The natives have become quite restless.
As the 2015 off-season enters the 2nd half of it’s 2nd month, while it has seemed like nearly every major transaction of this winter hot stove season has involved one of the other teams in the NL West, the Padres have basically the same holes with which they entered the off-season. They’ve made some moves, yes, but because those have been moves meant to add depth, clear payroll, and rebuild the team’s depleted farm system, there has been little done to add to the major league roster for 2016. After last off-season, everyone is waiting for the sequel to start.
The phrase of the year appears to be “contend and rebuild.” The Padres, wary of losing revenue in the short-term for what could be a better chance at success in the long-term, are unwilling as an ownership group to commit to a complete tear down and rebuild, such as what we’ve seen recently from the Astros and the Cubs. The club’s majority/minority owner Peter Seidler, by way of the Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin this past summer, and brought back to the forefront by Chris from Padres Public’s own The Sacrifice Bunt just last week, is talking about “competing year after year after year.” Whether you fear or hope for a complete rebuild, this is not ownership’s vision for the franchise.
While this is absolutely another example of ownership meddling in baseball operations, this is also absolutely a decision that is up to ownership to make. This is their franchise, and they set the direction of the franchise. A GM could never initiate a rebuild without the consent of ownership. Just as ownership sets the budget, and it could never be any other way, they also create the vision, and then it is up to the GM to attempt to realize that vision. It could never be any other way.
So contend and rebuild it is, whether you like it or not, and it’s up to GM AJ Preller to execute the plan. I don’t believe that Preller has suddenly decided to become former GM Josh Byrnes, making as few off-season patchwork moves as possible while spending the team’s budget on middling veterans and arbitration raises. That’s not Preller’s style, and it also doesn’t show in the moves he’s made so far, as nothing he’s done these past 6 weeks has patched much of anything. Preller surely has big plans for the rest of the winter, it just appears that they are taking longer to come to fruition than most would have expected.
Can the Padres really expect to contend in the NL West, no matter what they do? Well maybe, but a lot of things are going to have to go perfectly, and they’ll probably have to trade their best player to do it.
Tyson Ross has grown leaps and bounds as a pitcher since the Padres acquired him from the A’s for scraps, in one of Josh Byrnes’ better trades as Padres GM. He has solidified his position as a top of the rotation arm, and with two years left of team control and an expected 2016 arbitration salary of $10 million, he’s a very desirable player around the league and valuable asset the Padres should move, if they can get the right package in return.
While the Padres may prefer to trade James Shields or Andrew Cashner, if they are to trade a starting pitcher at all, a Shields trade would end up as basically a salary dump bringing back some low level targeted prospects, and a Cashner trade would neither bring back a significant return nor would it shed enough salary to make a big difference for the team. A Ross trade would both free up more salary than a Cashner trade, and the team could also demand legitimate, controllable, ready-now players in return.
The Cubs seem to be the perfect trade partner for Tyson Ross, and while they have added to their starting rotation this off-season, rumors are that they’ve discussed also adding a controllable starter like Ross, Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, or Rays starter Alex Cobb, dangling high-potential young players like outfielder Jorge Soler and SS/2B Javier Baez as potential main pieces of a big, complex trade. This kind of trade has been in the rumor mill since the trade deadline, when ultimately the Cubs decided to largely stand pat, going on to win 97 games and making a deep run in the playoffs.
With 2015’s success and the free agent signings of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey, the Cubs are all-in. They expect to win now and are making moves to do so. If the Padres can use that to get Soler, Baez, or both in a trade for Tyson Ross, they can fill holes right now with controllable talented players while also freeing up money to add to the 2016 roster through free agency.
The Padres have yet to be a player in free agency this off-season, but even as many of the big name targets have come off the board, there is quite a bit of talent left out there. If they trade Ross, depending on the return players, projected 2016 payroll could drop as low as $85 million. If payroll is expected to be in the $110-$120 million range, a small increase over last season, that leaves $25-$35 million available to be spent on free agents. I have a couple suggestions.
With Ross traded, the Padres would need to go out and get a good starting pitcher to take his place. Scott Kazmir isn’t Tyson Ross, but he is a good, left-handed starting pitcher, who at 32 years old and with an injury history (that now appears behind him after 3 straight healthy seasons), will be looking for a 4 year deal in free agency. MLB Trade Rumors has a prediction for him at 4 years, $52 million, and given the market, I’d say make it $56 million and you’ve got a deal, and still up to $21 million left to spend.
Depending on the return for Ross, the Padres would be looking for either a left-fielder, first baseman, or shortstop with their remaining budget. Let’s say the Padres get Baez and some prospects for Ross. Might I suggest Yoenis Cespedes?
Yes, Cespedes will be expensive, and MLBTR is predicting him to earn a 6 year deal worth $140 million. Dude is getting paid. He also crushed his contract year, more than doubling his previous best season based on fWAR, putting up 6.7 fWAR and slugging .542 while also providing value on defense. Is Cespedes a 3 fWAR player, a 6 fWAR player, or somewhere in between? It doesn’t really matter, because he’s a power bat for the middle of the lineup and no matter what kind of player you think he’s going to be, he’s worth $20+ million a year. Sign him, hold yourself a press conference, and put a jersey on over a dress shirt.
So how’s that for contending and rebuilding on a budget? The Padres would be upgraded at SS, even to possibly significantly better at LF, and downgraded only a little bit at starting pitching while also adding a lefty to a rotation that could really use a good one. Oh, they’d also get draft pick compensation for free agents Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy, and, with Kazmir and Cespedes, would not have to forfeit any of their own draft picks, as neither player was eligible for the qualifying offer. Plus they’d add prospects in the Ross deal, perhaps a pitcher like Carl Edwards, Jr. who could possibly be plugged into the rotation right away.
This is just one scenario, one look at what AJ Preller could do in the coming weeks. There are a myriad of other possibilities. Will any of these get the Padres ahead of the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, or even-year Giants? Maybe not, but they’re definitely going to try.
Tune in next week, when I won’t write another blog post for three months. Follow me on Twitter, where I am much more regular.