When the Padres traded reliever Luke Gregerson to the A’s for outfielder Seth Smith last week, it raised many questions. The chief one was, “Why would the Padres do this?”
The answer is Carlos Quentin, a great hitter who can’t stay healthy. When he goes down, you need a replacement, preferably someone who is good at baseball.
Last season Quentin logged 41 percent of the Padres’ plate appearances in left field. The other 59 percent came from eight guys who stunk worse than Mission Bay after a heavy rain. Here’s a comparison of Quentin (as a left fielder), the Malodorous Eight, and 1984 Dick Schofield:
If you don’t remember Schofield, he was sort of like Brendan Ryan, but not really. The important point is that you wouldn’t want to let him play left field for you three games out of five, which is what the Padres did last year.
One can and should question the wisdom of investing so heavily (by Padres standards) in Quentin, a defensive liability who struggles to reach 400 plate appearances, but this is who they have. And as long as the unmoving and unmovable left fielder remains in San Diego, the Padres need a better backup plan than the Malodorous Eight.
Smith is that plan. Exciting? Not even a little. But he is a solid fourth outfielder who can start against righties without Schofielding the offense.
Was Gregerson too steep a price to pay for that? Maybe, maybe not. He leads all of MLB with 363 appearances since 2009 and is one of only six pitchers to work 60 or more games in each of the last five seasons. That’s durability. That’s also a heavy workload for someone whose success depends on an elbow-taxing slider.
Gregerson’s larger problem is that he doesn’t play left field or hit. Smith does.
Neither is All-Star material. Regardless of your preferred flavor of WAR(P), their contributions over the last three years are modest:
All versions favor Smith, but we’re arguing about which of two pennies is shinier.
Looking at the big picture, it’s easier to find someone who does 80 percent of Gregerson’s job than someone who does 80 percent of Quentin’s job. The Padres have Brad Boxberger, Kevin Quackenbush, and Nick Vincent ready to take the next step forward in their careers. Will they be as good as Gregerson? Doubtful (hence the club’s reported interest in Joaquin Benoit), although you never know. But the gap between Gregerson and one of those guys will be less than the gap between Smith and 1984 Dick Schofield.
Every team has holes. The idea is to minimize their impact, which is what the Padres did. They filled a gaping hole by creating a smaller hole. The next time Quentin falls, Smith will be there.
It’s an unglamorous role, but one that someone has to fill. Better Smith than the Malodorous Eight.