The Padres, Buzz, and Contention

Neither Matt Kemp nor Wil Myers have yet been officially traded. Yet it feels like those should happen any moment now, if not while I’m in the process of writing this post, and the end result will be that the Padres will have a pair of new corner outfielders. Kemp is older and Myers is younger, but both would be under team control for several years, and one of the ideas here is to generate some actual buzz about a Padres team that wants to win in 2015.

Subjectively, the Padres have long lacked meaningful buzz, even or especially locally. They’ve had nothing since Adrian Gonzalez was dealt away, and even Gonzalez was sort of a reluctant face of the franchise. Kemp is a celebrity, particularly in California. Myers, meanwhile, is a power bat with personality. People are talking about the Padres now, and everyone likes a team trying to win sooner. No one enjoys slogging through an extended period of irrelevance. But as much as the Padres are succeeding in building some hype, at the end of the day it still looks like there’s a lot missing.

You could say the Padres are kind of trying to be the National League’s White Sox. We know that, with the second wild card, teams are incentivized more than ever to try to be at least okay. With an active offseason, the White Sox have improved from also-ran to potential contender. People are excited! It’s exciting. The White Sox saw an opportunity to put pieces around Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton. San Diego? San Diego doesn’t have an Abreu. It doesn’t have a Sale. And the players coming in don’t appear to be superstars, name value be damned.

I don’t need to go over the Matt Kemp trade, because Dave already did. I don’t think Kemp’s going to go the way of Vernon Wells, but ultimately he is an aging, defensively-limited power hitter who doesn’t walk very much. At the salary the Padres will pay Kemp, it’s not a dreadful deal, but then the Padres also are giving up players to get him. One of them, Yasmani Grandal, already had value as a big-leaguer. So San Diego subtracted from the roster to add to the roster.

Wil Myers is similar to Matt Kemp, in that he’s a power-hitting righty outfielder. The differences, of course, are that Myers is younger, and Myers is cheaper. Kemp, presumably, is only going to get worse. Myers might still be improving. The Padres need more players like Myers, position players with above-average ceilings. But then, remember the Padres aren’t getting Myers for free; a lot of talent is going in the other direction. Myers is the most big-league-ready piece, so it represents a slight shift toward prioritizing the present.

It feels like getting Myers is a huge splash. Seldom do you see a player traded so young after rating as so great a prospect. At the same time, there’s a little shine off the apple. Myers is coming off a bad year in which he was also hurt. He had a great rookie season, but it was also powered in part by an elevated BABIP. There’s no evidence to suggest that he’s a particularly good defensive corner outfielder. He appears to be roughly neutral on the bases. He makes a below-average rate of contact, and though he’s not a hacker, he hasn’t yet forced many walks. So much of Myers’ future is going to be about his power.

His power was his carrying tool in the minors. What Myers did in 2012 was obscene. He hasn’t been that kind of guy in two years. Myers hit pretty well in Triple-A Durham in 2013, but Durham is a far better hitting environment than Omaha, where Myers had better numbers the year before. And while Myers won the Rookie of the Year award, he had the same isolated power as Matt Joyce, and the same HR/FB as Howie Kendrick and Evan Longoria. What Myers has shown in the majors is pretty good power. What Myers hasn’t shown in the majors is great power, which is what he probably needs to be a real good player.

He’s so young, it would be stupid to write off Myers’ ceiling. The point is just that there are more question marks now. Back when Myers first got dealt to Tampa Bay, people wondered about his contact. Now it’s not clear how much power he’ll actually hit for. Relatedly: when Myers was at his best in the high minors, he was a big pull-power guy. He hasn’t since been so extreme. His percentile rankings within the league in terms of pulled fly ball rate:

2012, AA: 99th percentile
2012, AAA: 93rd
2013, AAA: 75th
2013, MLB: 73rd
2014, MLB: 74th

In the Royals’ system, Myers was just sitting on pitches to drive out to left. Maybe accidentally, maybe intentionally, Myers has been less of a pull hitter the last two years, and his power production has diminished. He’s strong enough to hit the ball out to all fields, but like most hitters he’s strongest to his pull side, and with fewer fly balls hit that way, there have been fewer dingers.

Maybe Myers needs to pull the ball to post great overall numbers. Maybe he’s still learning to spread his balls in play out. His power can’t be called great until it’s proven to be great in the bigs, and that’s the risk the Padres are taking.

So anyway, let’s be optimistic. Let’s assume that the Padres shortly officially trade for Kemp and Myers. At the present moment, the Padres rank 14th in NL projected WAR. They’re better only than the Phillies, by this measure. Let’s say Kemp and Myers both stay healthy and get 600 plate appearances. Let’s say they’re also worth three wins each. So, we’re calling them good players. If you adjust the depth charts just so, the Padres gain something like three wins. They move from 14th in WAR to 12th. They’re still well behind the Dodgers and then the Giants, not to mention other teams in other NL divisions.

And neither Kemp nor Myers actually project as three-win players. Now, maybe you think Carlos Quentin is just toast. Maybe you think the Padres adjust by putting Seth Smith at first base more often. It doesn’t really change anything about the resulting projection. Now, it’s worth noting that, with Kemp and Myers, the Padres would have some trade flexibility. Maybe they’d move Quentin. Maybe they’d move Smith, or Venable, or someone. But there wouldn’t be a lot coming back. Maybe the Padres would turn around and flip Myers, but that seems like a leap until we’re given reason to suspect it will happen.

It’s very hard to see the Padres as a good team. They don’t have any real stars, and while there are people who would consider Kemp a star, and Myers a blossoming star, the numbers think Kemp is overrated, and Myers’ ceiling is far from locked in. So as much as the Padres want to win in 2015, they don’t strike me as a playoff team, nor do they strike me as a team good enough to even consider itself a contender for five months. There’s value in hanging around the race and still not making the playoffs, but there aren’t that many realities in which the Padres are playing important baseball in September. At least not in 2015.

And then it’s not like Kemp will be better in 2016. I don’t have a huge problem with the Myers deal. He’s worth a shot. There’s a lot of potential surplus value there, and the Padres don’t have many hitters with his sort of power ceiling. And I don’t need to re-visit the Kemp trade criticisms. I know Kemp’s good for marketability. I also know the best thing for marketability is winning. Winning should drive all decisions, and I’m not convinced Kemp is a net benefit toward that end.

This makes me wonder about the Padres missing out on Yasmany Tomas. I don’t know how aggressively they might’ve bid, and maybe it would’ve been dumb of them to try to outbid the Diamondbacks. But Tomas, in a way, profiles like Myers. He even profiles a little like Kemp, and he’s young, and he costs only money, not talent. Kemp is costing the Padres money and talent. Myers is costing the Padres talent. I would’ve liked Tomas as a possible core piece, with other things trying to fall in place around him.

Alas, no Tomas. But, Kemp, and apparently Myers. No one is wrong to be excited about what the Padres are doing. It’s felt like they haven’t scored runs in forever, and it’s disheartening to go to a game at Petco half-expecting to see the home team shut out. The offseason is a jumping-off point for the summer, and fans will go into 2015 with a little more enthusiasm, and that’s a positive. If the Padres build on that and actually win games, all the better. It’s not like the Diamondbacks or Rockies are ready to go to the playoffs. But I don’t think the Padres are ready to go to the playoffs, either. For now, there’s tangible buzz. It doesn’t take too many losses for buzz to erode.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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A Super Smart Guy
7 years ago

The Padres have made one thing clear with these trades by selling on both Grandal and Rivera. The Padres think that teams that think that pitch framing is the new market inefficiency is the new market inefficiency.

7 years ago

I think looking retrospectively the Padres will be seen as wise for selling both Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal high.

Very high.

Psy Jung
7 years ago
Reply to  AndTheWinnerIs

A.J. Preller’s been taking full advantage of the move from Texas to California
“These trades…are so tubular, man”

The Marksman
7 years ago

The thing is, Hanigan is one of the best pitch framers in baseball and top prospect, Hedges, is above-average.

7 years ago

They just got the best framer in the game not named Jose Molina. Ryan Hanigan is an elite pitch framer.