Prellercated (adj.) exhausted from A.J. Preller’s activity – “That Middlebrooks trade has me Prellercated. Pass the Sculpin.”
Padres GM A.J. Preller has been a busy fellow. While the Internet analyzes his trades to death (let that sink in for a moment: the baseball world is talking about the Padres), he continues to reshape this team in ways that hardly seemed possible even a few weeks ago.
The home team remained quiet throughout the Winter Meetings, and fans assumed more status quo. Then, on December 18 and 19, this happened:
|RHP R.J. Alvarez||LHP Jose Castillo|
|1B Jake Bauers||C Tim Federowicz|
|RHP Zach Eflin||RF Matt Kemp|
|LHP Max Fried||3B Will Middlebrooks|
|C/1B Yasmani Grandal||CF Wil Myers|
|RHP Jesse Hahn||C Derek Norris|
|3B Dustin Peterson||RHP Aaron Northcraft|
|UT Jace Peterson||RHP Gerardo Reyes|
|C Rene Rivera||RHP Seth Streich|
|RHP Joe Ross||LF Justin Upton|
|RHP Burch Smith||International Bonus Slot 117|
|CF Mallex Smith||$32 million|
|SS Trea Turner|
|RHP Joe Wieland|
Preller moved both of his catchers, his no. 4 starter, and a boatload of farmhands for two new catchers, three new outfielders, a third baseman, four young arms, and money from a division rival. Paradigms have shifted.
After a year of fans griping about stupid little things like drafting Johnny Manziel or naming a plaza after Bud Selig, the Padres needed to grab more positive headlines. Their recent flurry of activity represents a huge PR boost for a team that desperately sought one.
The reaction in San Diego and throughout baseball was, What the heck are the Padres doing? People in New York are talking about the Padres in December, which probably violates several laws. Locals in this football town are making noise and buying season tickets.
Analysts are wondering if Preller’s strategy will work. Of course, it already has. In the span of a week, the Padres have gone from off-radar to the forbidden realms of curious relevance. They are in the public’s consciousness, which is a strange place for them to be.
As former Sports Illustrated writer Joe Lemire noted, “Just as the Yankees are always linked to every major free agent, I suspect the Padres are now going to be linked to every trade target.” Talk about a plot twist.
The downside is more Anchorman references, but if that’s the cost of people being interested in the product, so be it. Whether it’s warranted or not, folks are actually excited about this team. There is value in that.
Baseball is part of the entertainment industry. Dwindling attendance has been a problem in San Diego. Can’t stay in business if you don’t have customers. Get ’em interested, they’ll buy what you’re selling, which in this case is a bucketful of hope. Did the Padres improve their situation by acquiring expensive brand-name players? Maybe, maybe not, but there is a perception that high price equals high quality. Even if there is no actual improvement, they at least got fans thinking there is.
Winning games is important, but so is winning at public relations. The Padres have struggled with both for a while. We don’t know what the on-field results of all this movement will be (nor does the club have as much control over said results), but the Padres have gotten San Diegans to stop treating the team like a joke and start treating it like something that matters. That’s a good first step.
Who will the Padres miss most among the departed? As I mentioned earlier, Grandal has upside. So does Hahn. If they remain healthy, those guys will contribute to their new teams (Dodgers and A’s, respectively) now and into the future.
The pitchers will miss working with Rivera. Alvarez, a right-handed reliever, can help Oakland immediately.
Turner (technically a player to be named later, which is interesting in its own right) and Ross are the best prospects. The others–first baseman with middling power, two finesse righties (one with injury history), hurt lefty, power-hitting “third baseman” with no plate discipline, oldish utility infielder, hurt righty who belongs in the bullpen, really fast guy–are more mildly intriguing than wildly exciting.
Coming to San Diego is respectability in the form of All-Stars Kemp, Norris, and Upton, as well as promising if flawed youngsters Middlebrooks and Myers. All are right-handed hitters, who tend to be punished less by Petco Park than lefties. Also, Kemp, Norris, and Upton can hit the ball out anywhere.
Quick impressions on each of these guys…
The results of Kemp’s physical revealed arthritis in both hips, making that trade more dramatic than it needed to be, but here he is. First, watch his presser. Dude is entertaining. When is the last time a Padres player didn’t put folks to sleep with words? I’m thinking Mike Piazza or Greg Maddux.
Kemp jokes about his hips. When told of his past success at Petco (.322/.372/.495), he notes that the batter’s eye makes it a comfortable hitting environment–except when he had to face Trevor Hoffman. Could you possibly endear yourself more to new fans than by invoking the name of one of their heroes? Well played. Pressers don’t win games, but this guy won fans. At the very least, he won’t be mumbling clichés in interviews.
I don’t have cable, so no Padres except when I’m at the ballpark. I watch the A’s a lot on TV. I’ll miss watching Norris. He’s a better Nick Hundley, which is not the backhanded compliment it might seem. The batting average will be low, and guys will run wild against him, but he’ll draw some walks and hit some out of the park.
He plays hard and his walk-up song is Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People.” At age 26, Norris is a solid big-league catcher who won’t become a free agent until 2019.
I love him more than I should. So does Jason Wojciechowski, who is a smart fellow, and not just because he agrees with me.
Like Kemp, Upton is familiar with the NL West and isn’t intimidated by Petco Park (.291/.359/.541). He is likely a one-year rental. However, with the Padres being so aggressive in attempting to field an instant contender, a secondary effect could be an increased ability to attract and retain talent. The team apparently has money now. Why not spend it on Upton if things go well? Yes, his agent says they’re “open to a contract extension… as long as it’s before spring training,” but people say all kinds of stuff when they’re negotiating.
Look at that. Preller has already changed the nature of my dreams. He has that power.
Upton also has power. At 27 years old, he is pretty much a lock for 25 homers. As Dustin observes, “he’s posted a wRC+ of 128-plus in three out of the last four years, he hasn’t touched the disabled list since 2009, and he possesses the always coveted Right-Handed Power tool.”
Yeah, I’ll take one of those.
The first time I ever saw Upton was at 2007 spring training. My buddy Lance and I were watching him. Upton was 19 and looked like a man among boys. We devised evil schemes to keep Upton from playing baseball and hurting the Padres. No luck. And while his early success has led to perhaps unreasonable expectations (Barry Bonds and Adrian Beltre are listed among his top comps at his age, but so are Ruben Sierra, Andruw Jones, and Grady Sizemore), the guy can play.
Middlebrooks and Myers
Both were highly regarded talents who haven’t reached their potential. Middlebrooks just missed the top 50 prospect lists of Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus back in 2012. He has big power but little idea how to use it (.237/.284/.411 in 894 PA). A nearly 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn’t help. Congratulations, Mark Kotsay, here’s your first project.
Middlebrooks is 26 years old and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019. He may not be the answer at third base (Yangervis Solarte is still here), but he’s an intriguing option.
Myers, 24, doesn’t become a free agent until 2020. A former top 10 prospect as judged by the aforementioned publications, he was AL Rookie of the Year in 2013 before succumbing to the mythical sophomore slump (not to mention a fractured wrist) last year.
Although Myers hit 37 homers in the minors in 2012, the power hasn’t arrived in the big leagues yet. Still, he’s young and strong, and best of all, he doesn’t wear batting gloves.
He also keeps getting traded, which raises questions. Then again, so did Adrián González. And no, I didn’t just compare Myers to González. Different players, different paths. The point is that being traded shouldn’t carry a stigma. Someone wanted these guys, presumably for a good reason.
Federowicz is a catcher who hit in the minors but hasn’t in his brief big-league time. He has a strong arm and name that is difficult to spell. He’s 27 years old and out of options. Sounds a little like Rivera’s profile before 2014. Solid backup behind the dish, not exciting.
Of the young arms, Castillo has pitched 35 1/3 minor-league innings and turns 19 next month. Reyes is three years older and has worked two fewer innings. Streich threw strikes in the Cal League last year as a 23-year-old. Northcraft pitched well in his second Double-A stint before getting pounded at Triple-A. He turns 25 in May, and I’m totally calling him “World of Northcraft.” Anyway, these are bodies. Maybe one of them becomes something, maybe not.
Preller also signed Brandon Morrow, which presumably made Hahn expendable. Granted, Morrow has only worked 87 2/3 innings of 5.65 ERA over the last two years, but he made 21 good starts in 2012. His path is similar to that of Andrew Cashner–former reliever who posted big strikeout numbers before moving into the rotation–but he lacks Cashner’s upside. Still, if Morrow stays healthy, he could be an adequate short-term replacement for Hahn at the back of the rotation.
Finally, Josh Johnson re-signed, a one-year deal with incentives. He threw zero innings last season and is attempting to come back from a second Tommy John surgery. The best approach with him, as was the case when he first signed with the Padres, is to forget that he even exists and then be pleasantly surprised if he ever pitches.
I’m only going to touch on this because the Padres currently have eight outfielders and an Alexi Amarista/Clint Barmes platoon at shortstop. They haven’t parted with their three best prospects (Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, Matt Wisler). I’m just saying, if Preller wants a real shortstop, he can get one.
The Padres also still have Yonder Alonso and Tommy Medica at first base, which is less terrible than it might seem. You don’t want to build an offense around those guys, but acquiring a bunch of legitimate bats eliminates that problem, making an Alonso/Medica platoon potentially palatable.
Given the aggressive nature of most of these new hitters, and the fact that Amarista and his career .279 OBP spent so much time batting leadoff, I’d make a case for Alonso at the top. He stunk last year, except for a hot streak leading up to his season-ending injury, but before 2014 he had a .346 OBP. That isn’t great, but it’s borderline acceptable, which is more than can be said of many alternatives. Besides, with his lack of punch, it’s not like you want him in the middle of the lineup.
Here are the career OBPs of currently projected starters:
C: Norris .336
1B: Alonso .334, Medica .308
2B: Jedd Gyorko .291
3B: Middlebrooks .284, Solarte .336
SS: Amarista .279, Barmes .295
LF: Upton .354
CF: Myers .324
RF: Kemp .349
Who else are you going to bat leadoff? Kemp and Upton have too much power. Maybe Norris or Myers against left-handers, or even Solarte if he starts. But Amarista isn’t the answer to anything other than, How do you keep Kemp and Upton from driving in runs?
And in general, those OBPs are a little tough to stomach. Could be a lot of solo shots, which will generate excitement but not necessarily wins. Sorry for the buzzkill, just pointing out facts. On the other hand, the team had a .292 OBP last year, so almost anything will be an improvement.
Speaking of facts, defense is another problem. Gyorko might have the best glove out there, which is hardly cause for celebration. But if the Padres put enough runs on the board, they could either make such deficiencies irrelevant to the outcome or distract fans from noticing the poor glovework. Such is the hope, anyway.
Returning to the larger point about PR (can’t say “Preller” without “PR”), there’s a decent chance the 2015 Padres lose as many games as last year’s version, but in different ways, with more recognizable and expensive names. But for now, in December, they have tapped into the power of belief.
Santa Claus is the physical representation of Christmas hope; Kemp, Upton, et al. play the same role for the Padres. Whether a miracle happens or not, Preller has enhanced the quality of our dreams.
Watching Kevin Towers, Jed Hoyer, and Josh Byrnes over the years, I came to understand what they were trying to do and how they operated. In Preller’s brief tenure, I’ve found myself completely baffled by his actions, and yet, I cannot turn away. For a team that hasn’t been fascinating in any aspect for a long time, his approach marks a welcome change. It may or may not generate wins, but it’s generating interest, which is novel. Maybe something good will happen. How do you know if you don’t try?
This all assumes that Preller doesn’t make a thousand more moves next week, which he might. My head spins just thinking about it. And now I am Prellercated. Think I’ll have that Sculpin. If everything breaks right, maybe in October I’ll have a Victory at Sea.
Have a safe and happy New Year! This is my last article for a while, as I’ll be taking a blogging sabbatical in 2015. As always, thanks for reading. See you on Twitter or at the ballpark. Peace.