Yesterday, a few days after the transaction freeze was lifted, we had our first mid-pandemic trade when the Padres acquired Jorge Mateo from Oakland for a Player to be Named Later. Let’s dig into this deal, which is more important mechanically than it is from a baseball standpoint.
The Padres sending a PTBNL to Oakland circumvents the stated 2020 restriction that only players who are part of the 60-man player pool may be traded. Even if the A’s and Padres already know who the player will be, announcing the deal with a PTBNL distinction enables Oakland to avoid using a player pool spot on the new prospect. It’s an indication that, whoever the player is or will be, they’re not currently in San Diego’s 60-man pool, otherwise they’d just have been announced as the trade piece. Since there will be no minor league season, we won’t have an awkward, Trea Turner or Drew Pomeranz situation where a team is rostering and developing a minor leaguer who they and the industry knows they’ll soon trade. Even if the PTBNL needs to be put on the 60 later this summer in order to complete the transaction, doing it at the last possible moment enables the teams to have that roster spot free for as long as possible.
As for Mateo, the 25-year-old speedster was 15th on Oakland’s prospect list (40 FV, projected as a bench piece) prior to the trade. I’ve moved him to San Diego’s team list on The Board, where he ranks 30th (purely as a result of San Diego’s farm depth, not because of a change in Mateo’s evaluation). Here’s his blurb from the list:
I’ve spoken with folks who think that even though he was one dinger away from going 20/20 and had perhaps the best surface-level stats of his career, Mateo’s approach actually regressed last year as he leaned into selling out for power in a hitting environment where it was more viable. That’s not to say that Mateo’s stats are a caricature of his physical abilities. He’s still an 80-grade runner with some power and arm strength, but at age 25, he remains somewhat inconsistent as an infield defender and is swing-happy at the plate. He hasn’t played center field since he was with the Yankees and it might be too late to revisit that. I think he’ll carve out a bench role somewhere based on his physical ability.
It seemed logical to conclude that Mateo’s acquisition was partially driven by 2B/DH Brian Dozier opting out of the season, and that Mateo might be in the Padres second base mix going into camp, but a source close to the trade tells me San Diego is going to try Mateo in center field. He’s out of options (likely part of why Oakland dealt him) and therefore will need to make this adjustment at the big league level. Because I’m bearish on his bat, I think Mateo’s only shot to be an everyday player at this point is if his elite speed enables him to play elite defense in center, and now not only will we get to see if that’s possible, we’ll get to see it play out in real time.
Oakland cleared out some of their second base logjam with the trade. Former top prospect Franklin Barreto (if we’re being kind to Barreto and those of us who were high on him as a prospect, he “hasn’t yet established himself in the big leagues,” but if we’re being realistic, his approach is a huge, perhaps insurmountable problem), Sheldon Neuse, Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, and Rule 5 pick Vimael Machin are now the names in the A’s keystone mix.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.
Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo in this article together reminded me of a time I thought both looked like stars in the making. Nice little time capsule. Also surprised to see how young both are still.