Over the winter, the Padres changed over almost their entire roster, turning an also-ran into a contender with a flurry of moves that borrowed heavily from the team’s future. The current roster is good enough to be a legitimate Wild Card threat, but despite some big name pieces at the top of the roster, San Diego is still rolling with a tandem of Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes at shortstop. Unsurprisingly, A.J. Preller is looking to change that.
The #Padres and aggressive A.J Preller still aren't done dealing. They are now scouring the shortstop market, teams say.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 7, 2015
Significant trades are pretty rare in April, but Preller already defied the odds by getting the Braves to surrender the best closer in baseball on the eve of Opening Day, so let’s put aside the fact that most teams aren’t likely going to want to move a quality shortstop right now and see if we can find a fit for the Padres. After all, we don’t need to look for an All-Star to find someone better than what San Diego has at the moment.
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado.
Every team who needs a shortstop dreams of trading for Tulo, but after a winter of raiding the pantry, I honestly don’t know how the Padres could pull this off, especially with the Rockies likely to charge an in-division premium to send him to San Diego. You’re not getting Tulowitzki for Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges, and the rest of their system is remarkably thin after so much of it was traded away to make upgrades elsewhere. To get Colorado interested, the Padres would have to build a package around a piece from their big league team, and at that point, you’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Tulo would be a massive get for the Padres, but if it costs you Andrew Cashner and Wil Myers, the offsetting losses probably don’t make the short-term gain worth the long-term costs. And it seems remarkably unlikely that the Rockies are going to trade Tulowitzki right now. In June or July, once they are definitively out of the race, but to a division rival in April? It just doesn’t seem like something they would do.
Verdict: Theoretically possible, but I’d be shocked if this happened.
Starlin Castro, Cubs
Perhaps no useful young player in baseball has been hypothetically traded more times than Starlin Castro. Addison Russell’s acquisition last summer made the chatter even louder, and after a big spring, there is a natural replacement for Castro waiting in Triple-A if the Cubs chose to move him. But this one strikes me as particularly unlikely, because at the moment, Starlin Castro isn’t doing anything to keep Addison Russell out of the big leagues.
The trade-Castro argument essentially comes down to unblocking a logjam, but that logjam only existed as long as Javier Baez was playing a significant role in the big leagues. A terrible debut and an awful spring got him sent back to Iowa as well, however, so now the Cubs are using Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara at second base. Both are interesting and potentially useful role players, but neither one is a serious impediment to the promotion of an elite prospect like Russell, and since he’s not a defense-first SS, he wouldn’t lose much value by breaking into the big leagues as a second baseman. For 2015, there’s no real reason why Castro and Russell can’t co-exist in the big leagues once the Cubs determine Russell is ready for the majors.
So, really, trading Castro would open a spot back up for Baez, not Russell, and that’s a downgrade that Chicago should not want to make this year. You don’t spend $150 million on Jon Lester and then trade away a solid big leaguer so that you can rush Baez back into a job he probably isn’t ready for. Like the Padres, the Cubs are trying to win this year, and trading Castro away makes that more difficult; they may have a future logjam up the middle, but they don’t have one at present. If anything, the Cubs should be looking to add big league caliber hitters, not subtract them.
Verdict: I don’t see a fit here.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers
This is the other obvious name that comes up frequently, and unlike Castro, the motivations for the Rangers to do something are clear; Andrus’ eight year, $120 million contract extension just kicked in, and getting free of that commitment would allow the Rangers to reinvest that money in someone likely to be a better contributor in the future. While Andrus is young enough to bounce back and still projects as an above average shortstop in the big leagues, $120 million is a big commitment to a speed-and-defense who racked up twice as many errors as he got hits in the first three games of the season.
So, Preller likely wouldn’t have to do much sweet-talking here to get his old boss interested in a deal, especially since the Padres have bullpen pieces to spare while the Rangers bullpen is a desolate wasteland. And while trading Andrus away would make the Rangers worse in 2015, they’re already likely to be one of the worst teams in the American League this year, and the marginal difference between winning 72 games or 74 games shouldn’t be large enough to stop them from dumping as much of Andrus’ contract as they can if given the opportunity.
That’s the sticking point, though; how much cash would they be willing to include to pay Andrus to play for the Padres? While Preller has shown a willingness to take on overpriced players in Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton, he didn’t take the full weight of either contract in those deals. And I can’t imagine anyone would take Andrus at $120 million right now, so a deal would be dependent on the Rangers subsidizing his contract in order to get most of the contract off the books.
How much would Texas have to eat in order to get the Padres to give up a spare reliever like Brandon Maurer or Kevin Quackenbush? Andrus’ two opt-outs complicate the calculations a bit, but based on his projected future value, I’d estimate about $30 million or so. The Rangers are going to pay Andrus his $15 million salary this season either way, so if they picked up that tab and then another $15 million at the end of the deal — probably after the two opt-outs have passed, so that they only have to send the second part of the payment if Andrus doesn’t play well enough to choose free agency when those options come up — then they’d have the full $15 million he’s due next year to reinvest into their 2016 product.
But the Padres have already committed a large part of their future to deals that probably won’t end well — or in Upton’s case, are already sinkholes — and they might be a bit reluctant to take on another $90 million for a guy who was barely a +1 WAR player last year. Buying low on Andrus wouldn’t be all that different from what they did with Wil Myers, but at least they can cut bait on the young outfielder if it doesn’t work out. My guess is that even if Texas offered to pick up a good chunk of the deal, the Padres aren’t going to be too excited about taking on a good chunk of Andrus’ contract. From what we saw in Preller’s first winter as a GM, speed-and-defense don’t seem to be particularly high on his list of priorities.
Verdict: I’d guess neither side wants it to happen enough to make a deal.
Jose Ramirez, Indians
If you want an Andrus-type but don’t want to sign up for a $120 million commitment, then Ramirez might be the next best option. A glove-first 22 year old who probably won’t ever hit for any power, Ramirez projects as roughly a league average player based on his defense and contact skills, but probably isn’t the long-term answer in Cleveland with Francisco Lindor already in Triple-A.
That said, there’s little reason for Cleveland to want to trade Ramirez. They’re a contender this year and aren’t going to want to weaken their 2015 position just to help San Diego out, and even if you think Lindor is as good as Ramirez right now, having both around as depth gives the team a much higher floor than just relying solely on Lindor and hoping he’s ready. If the Indians were going to subtract from their 25 man roster, they’d want to upgrade elsewhere on the roster, but the Padres don’t really have superfluous pieces who would improve the Indians in a real way. You’re not getting a young everyday shortstop in exchange for spare relievers, after all.
If the Indians fell out of the race, Ramirez could be an option in a few months, but not right now.
Verdict: No real motivation for Cleveland to move him yet.
Jean Segura, Brewers
Now we might have something. The Brewers look like a team with disaster potential, especially because they lack anything resembling reasonable pitching depth. Segura’s had an up-and-down big league career, but the projections look at the total package and see a roughly average big leaguer, the kind of player that would be a real upgrade for San Diego.
For the Brewers, though, Segura isn’t necessarily something the need to hang onto, especially once they realize that they aren’t a particularly strong team this year. They’re not going to throw in the towel after an 0-3 start, but we currently give them about a 3% chance of winning the division and a 6% chance of winning a Wild Card spot; they don’t have to lose too many more games in April before making future-focused trades becomes a viable decision.
And there’s probably a deal to be made here that doesn’t even require them to punt the 2015 season. The downgrade from Segura to Luis Sardinas and either Amarista or Barmes — one of the two would likely have to be included just so Milwaukee still had a shortstop, and San Diego wouldn’t need both anymore — would hurt the Brewers a little bit, but that lost value could be made up by building the deal around Odrisamer Despaigne, a capable big league starter who would represent a massive upgrade over the team’s options for when they need a fill-in starting pitcher.
If you add in one of the spare bullpen pieces — say, Brandon Maurer — so that the Brewers could add depth to their bullpen as well, and it’s not clear the Brewers would even get significantly worse in 2015. Swapping four years of Segura — three of them at arbitration prices, which he may not even be worth if he doesn’t have a bounce back season — for six years of Despaigne and five years of Maurer is the kind of future-oriented trade Milwaukee could make without going into a full-scale rebuild.
And this is one of the few deals I can find where the Padres actually could make a real SS upgrade while only giving up pieces they don’t really need. They have the pitching depth to spare a couple of extra arms, and buying low on a league minimum Segura is likely a better plan than doing the same thing with a very expensive Andrus. Even if the Brewers needed another low-level prospect to get it done, this is probably the kind of trade that the Padres should be looking to make.
Verdict: This is the move that makes the most sense to me.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.