We’re about two weeks away from Opening Day, and with teams starting to get a sense for what they have — and more importantly, what they don’t have — we’re likely to see some trade talk pick up soon. Mostly, spring trades revolve around out-of-options guys or bench players who played their way out of an organization, but occasionally, teams find common ground on a major trade that reshapes their roster right before the season starts. Last year, the Padres were involved in just such a deal, acquiring Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton from the Braves right before the season started. And I think they should make another big trade before the season starts this year.
Over the last few days, talk has picked up that the Rangers have interest in acquiring Derek Norris, the Padres starting catcher. The Rangers don’t really have much catching depth, while the Padres have three catchers after their off-season of Christian Bethancourt, so a deal between the two teams makes a decent amount of sense. But rather than making a small deal in which the Rangers pick up Norris for some mid-level prospect or two, there’s a case to be made that the two sides should expand the talk and make a legitimate blockbuster.
Evan Grant noted this morning that the two teams have room to expand the Norris conversations, noting that the Padres have a couple of young pitchers who would appeal to the Rangers. And realistically, the Rangers probably need another quality starting pitcher more than they need a catcher, since they’re talking about having Jeremy Guthrie break camp as their #5 starter. Getting both Norris and a quality starter in the same deal could significantly improve the Rangers odds of winning the AL West in 2016.
And thankfully, the Rangers have surpluses of their own, and at positions that the Padres have glaring holes. Specifically, they don’t really have a role for slugging third baseman Joey Gallo, especially given that they’re in the process of trying to sign Adrian Beltre to an extension. They did Gallo time in the outfield a year ago, but then they traded for Josh Hamilton and signed Ian Desmond, blocking off left field as well. Gallo could move to first base, where Mitch Moreland isn’t an overwhelmingly strong incumbent, but Gallo’s athleticism would be somewhat wasted at the position, and it’s not entirely clear that he’d be an upgrade in the short-term.
The Padres, though, could definitely use a third baseman. They have Yangervis Solarte and Cory Spangenberg available to split second and third base, but both of those guys probably fit better as part-time players than everyday guys, and given that the Padres should be building towards the future, they could use a guy with Gallo’s upside. And even if they decided that they’d rather have Gallo in the outfield, they have room for him there too, as the current Jay/Upton/Kemp OF isn’t exactly something to write home about.
So let’s see if we can help A.J. Preller strike a deal with his old boss, allowing the Rangers and Padres to make a bigger deal that helps both sides.
Among the pitchers San Diego has available, Tyson Ross is the most valuable, combining high-level performance with two more years of team control. Andrew Cashner is probably next in line in value, providing upside based on his strong arm, but with performance concerns and a lack of control beyond 2016. James Shields could have some trade value at the deadline, but right now, his contract is probably not that easy to move, and he probably wouldn’t be a big part of these conversations.
If the Rangers were willing to put Gallo in play, Ross would probably have to be in the deal as well; one of year of Cashner and three years of Norris probably aren’t worth surrendering a top 10 prospect, even one without a clear path to a job in Texas and with a lot of risk, given Gallo’s contact issues. The Rangers have been burned by trading this kind of player away before, as they watched Chris Davis blossom in Baltimore, so they shouldn’t part with him easily.
But getting Tyson Ross would be worth the risk. He’s something like a +4 win pitcher, worth approximately $60-$70 million over the next two years, and yet he’ll cost about $25 million over that span instead. He’s a hugely valuable asset, especially for a team like the Rangers who are already pushing their budgetary limit, and are going to have to be creative with their expenditures for the next few years. When you add in Norris’ value, giving up Gallo becomes a bit more palatable, especially if the Padres are willing to pick up some of the salary to help Texas make a move like this under their 2016 payroll.
In fact, I’d suggest that the Padres should be aggressive in trying to use this deal to buy some additional young talent from the Rangers. If Texas’ payroll situation is as tight as Grant has made it sound, the Padres may be able to get a legitimate second piece in a deal where they picked up most of the 2016 salary due Ross and Norris. With Texas pushing in on the present, helping them make a payroll-neutral upgrade could put the Padres in a position to extract a premium return.
So that’s my suggestion. Gallo and a second solid prospect to the Padres for Tyson Ross, Derek Norris, and the Padres cover the costs of both players in 2016. The Rangers add a potential four or five wins to their ledger this year, while the Padres get a guy whose power will definitely play in Petco, and could turn into a franchise cornerstone if he makes the necessary adjustments. And because Gallo could step right into San Diego’s starting line-up, this would be an easier sell to management and the fan base, especially if Gallo has a big rookie year.
The easier path is to just make a more minor trade for Norris, but the Rangers and Padres have things that can help each other, and there should be a larger deal here that makes sense for both sides.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.