In an trade deadline puzzler, the Padres held onto Brad Hand. Back in June, I was so sure that Hand was going to be dealt by July 31 that I traded him to every other team in the league, an article that now reads like a graveyard of what could have been. When I updated Hand’s most likely landing spots a few weeks back, I didn’t even consider the Padres as a top five contender.

What happened? In the simplest terms, it appears that the Padres set a high asking price—a fair initial stance for a pitcher of Hand’s quality—and the rest of the league failed to meet it, or even get close enough to make A.J. Preller & Co. budge. The complicated answer is, well, more complicated, and also unknown. Maybe it involves bits and pieces of some distrust of Preller, some distrust of Hand. Maybe it involves the Padres not budging enough from that initial asking price. More so, probably, it appears that the league as a whole decided to back off on dealing marquee prospects for last-ditch deadline improvements.

Justin Wilson, Hand’s most similar deadline comp, was traded to the Cubs, with Alex Avila, for Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes, neither of whom cracked Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That’s a modest package, considering Avila, a one-year rental, is still a catcher OPSing .869. Addison Reed, another rental, was dealt from the Mets to the Red Sox for a trio of unexciting pitching prospects. Sonny Gray, mentioned in the tweet above, is a superb starter with 2.5 years left on his contract, and even he didn’t pry away one of the Yankees top prospects.

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When I wrote about the Trevor Cahill trade on Monday night, I didn’t spend too much time on the players the Padres gave up, including The Great Cahill. I did figure, however, that the thinking on their relative value was somewhat of a forgone conclusion. Turns out, reasonable people disagree with me. In the spirit of scraping for things to write about, and discussing the overarching topic of trade value heading into the deadline, I figured I’d collect some thoughts on the issue here.

So—drumroll please—here’s my ranking, in terms of perceived trade value, of the three players the Padres sent to Kansas City.

1. Trevor Cahill

When teams are looking to acquire someone at the trade deadline, they’re often looking for some type of impact player. Cahill is maybe not an impact player, but he’s the closest thing to one out of the three players San Diego gave away. I totally get that he’s a 29-year-old vet with a mostly uninspiring track record. Over the last four or five years, he’s seemingly had more injuries than innings pitched, and prior to this year he had been almost exclusively a reliever since 2014.

Here’s the thing, though: He’s pitching like an impact player. By Baseball Prospectus’s catch-all pitching metric, DRA, Cahill’s 2.64 mark is eighth in all of baseball among starters with 10 innings or more. Eighth. By cFIP, BP’s other ERA estimator, he falls all the way down to ninth overall. If you like plain old strikeout percentage, Cahill’s 27.4 percent ranks 23rd out of 224 starters who’ve reached the 10-inning threshold, in between pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Zack Greinke, and Lance McCullers. There are random 60-inning samples where a pitcher gets lucky on balls in play, or whatever, and posts an undeserving 2-something ERA. Then there are random 60-inning samples where a pitcher kicks ass. This is the latter.

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Earlier today the Padres traded Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Kansas City Royals for Esteury Ruiz, Matt Strahm, and Travis Wood.

Woo-hoo, a trade!

Trades are hard to write about these days. The more credit we’ve given to teams for getting smarter and smarter, the easier it is to look at a deal and nod along: “yup, yup, makes sense. yup.” It’s really no different with this deal. The Padres had obvious trade candidates like Cahill, picked up for pennies and reconfigured into a legitimate starter, Maurer, a still-pretty-young reliever who’s consistently shown better peripherals and stuff than surface stats, and Buchter, something of a throw-in who offers some value as an always coveted lefty with good strikeout numbers, so they traded them. In return the Padres got back a pair of younger, interesting players and in the process made the major-league team worse for an anticipated, and choreographed, second-half swoon.

The Padres got back three players. One of them, Travis Wood, is unlike the others. He’s a 30-year-old veteran having an absolutely miserable year. So far in 41 2/3 innings out of the Royals ‘pen, Wood’s posted a gaudy 8.49 DRA, seventh-worst in all of baseball (min. 20 innings.). In fact, among pitchers with at least half their innings in relief, Wood is dead last in the majors. His cFIP, 112, offers some hope for non-disastrous performance going forward, but he’s fallen a long way since masquerading as a league-average starter a few years back with the Cubs.

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Padres acquired 1B Josh Naylor, RHP Luis Castillo, RHP Jarred Cosart, and RHP Carter Capps from Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Colin Rea, RHP Tayron Guerrero, and cash. 

I wrote about the Carter Capps and Jarred Cosart part of the return at Baseball Prospectus, where a quartet of other BP authors more-than-capably handled the rest of the moving parts. In short, I really like Capps, who is signed through 2018, as potential trade bait down the road. Not too high on Cosart, but as I mentioned in the article, the Padres need someone to start games, for now, and his ground ball profile and age are enough to dream on. Some closing thoughts on Cashner . . .

Once upon a time Andrew Cashner looked like a future ace. On April 11, 2014, Cashner darted his two-seamer to both sides of the plate, finishing the night with his finest Padres start—a one-hit, 11 strikeout, two walk gem against Miguel Cabrera’s Tigers. If you span two seasons, that start was part of a stretch that featured two complete game one-hitters and 10 straight outings of at least six innings and two runs or fewer allowed. It’s been mostly downhill since then.

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Last offseason the Padres turned Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski into Drew Pomeranz. Then they turned Pomeranz into a healthy and effective pitcher for three and a half months. Then, earlier today, they turned that healthy and effective pitcher into Anderson Espinoza, a consensus top 25 prospect in all of baseball.

My opinion on A.J. Preller’s body of work seemingly changes weekly (as it should, I suppose), but right now it’s hard to argue that he’s not moving this franchise in the right direction. Give him—and his staff, obviously—credit for realizing that Alonso wasn’t the guy and that Pomeranz was both a good buy-low option and a potential breakout candidate. Give them further credit for actually helping Pomeranz reach that level and then, finally, for realizing that this season is lost and that Pomeranz is probably more useful as a trade chip in a thin market than as an ace on a fourth or fifth place team—especially when Dave Dombrowski has a team in the playoff hunt.

Espinoza is just 6-feet tall and 18 years old, but he’s already thrown 79 and 1/3 innings at Red Sox Single-A affiliate Greenville, posting a 4.54 ERA but a much more impressive 2.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.2 HR/9. Remember, he’s 18, nearly four years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. A few weeks back we noted that recent Padres pickup Chris Paddack was super young for the South Atlantic League . . . well, Espinoza’s a full two years younger than him. In fact, Espinoza entered the season as the youngest player in the entire South Atlantic League. There’s a decent change he’s never faced anyone younger than himself.

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Ever hear that old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?”

Sure you have, because people like to use it often when talking about really cheap automobiles or free merchandise or rebates on purchased concert tickets or Chris Paddack, the guy the Padres got back from the Marlins in yesterday’s Fernando Rodney trade.

Paddack, after being drafted in the eighth round last year and acquitting himself well enough in rookie ball, is in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign. In six starts—and just 28 1/3 innings—so far this season, the right hander has a 0.95 ERA and just nine hits allowed. Okay, fine, you can chalk that up to good fortune in a small sample size, or whatever. But Paddack also has 48 strikeouts and just two walks, which . . . well, wow. He’s faced 98 batters and he’s struck out nearly half of them while walking barely north of two percent. There’s deception and good fortune and small sample sizes and then there’s smack-you-in-the-head dominance, and Paddack’s performance thus far falls squarely into the latter category.

But wait: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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When the Padres signed James Shields toward the end of A.J. Preller’s “rockstar GM” phase, I noted that they were putting the future on hold. The Shields acquisition, at the time, represented yet another bet on that team, on the present, on winning. That team’s still together, somewhat, but they’re still mostly failing and they’re starting to come unglued.

Shields is in Chicago now, sent away with money in a deal that returned Erik Johnson, a fringy 26-year-old right hander, and Fernando Tatis Jr., a Dominican shortstop who was not yet four months old when this happened. The timing for the deal is somewhat odd—it came just four days after Shields surrendered 10 runs in Seattle, bumping his ERA up over a full run, and three days after Ron Fowler’s radio rant, in which he specifically called Shields “embarrassing.” So much for dealing players at peak value.

Ignoring some potential trade value lost from one really bad start and a public tear-down by the team’s executive chairman—and the too-obvious irony of Fowler calling somebody else embarrassing—and maybe this was just what the Padres needed to kickstart a rebuilding process that seems plainly obvious from the outside. The Plan didn’t work, in part because it probably wasn’t a very good plan and in part because baseball’s baseball. We all kind of stink at predicting it, even the executives and general managers and scouts and analysts who are paid real money—sometimes real good money—to chronically obsess over it, study it, and put their jobs on the line for it. Players get hurt and players under-perform and other teams do smart things and randomness is always sitting in the corner, ominously waiting to pounce when things are finally going well. Oh, yeah, and sometimes non-baseball ops people get involved in baseball decisions.

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The Padres have made a trade. Small trade, though, so new rules: I get 140 words—words, not characters!—on each player.  Let’s not waste anymore time.

Padres get Jose Pirela

Pirela’s logged over 3,100 minor league innings at shortstop, but he hasn’t spent significant time there since 2011, when he made 37 errors in 965 frames. Pirela’s inability to find a defensive home has perhaps inadvertently morphed him into a versatile player, at least—he’s logged 50-plus innings at every position outside of catcher during his professional career. Watch out Amarista.

Pirela’s bat is where the intrigue begins, but once his .276/.342/.393 line is read aloud you realize what class of player you’re dealing with here. The good news is that his offensive game has been trending in the right direction; he struggled early in his pro career with the bat, but his OPS has hovered near .800 since 2013 as he’s continued to improve his contact ability. Maybe he’s a Yangervis Solarte clone, and hey, those guys aren’t so bad. Then again, maybe he’s just fodder for the A.J. Preller Trade Machine.

Yankees get Ronald Herrera

Picked up as a PTBNL (that’s one word) in 2014 as part of the Kyle Blanks deal with Oakland, Herrera is both young and underwhelming. He pitched 145 and 2/3 innings last year, the final 43 and 2/3 of which came at Double-A San Antonio. The line: 6.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, .6 HR/9, 4.08 ERA. That sounds entirely unexciting until you realize he’s just 20 years old, and no other pitcher on San Antonio’s roster last year with more than five innings pitched was under 23. Herrera is young and polished and probably very nice, but his size (5-foot-11, 185) and lackluster stuff have kept his name far away from the prospect headlines, despite the positive age-to-league numbers.

Herrera still holds the ultimate trump card in that he has appeared in 90 percent of his games as a starter, so there’s a decent chance he’s a shutdown closer in disguise. The Yankees seem to hoard late-inning relief pitchers as a sort of post-Mariano coping mechanism, so don’t be surprised if they try to turn him into one if the whole starter thing hits any speed bumps. As a bonus, the move clears needed roster space on the Yanks’ 40-man.

Alright, for those of you counting at home, yes, I’ve exceeded my self-imposed word limit on each player. But it was pretty darn close!

Will Venable was a lot like that old reclining chair in the corner of your living room, the one your wife finally put out on the curb one day while you were engulfed by a Baseball Reference wormhole. Venable was familiar, reliable, and often effective, but at 32 years old and in the last year of his contract, he was a few model years past his prime. Now he’s in Texas, joining a Rangers team that’s in the midst of a surprising playoff run, bolstering a struggling group of outfielders that includes Delino DeShields Jr., Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton, and Ryan Strausborger.

In Venable’s place sits a shiny new electrically-powered pleather monstrosity named Travis Jankowski, expected to be called up today from Triple-A El Paso. Jankowski started his professional career slowly — he hit just .286/.356/.355 as a 22-year-old in the Cal League in 2013, then lost most of 2014 to injuries. He’s having a breakout season this year, however, as he’s OPSed .838 between Double-A and Triple-A, showing improved plate discipline with his usual display of foot speed. Hey, maybe this new contraption ain’t so bad.

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Here’s some stuff I read this week that you might enjoy:

  • Padres Negotiate With All, Strike Deal With None (FanGraphs) – Craig Edwards offers what I would call a very conventional take on the Padres, assuming that A.J. Preller and company were (or should have been) eager to sell and rebuild, talking about “limited budgets” and such. But I believe this misinterprets their intention, which I’ve mentioned before is to rebrand the team as something other than cheap and not simply rebuild again ($). Whether they truly believe they can contend this season, that’s the story they’re selling. They built the team over the winter the way they wanted to build it. Right or wrong, this is the plan, and they’re not going to abandon it just because popular opinion assumes they will do so. Besides, Preller’s inactivity adds to his aura of unpredictability. Everyone expected him to zig, but he zagged instead. As a bonus, people are still talking about the Padres. As a further bonus, there’s no evidence that Preller is pursuing Pablo Sandoval, as some would have the Padres do. [h/t reader Didi]
  • On the Genealogy of Trades, Part I (Hardball Times) – Speaking of trades, John Marsh has written (or at least started) a fascinating series. The first installment focuses on the 19th century, while Part II wonders which trades shaped the way baseball teams make trades, examining among others the infamous Curt Flood deal. Also at Hardball Times, Miles Wray reminds us that the Padres haven’t had an All-Star center fielder since 1989, when Tony Gwynn split time between that position and his more familiar right field. Wil Myers could have broken the streak this year if he’d stayed healthy. And, you know, been able to play center field.
  • My experience on the Cubaball tour (SABR) – Donald Plavnick recounts his recent trip to Cuba to watch and learn more about the history of baseball in that country. Remember all that stuff about Fidel Castro being a great pitching prospect? Fun, but no. Or as Peter Bjarkman puts it, “historical facts rarely stand in the way of enticingly good baseball folklore.” But hey, at least we have visual evidence that Castro pitched in some capacity. Even better, you can watch real Cuban pitcher Luis Tiant do his thing in the 1975 World Series. The Cubaball tour sounds like a great time and includes a stop at the soon-to-be restored Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s fabled home near Havana.
  • El Paso Notebook-2015 (MadFriars) – John Conniff didn’t travel quite as far but did return with tales of old El Paso. Well, okay, the Chihuahuas. Close enough for government work. Skipper Jamie Quirk likes his bullpen. On the offensive side, Conniff calls out Alex Dickerson, who is enjoying a fine Triple-A campaign despite hitting fewer home runs than one might expect from such a strapping young lad. The former Poway High star, who came to the Padres in a November 2013 trade that sent Jaff Decker to the Pirates, missed much of last season with a nasty heel injury that could have threatened his career. It’s good to see him back on track.
  • After stint in Minors, Gyorko’s found his swing (Padres.com) – Speaking of El Paso and guys back on track, Jedd Gyorko says that he’s “starting to lay off some of the higher fastballs and the low sliders” since returning to San Diego. Meanwhile, Sac Bunt Chris has thoughts on the young second baseman’s batted ball velocity, among other things.