Padres Add “The Final Piece”

They almost had me.

I was willing to give the Padres the benefit of the doubt this afternoon when they completed a one for one trade with the Oakland Athletics, acquiring left-handed outfielder Seth Smith in exchange for slider whispering setup man Luke Gregerson. Losing Gregerson stings for fans because he’s been a very successful player for 5 years, and very successful players who stick around awhile are pretty well liked by fans, regardless of position. Think about who the top 3 best Padres of all-time are. Trevor Hoffman is in that group, right? Even those of us who have devalued the closer position and the save stat still put him in that group. That’s what success + longevity gets you.

In any case, Gregerson was set to make approximately $5 million in his last year of arbitration, and no smart team keeps guys like Luke Gregerson through their free agent years anymore. Relievers are bred to be journeymen, and raised in the seclusion of the bullpen as an acknowledgement that they are never really a whole part of the team. This is their lot in life. Heath Bell signed a free agent contract with the Marlins 2 offseasons ago, and as of today will join his 3rd team since officially leaving San Diego. Maybe he’ll get to close again. Maybe not.

Seth Smith is an average hitting left handed outfielder who is above average against right-handed pitching. He’s never been able to hold down a starting position, but he’s average over 400 plate appearances in each of his 5 full seasons. He’s good enough to be useful, and can play both corners, although he’s not a positive defender in right field and that’s hurt his overall value (he’s average 1.2 fWAR the past 4 seasons). He’s also in his last year of arbitration, and will make between $4 and $4.5 million.

That’s about what you can get for a pretty good setup man in his last year of team control these days. It seems like only yesterday you could get 2 pretty good starting pitching prospects for a very good setup man, but it was actually 2 1/2 years ago, and the market for relief pitching has changed significantly since then.

So with all that said, I was just fine with the trade. It should complete the outfield, although not with a new starter as some had hoped, and allow Bud Black to keep players like Jesus Guzman and Alexi Amarista out of the outfield as much as possible, if they even remain on the roster. It creates a hole in the bullpen, but I figure Ramona’s own Nick Vincent is just about ready to fill that hole if Byrnes doesn’t go out and grab recently non-tendered hurler John Axford (who happened to be on a flight to San Diego when he was non-tendered, seemingly coincidentally) or someone of that ilk.

Given the Padres new-found depth at starting pitching, it’s likely that Burch Smith doesn’t make the opening day rotation. He should be able to slip into the bullpen and let loose with his fastball, which is a bit of a gamble, but Smith has a very high ceiling as a reliever. Dale Thayer wasn’t good last year, but he was good in 2012. He needs to show up much improved in 2014 if he wants a shot as a setup man again. Kevin Quackenbush wasn’t as good in AAA as he’d been in every other stop on his path to the majors, but the PCL is hell on pitchers, and most of his issues were BABIP related. He’s likely ready to step up to the Padres pen.

The Padres bullpen at this point probably shapes up something like this:

Huston Street
Nick Vincent
Burch Smith
Dale Thayer
Kevin Quackenbush
LHP not yet acquired
Tim Stauffer

Brad Boxberger could make Smith’s move to the bullpen unnecessary or keep Quackenbush in AAA for the time being, but he’s yet to prove he’s capable. Also, the Padres are still looking for a LOOGY, and internal options are unimpressive. I think they’ll keep shopping for one they can grab out of the bargain bin. The best bullpen you’ve ever seen? No. A liability? I think it’s likely league average, but reliever performance is unpredictable from year to year. Maybe I’m being a bit optimistic.

So yeah, while everyone on my Twitter feed freaked out over how bad the trade was, I wasn’t that worried about it. Then, Josh Byrnes went and said something dumb and everything went to hell in a hand-basket.

“The roster sets up better right now,” said Byrnes. “I liked our offense from the All-Star Game of 2012 to 2013 before we got hit by injuries. This could be the final piece.”

“The final piece” is such a loaded phrase, you use it as a proclamation that your team, or in this case offense, is now ready to make the playoffs and beyond. Josh Byrnes is saying that all this offense needed to put it over the top this offseason was a reserve/platoon outfielder. That’s it. 1-3 World Series wins are ours now, I guess.

Josh Byrnes drives me nuts.

The Vocal Minority is vocal and sometimes very much in the minority. We don’t always agree with each other either. It’d be less fun if we did. Follow me on Twitter. I’m less than 400 tweets from 10,000. You won’t want to miss that.

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