Every season, teams play roughly 100 games before the trade deadline. During that time, there are two kinds of teams: buyers and sellers. As sellers, it is their job
to give buyers a hard time to trade worthwhile players to the buyers in exchange for players to be used in the future or moving financial obligations that selling teams no longer wish to possess. By all accounts, the San Diego Padres were clearly in the sellers’ camp, yet they held on to all of their players, both potential short-term rentals like Justin Upton, Joaquin Benoit, and Ian Kennedy and longer-term players like Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel. The Padres have desirable players on their team, and the decision to hold onto all of their players is curious, although they did make a small move, acquiring lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski.
After the trade deadline passed, Padres general manager A.J. Preller was said to believe the Padres had a chance to make the playoffs this season:
#Padres largely standing pat because GM A.J. Preller believes the team can reach the postseason, source says.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2015
The Padres, as presently constituted, do not look like a playoff team. They are 49-53 with a -53 run differential, and BaseRuns, which strips out sequencing, indicates the Padres have actually been pretty lucky, as their BaseRuns record is actually five games worse than their present one. Our projections do not seem to hint at any great improvement moving forward either, as the team is projected to finish with an 80-82 record. They are currently eight games out in their division and 7.5 games out of the wild-card spot. More troubling than the deficit in the standings, they would have to pass four teams that all appear to be as good or better than the Padres to make the postseason. Their current playoff odds are under 4% for this season. Preller is either delusional or he simply could not get the type of return on his players that he expected. Given the huge amount of rumors associated with the Padres over the last few days, it is fair to assume the latter.
More likely than Preller’s belief that the Padres can contend is that a market once thought to be a seller’s market with many teams in contention reversed itself, and the Padres could not extract the type of value they were hoping to receive. Preller is not afraid to make trades, as he exhibited on multiple occasions during the offseason — and right up to the regular season, as well, when he traded for Craig Kimbrel just as the season was beginning. If the rumors have any bit of truth to them, Preller was working on multiple fronts, attempting to gauge the value of young cost-controlled Tyson Ross and closer Craig Kimbrel, signed through 2017 with an option for 2018, along with moving out rentals like hitter Justin Upton and reliever Joaquin Benoit as well as trying to move bad contracts like Jedd Gyorko or perhaps even Melvin Upton, Jr.
The Padres no doubt had many balls in the air, and as the deadline neared, Preller appears to have dropped them all, but how much value some of the potential trade chips actually have is not entirely clear.
The Padres have four potential free agents who could potentially be moved. Ian Kennedy has struggled with the long ball and with a salary close to $10 million he will likely clear waivers. Benoit is making $8 million this season and with a $1.5 million buyout for next year, the opportunity to deal him is not over. Will Venable makes just $4.2 million, but Ben Revere did not provide a tremendous return, Rajai Davis did not get traded, so the return on Venable might not have been meaningful and could have require the Padres to pick up the rest of the salary. For the above players, holding on, putting the players through waivers and seeing if teams are a little more desperate over the next month is at least a reasonable strategy.
Holding on to Justin Upton is not quite as reasonable. Yes, the Padres will receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of the season should Upton sign with another team in the offseason. That pick does have value, but the draft is now a year away, and a decent prospect who has already developed some would have better value. Teams like the Mets and Orioles were seen as in on Upton ahead of the deadline and the package that the Mets sent to the Detroit Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes is better than a draft pick after the first round 10 months from now. That is not to say that the Padres actually received an offer today that is more valuable than the compensation pick as the market dampened and teams chose to stand down — or in Detroit’s case, sell — devaluing Upton in the trade market. Upton is unlikely to pass through waivers and the claiming team is unlikely to offer more value than a compensation pick. Preller appears to have mis-timed the market for Upton, but the team will not end up empty-handed.
Rumors abounded that Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman were potentially on the move. Kimbrel is controlled for two more seasons after this one, with an additional option year — all likely to come at elite closer prices, limiting the number of teams that could have gone after him. In this case, we have a little better sense about the offers for Kimbrel.
yankees were willing to put in jorge mateo and take back gyorko and eat a good part of it to get kimbrel. pads said no.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 31, 2015
Either someone has an axe to grind with Preller, they want to defend the Yankees’ inaction at the deadline, or Preller passed up what appears to be a pretty good deal. Jedd Gyorko is owed more than $33 million after this season, but has hit terribly since his solid 2013 rookie season. The Padres appear to have been able to shed a lot of salary and receive a decent prospect in return.
James Shields will likely pass through waivers, and the Padres will have another opportunity to trade him. If another team claims him, they would be wise to let him go as they will have paid under $10 million for his youngest season in a deal that pays Shields $21 million per year for the next three years as well as a $2 million buyout on a 2019 option.
Andrew Cashner has been roughly average this season and is under control for next season, but after the Giants picked up Mike Leake, there was not a big market for pitchers as the Texas Rangers also held on to Yovani Gallardo. Cashner will not likely command a big payday in arbitration, and it is conceivable that his value will be larger in winter or perhaps even next season if he can get his home runs down to 2012-2013 levels.
Tyson Ross was the Padres biggest trade asset. He has a great strikeout rate above 25% to go along with a high walk rate, and there was reportedly heavy interest in Ross, who cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season. Ross is a solid pitcher now, and he could have another level to reach if he can get his walk rate down. San Diego could have torn things down with Ross as the centerpiece of a major deal, but holding on to him was not necessarily the worst deal.
Entering the trading season, it looked like the best option for the Padres would be to sell everyone, get rid of salary, and try to get younger pieces for contention some time in the future. For a small-market team with a limited budget and some big contracts attached to Melvin Upton, Jr., Matt Kemp, Shields, and Gyorko on the payroll, that is the best course of action for a non-contending team, if it were possible. A diminished market saw Preller missing the best time to move the most marketable players, and the trade deadline might well have provided few palatable deals. It is possible that Preller was somewhat hesitant to tear down the team he tried to build in less than a year, but some of these moves are at least defensible. A massive selloff might not have been possible today, but an opportunity to tear down the team and start over was likely missed over the past week.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.