Seth Smith was never meant for the label The Final Piece, given to him by over-confident former GM Josh Byrnes after acquiring Smith from the A’s last winter in exchange for Luke Gregerson. He ended up being a nice piece to add, like many Josh Byrnes acquisitions that didn’t actually add wins to the team record, but he was never going to be good enough to carry the offense like he needed to, no matter how well he played.
Smith ended up being the only piece of that 2014 outfield worth a damn, finishing the year with a team leading 133 wRC+ and trailing just Rene Rivera for position player team lead in fWAR, all while as a platoon player, getting 87% of his plate appearances against right-handed pitching. During his hot first-half, he was for weeks on end one of the top 5 hitters in the league by wRC+.
Smith cooled off considerably in the 2nd half of the season, but it was still a very positive year, and the post-Byrnes, pre-Preller Padres rewarded him with an oddly timed contract extension and a handshake, unofficial one off-season no-trade clause. Then AJ Preller went shopping for outfielders, Smith became the odd man out, and the Padres and Smith agreed that there wouldn’t be a “no takesies backsies” policy on his handshake deal, and he was off to the Mariners to platoon in Safeco Field’s outfield with Justin Ruggiano, as their Final Piece.
Now that the Padres have reshaped their roster with 3 new outfielders, 2 new catchers, and a new 3rd baseman, Preller and Co. will be looking to add the finishing touches to a roster that they hope will compete to go deep in the playoffs in 2015 and beyond. While there are still question marks in the infield, the new Final Piece isn’t going to be a position player. What the Padres really need now to move from playoff contender to World Series contender is a front-line starting pitcher.
The Padres don’t have a bad rotation. Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy are all formidable mid-rotation starters. The problem they have is that none of them is suited to be a true ace of the staff. Kennedy doesn’t really have the skill-set for it, Ross pitched beyond any expectation last year, and Cashner lacks the ability to stay healthy and has only an inconsistent ability to get strikeouts.
After those 3, there’s a lot of depth but not a lot of quality. As of right now, Odrisamer Despaigne is penciled in as the team’s 4th starter, and the 5th starter spot is up for grabs, with Robbie Erlin likely having a current slight advantage over guys like Brenden Morrow, Casey Kelly, Brandon Maurer, and others mostly because the Padres lack a left-handed starter.
Not that Despaigne, Erlin, and the others can’t be capable back of the rotation arms, but if the Padres really want to be World Series contenders in 2015, giving 40% of their regular season starts to those kinds of pitchers isn’t a great way to get there. Top prospect Matt Wisler could be a fine mid-season addition to the rotation, but he isn’t likely to make a significant impact in 2015.
That leaves going outside the organization, and if they’re going to do that, rather than looking for a cheap innings eater, something the team already has, they should shoot for the moon, and that means either signing a free agent like Max Scherzer or James Shields, or trading for a pitcher like Jordan Zimmermann or Cole Hamels.
And The New Final Piece should be: Cole Hamels
David, my Vocal Minority better-half, started making joke #BringHimHome tweets about the Padres trading for San Diego native Cole Hamels all the way back in July, long before the team re-worked the roster and opened up what looks like a 2 to 4 year playoff window. Then all the moves were made and the Padres were actually linked to Hamels in trade rumors and speculation, and if you look into what Hamels might cost and what he might bring to the club, and it really makes too much sense.
What the Padres don’t have that the Dodgers and Giants both have is a left-handed starter at the top of the rotation. Hamels is the only lefty arm like that available. He’s not Kershaw good, but he is Madison Bumgarner good, and he’s worth every penny of the $94 million he’s owed over the next 4 seasons. He’s thrown 200+ innings 5 straight seasons, he’s struck out 190+ batters each of those 5 seasons, and he’s averaged 4.08 fWAR over those seasons. He’s not only very good, he’s consistently very good, and he’s wasted on the rebuilding Phillies.
If the Padres do trade for Hamels, they’re getting him for his age 31-34 seasons, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than signing James Shields for his age 33-37 seasons. You’d get more from him than you would Zimmermann (a free agent after 2015) and you wouldn’t have the risk of being on the hook for 6-7 years like you would if you sign Scherzer. Plus, have I mentioned that Hamels is left-handed and the Padres could really use a lefty starter?
Of course, adding any of these guys would mean about a $20 million jump in payroll, but if you’re going all-in, you gotta pay for it. It’d really only be a one year jump in payroll anyway, since after next season both Carlos Quentin and Justin Upton come off the books, which would open up enough room in payroll to pay for a top of the rotation pitcher in 2016 and beyond.
Hamels is not only expensive, but it’s going to cost a lot to get him. The initial rumor was that the Phillies were seeking Wil Myers plus a top prospect. That was quickly shot down. It will likely take two of the Padres best prospects to trade for him though.
I think a package of something like Austin Hedges, Rymer Liriano, Robbie Erlin, and a low-level prospect should be enough to make a deal happen. It would hurt to lose Hedges and to a lesser extent Liriano, but holding on to Hunter Renfroe for when Justin Upton leaves after 2015 should be a top priority. If I’m drawing lines in the sand, I would not be willing to offer both Hedges and Wisler unless the Phillies are paying a chunk of Hamels’ contract, and Renfroe and Myers would be off-limits entirely.
It’s a high price to pay for one player, but it would immediately turn the Padres into a World Series contender, whether they find an upgrade at shortstop and first base or not. Any time you can make one move and become a World Series contender, you should definitely go for it, and that’s what would make Cole Hamels The New Final Piece, one much more fitting of the label.
The Vocal Minority wants to wish you all a happy New Year. 2015 is shaping up to be very interesting. Follow me on Twitter. It’ll be fun.