller from having normal talks with other general managers on value for value trades. It takes two to tango, and when one party thinks the other guy is desperate, normal negotiations are impossible.

      • Tom Waits

        No, that’s definitely Nixonian. It’s deflecting responsibility from the parties who COULD have made something happen to parties who were talking about things that MIGHT happen.

        There’s a simple, straightforward reason trades weren’t made and it has nothing to do with 29 other GMs paying more attention to ESPN or the MLBNetwork than the needs of their own teams. Preller had few attractive assets and he wanted more for them than was being offered. End of story.

        If teams thought they needed Kennedy, Venable, Shields, Kimbrel, Upton, or anyone else, they’d have bumped their offers. Nobody willingly lowers their own chances of success because they believe a media story. They’ve all seen wild rumors without any shred of truth reported before — about themselves — dozens of times. The idea that they’d treat stories about the Padres as gospel is silly. Even if they were laboring under a misapprehension, it takes exactly one phone call to rectify it. You won’t give me Kimbrel for nothing? Okay, what’s your ask?

        Negotiations always start at the extreme. I don’t fault Preller for asking AZ for Goldschmidt; that was far more ludicrous than this hypothetical lowball offer for KImbrel.

        Gyorko was 0.0 WAR last year and is at -.2 this year. He’s owed $23 million. He’s a completely negative asset and it’s ludicrous to expect other GMs to treat him any differently. It makes more sense to hold him and hope he regains some value than to tie him to Kimbrel and get nothing back. If other GMs had wanted to give up prospects AND take a negative asset for Kimbrel, they could have got him from the Braves.

      • ballybunion

        Well, Tom, you’re apparently in agreement with Brian Cashman that the value of Kimbrel is a few stray pieces but no top prospects or major league regulars. I’m of the opinion that Kimbrel’s baseball value is much more than that, and that Cashman, who initiated talks, values Kimbrel much higher than that but was looking for a steal.

        You can argue all day that Cashman made a reasonable offer, and I can argue all day that the press-fueled belief that Preller had to sell off the payroll made Cashman, et al., less than honest negotiators. You have your narrative and I have mine, and never the twain shall meet.

      • Tom Waits

        Kimbrel’s trade value is whatever another GM is willing to give up. If Cashman thought he was worth more, he’d have offered more. Of course he was looking to get him as cheaply as possible, that’s the whole point. It’s silly to think that Cashman refused to budge because the national media convinced him that the Padres were desperate to unload salary. He knew they weren’t desperate within 60 seconds of his first conversation with Preller.

        If you can picture Cashman, with nearly 20 years as a GM in the world’s most hyperactive media market, being unable to accept Preller’s asking price because of stuff he heard on the TV or read online, then your imagination is more powerful than mine.

      • Pat

        Oh come now, TW! Surely you are aware that Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman gets all his trade valuations from the New York Post! Every baseball fan knows this!

      • Tom Waits

        I know, right? According to the media the Yankees weren’t even supposed to be competitive this year. How did Cashman manage to avoid the pressure to sell off everybody, as expressed through the tweets of national writers over the winter?