Padres Snag Adam Frazier as They Make an NL West Push

Slowly falling behind in the divisional race, the Padres shook up their roster on Sunday, acquiring second baseman Adam Frazier from the Pirates. Frazier, under team control until the end of the 2022 season, is having easily the best season of his career, hitting .324/.388/.448 for a 130 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR. Except for the slugging percentage, all of these numbers are career-bests for the 29-year-old; that WAR figure was a new personal high before the All-Star Game was even played. Heading to Pittsburgh are three players: infielder Tucupita Marcano, outfielder Jack Suwinski, and right-handed reliever Michell Miliano.

Despite the fact that they’re 5 1/2 games out and behind two teams in the NL West as of Monday morning, it would be a gross exaggeration to call the 2021 season a disappointing one for the Padres. After all, they’re on pace for 92 wins, with the fifth-best run differential in the majors. The problem is that half of the teams with better run differentials also play in the NL West. That gauntlet essentially puts the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers into an “extra” grueling round of playoffs, with two of the three teams likely to be pushed into a single-elimination game after the regular season.

As of now, the Padres are a clear underdog, with a projected divisional probability that has faded from the 43.5% in the preseason, when it was expected to be a two-team race, to 11.2% before taking into account this trade. They aren’t in even remote danger of missing the playoffs — for now — but they certainly have an obvious preference for getting a free pass to the best-of-five Divisional Series, which basically doubles their chances of collecting the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship.

2021 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 96 66 .593 57.9% 41.0% 99.0% 12.1% 0.0%
San Francisco Giants 94 68 2 .580 25.2% 69.4% 94.6% 7.8% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 93 69 3 .574 16.9% 75.0% 91.9% 6.5% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 27 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 56 106 40 .346 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 61.5%

With Frazier on board, the Padres’ divisional probability bumps to 16.9%. This is projected to be a photo finish, so each win is quite important! But what will that role be?

For an acquisition of an All-Star second baseman, this move has surprisingly little to do with San Diego’s situation at second base. Ha-Seong Kim may have had a rocky start in the U.S., but Jake Cronenworth certainly hasn’t, and the former Ray has firmly seized control of the starting job, hitting .278/.352/.456, good for 3.2 WAR, and making the All-Star game himself. Like the Dodgers and Rays (among others), the Padres have developed a real liking in recent for extremely versatile players, allowing them to fill holes more easily that may be caused by circumstances. After the trade deadline, that gets a lot harder to do.

In this case, the acquisition of Frazier, who has played second, third, and all three outfield positions in the majors, allows the Padres to address their biggest holes in the lineup. (He’s also played shortstop, but it’s unlikely he’d be the theoretical Fernando Tatis Jr. replacement in the case of injury.) At this point, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers are the weakest links in the lineup, and adding Frazier allows the Padres to reduce their playing time against matchups they don’t like and keep the struggling Jurickson Profar from being Plan B anywhere. Frazier will likely take at-bats from Myers in right field and indirectly from Hosmer at first, with Cronenworth taking even more of a share of the time there. As lousy as he’s been in San Diego, replacing Hosmer is a tough move given that he’s a highly-paid, well-liked veteran; the Padres may have instead coasted along with him if they had a five-game lead rather than faced a five-game deficit.

It’s probably a minor factor, but picking up Frazier also deprives either the Dodgers or Giants from getting to do so. With Corey Seager still out with a broken hand and Gavin Lux’s hamstring likely keeping him out past the trade deadline, the Dodgers are thinner than usual in the infield, and despite what it seems at times, they can’t just clone Chris Taylor and have him play two or three positions at once. Similarly, Donovan Solano is one of the weaker parts of San Francisco’s lineup, and both Brandon Crawford and Tommy La Stella are rehabbing injuries.

Now, you could say, “Dan, if the Padres wanted to upgrade at first base, they could have directly upgraded with someone like Joey Gallo!” This is true, but Gallo also would demand a larger return in prospects — I can’t imagine the Rangers accepting this package — and bringing him in would require the Padres to bench Hosmer or Myers and commit to keep doing it in 2022, short of the designated hitter rule coming to the NL for good.

Now, is Frazier actually a .324/.388/.448 hitter? Probably not. He’s had a real up-and-down career, and even in a great year, there’s a case from his peripherals that he’s in a bit over his head; ZiPS sees his BABIP for 2021 at about .315 for this season, around his career numbers. Frazier’s offense is very batting average-dependent, as he doesn’t have much power, meaning his peaks and valleys are going to be batted ball-driven, something far more volatile than power. It doesn’t close the gap entirely, but BABIP overperformance and underperformance explain a great deal of the gap between his terrific 2021 (.359 BABIP) and his lousy 2020 (.246).

Pirates fans are likely a little disappointed by the return for Frazier, as it’s not aligned with what you expect to get in return for a five-win player. But that’s not really his baseline, which I’m positive that neither San Diego nor the rest of the league (or at least the teams that are buyers this month) believed. Perhaps there was a huge Frazier offer out there ready to materialize, but with all sorts of infielder options possibly out there — like Trevor Story, Javier Báez, Eduardo Escobar, Andrelton Simmons, and possibly even Jorge Polanco — I think not.

The best-known prospect acquired in the trade is Marcano, from Tucupita, Venezuela, and the son of former indie league outfielder Raul “Tucupita” Marcano, who came in at No. 11 on our Padres list this spring. I was surprised this spring to see him up so quickly, given his most recent minor league performance was in the Midwest League. But the Padres liked his plate discipline, ability to make contact, and defense, and he hit .400 in the Cactus League. So does my colleague Eric Longenhagen, also of this esteemed site:

Traditionally, light-hitting middle infielders like Marcano have been undervalued in the public prospect sphere, then we (read: I) overcorrected a tad. Prospects like Marcano force one to ask, “What are indicators that this player with superlative contact skill will eventually hit for power and become relevant?” And I seek to answer this by evaluating the athleticism and body projection of the prospect in question. In the case of Vidal Brujan and Bryan Rocchio, there’s a level of athleticism and underlying physicality that I think will lead to more power.

In the case of Marcano (and Jose Devers with Miami), I’m more skeptical of the long term power projection. Marcano is rail thin, and slight of build, he’s not someone who I anticipate adding impacting strength even though he’s still very young. He’s a viable middle infielder and there’s a chance he just ends up with elite feel for contact and, even without power, and generates production commensurate with an average regular. But I think it’s more likely he ends up playing a utility role. I have a 40 FV on Marcano and think his ceiling is probably a 45.

ZiPS was skeptical of Marcano in the short-term entering the season, pegging him at .251/.293/.308 and a 65 wRC+, about a run under replacement level, with comps like Ozzie Guillen, Jeff Huson, and Tom Foley (the Expo, not the congressman). But ZiPS also saw him as a larger contributor in a few years, eventually having him peak around .270/.330/.330 as someone who has real value if his defense holds up at short. A solid performance for Triple-A El Paso at .272/.367/.444 bumps that up a little more, with ZiPS now having him peaking as about a two-win player.

Suwinski’s season fascinates me, and he’s someone who also caught Eric’s eye.

On-paper performance is especially important for a hitter like Suwinski because he’s a positionless defender who needs to rake to have any sort of big league role. Entering 2021, he’d only ever done enough to merit Honorable Mention inclusion on the Padres lists, and I’d often get little support from scouts when I mentioned him on the phone during sourcing calls. He’s had his best statistical season to date, slashing .269/.398/.551, and (while there’s a 2020 gap) his batted ball profile has shifted more toward pull and lift over the course of his career. I’ve added him to the 35+ FV tier of the Pirates list because something relevant about his swing and approach may have changed. Ultimately, because he lacks a true position, Suwinski’s likely role is as a platooning role player, and his chances of playing a significant role increase with the likely implementation of the universal DH.

Coming into the season, Suwinski wasn’t even close to being on the prospect radar, with a .195/.266/.337 line and -2.2 WAR projection, the latter thanks to ZiPS seeing him as a -9 defender in left field. But after a shockingly good stint for Double-A San Antonio, with a .269/.398/.551 line that ZiPS translates to .243/.356/.458, he suddenly becomes very interesting. Despite confusing the heck out of the computer, he now projects as a league-average DH at his peak, which makes him far more appealing than he was in 2019.

The last player in the trade is Miliano. Here’s Eric:

Michel Miliano has been the same guy since he was 17. He sits in the low-90s, has tantalizing physical projection and feel for spinning a curveball, but he struggles to repeat his release point and his command is bad as a result.

ZiPS agrees, seeing him right now as a reliever with an ERA around seven. Striking out 59 batters in 30 innings, as he’s done this year at two stops, makes you look, but 25 walks would make you second-guess that decision. That’s not hopeless — a lot of competent pitchers, such as Dellin Betances, had some real horror walk rates before they got it together — but he’s more of an interesting flyer at this point than someone the Pirates are likely to have in their plans.

Does Frazier vault the Padres to an NL West win? The competition is so fierce that even Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani can’t make that happen. But they are a better team than they were yesterday, without giving up any of their key prospects, and have an additional option for 2022, so there’s nothing to complain about here.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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2 years ago

I think Frazier has made a pretty noticeable change to his approach this season. It feels like in past years he sold out a bit more for power than he should have. He always FELT like someone who should be consistently able to run high BABIP’s and hit over .300 but he never really did that.

He’s not going to hit .330 for the next few years, but I think his approach is more tailored now for a .300 hitter that works his way to above-average offensive production through singles and doubles.

2 years ago
Reply to  markmark

It’s a mistake to claim his past production settles his current value. It does not. Right now Frazier is a 5 Win player. That’s the player for whom who the Padres traded pennies, nickles and dimes. The Pirates overpaid for these prospects. This transaction feels like a hidden salary dump because the Pirates seemed unwilling to exit the market when they failed to obtain equal value. This was a bad trade.

Doug Lampertmember
2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

You correctly say that “It’s a mistake to claim his past production settles his current value” and then turn around and say that “Right now Frazier is a 5 Win player” purely on past production! No, YOU THINK he is a 5 Win player based on a particular subsample of his past production.

He may be, but you have nothing but past production to base that claim on.

MLB teams are not going to give up top prospects for a guy who’s had 9.2 WAR over six years based on some delusion that the fact that the last 2.9 of that WAR happened in the last 98 games means that’s his rate going forward. The other 510 games still happened, and still produced only an unspectacular 6.3 WAR.

2 years ago
Reply to  Doug Lampert

You are right in your criticism. It is a self-refuting argument.

Then Cherrington should not have traded Frazier to the Padres if they did not want to pay for the 2021 version of Frazier, the version that accurately reflects his current productivity. All signs point to this being a salary dump trade. And it doesn’t matter a jot what other teams are willing to trade for Frazier since the Pirates are not required to trade him. If the Padres did not want to trade top prospects for Frazier, like Gore, a prospect with declining value, then the Pirates keep Frazier– or tade either to the Dodgers or Giants.

2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

So if no one wants to pay for the 2021 version of Frazier, the Pirates just sit with their thumb up their ass until Frazier’s contract runs out?

2 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

No, they should exit a market that does not favor them, a strategically wise choice.

2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

It’s a crap trade. Marcano is highly unlikely to become a MLB regular. The others even less likely.

2 years ago

While I agree Pitt didn’t get much, Marcano is still 21 years old and has played a in the MLB when he would be young for high A. The verdict is far from out on him.

Bartolo Cologne
2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

szielinski’s comment doesn’t even seem to be responding to the comment it’s replying to. A little confusing for me.

But really just dropping in to say that it doesn’t appear to be a salary dump. Reports are that Pittsburgh is picking up $1.4m of the $1.6m still owed him this year.

I think the real answer is BC just likes Marcano. And in his defense, the Padres really like him too. With a loaded team and prospect pool, they brought him to ST where he raked and have called him up to fill holes on the MLB roster more than once.

The Ancient Mariner
2 years ago

Rosenthal confirmed this. Seattle made an offer and didn’t ask for any money back, but the Pirates really wanted Marcano.

2 years ago

The salary dumped is the money the Pirates will pay him in 2022 once he passes through the arbitration process.

2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

Bob Biertempfel, a Pirates beat writer for the athletic, reported that the Pirates had 3 to 4 teams make offers for Frazier. He quoted Cherrington. This diminishes some the salary dump claim and moves the explanation more to the value the team attributed to Marcano. The Pirates under Cherrington’s leadership have proven themselves capable of finding talent. I wonder what the other offers were and by which teams?

2 years ago
Reply to  szielinski

You’re insane if you think other teams are valuing Adam Frazier as a true-talent 5 win player