Were The Padres Right to Trade Gonzalez Now?

Parting with a star player is difficult regardless of the circumstances, but no one could blame San Diego if they admitted their internal struggle was fiercer than the usual. Just two months ago, Adrian Gonzalez played in the regular season finale that proved to be a bittersweet ending to a surprise run that lasted all season. The team fell just short of the playoffs, but still won 90 games.

Teams often make decisions coming off emotional highs or lows. These decisions seem to find a way to bite the team in the hand down the road. San Diego’s season represents a high. The emotional response would ostensibly be to hold onto Gonzalez and make one more run at the division crown before bidding him farewell. As such, it appears the Padres relied on rationale thought instead of emotional response.

They had three options to weigh. One being to keep Gonzalez and collect the draft pick compensation once he went in search of a major payday; the next being to trade Gonzalez now; and the last being to trade Gonzalez in-season. Did they make the right one?

Keeping Gonzalez meant the team would benefit from his surplus value as well as the two draft picks. Dollar amounts can be placed upon draft picks using Victor Wang’s research. Assuming that a team would have signed Gonzalez next offseason without a protected first rounder, then the value of that mid-to-late first round pick is estimated to be $5.2 million. The value of the sandwich round pick comes out to be $2.6 million. Dave Cameron projected Gonzalez to be worth at least 5.5 wins next season. His salary is an insanely affordable $5.5 million, meaning that projection nets $22 million in surplus value (at a $5 million per win rate). Keeping Gonzalez would’ve resulted in a sum of something like $30 million.

Cameron used more of Wang’s research to estimate the prospect return at $20 million. Add the $5.5 million dollar savings and the Padres wind up with $25 million. Now, here is where things get tricky. The Padres will likely use that $5.5 million to sign a stand-in first baseman and could conceivably stretch it even further to sign or acquire multiple players. Without knowing how who or how that works out, the Padres’ surplus value from this option appears to sit around $25 million.

The third option is the most unpredictable of three. Maybe a team would overpay for Gonzalez in a stroke of panic, but maybe Gonzalez would get hurt and lose all trade value. Or maybe the best offer would not have been worthwhile. It’s impossible to say, which means even trying to guess is a worthless endeavor.

From this analysis, it appears the Padres lost out on a few million in surplus value, but don’t be so sure. There are various factors available internally that could skew the differential analysis the other way. Such as:

– The prospect package: Jed Hoyer is familiar with the prospects he received from his days with the Red Sox. There’s a chance his knowledge of them raises his valuation of their worth.

– The draft picks: The above numbers represent the average. Remember, though, that San Diego cannot afford to swipe players who slip due to overslot concerns. Further, San Diego might favor getting known entities closer to the majors with minor league experience (consider it the time value of prospects) instead of wading into the great unknown.

– Gonzalez’s shoulder: Maybe the biggest wild card of them all. No team knows as much about Gonzalez’s health, conditioning, and work ethic than San Diego. That they traded Gonzalez isn’t suspicious due to everything else involved, but even slight differences in projections can change the entire dynamic. (For instance: Gonzalez at five wins is worth $25 million instead of $27.5; that half a win decrease cuts the difference between the picks and prospects in half.)

– Value: The Padres just might value wins in 2012, 2013 and beyond higher than they do in 2011 based on their team outlook.

That combination of factors makes it close. Heck, it may have tilted the scales towards trading Gonzalez. Regardless, just as it is hard to blame San Diego for struggling emotionally in the process, it’s also hard to blame them for not wanting to pin their return on the volatility of affordable draftees and a recovery from shoulder surgery. That’s why their decision is more than defensible.

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13 years ago

what about analysis for the haul the padres brought in? they got 3 of boston’s top 10 prospects supposedly.