The San Diego Padres had an unprecedented offseason, topped off by general manager A.J. Preller’s blockbuster trade — on the eve of opening day no less — to acquire baseball’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel. What? Seriously, that happened.
Still, there were a few misfires. Preller has a track record for evaluating international talent, yet he missed out on opportunities to sign highly regarded Cuban prospects Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Moncada.
Maybe there’s more to that story. Is it possible A.J. Preller’s expertise and anticipated desire to make a splash during the Winter Meetings was partly a facade to tempt division rivals to overspend? Farfetched? I agree, but maybe? I digress. The front office definitely seemed enthralled by Moncada. However, I believe they backed off Tomas due to his defensive limitations and weight concerns. So we’re still waiting for A.J. Preller’s first international move, and maybe not overbidding for those two will be an even bigger move by not landing the two Cuban talents. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
So, what’s your point Mickey? Okay, calm down, I’m getting to it. I think.
Preller has been creative in dealing a surplus of touted prospects for star talent, immediately rebuilding the roster while keeping the core pitching staff intact. That’s only the beginning of his legendary offseason. You’ve probably heard the mythic stories of Preller, like he only sleeps four hours a night and he learned how to speak Spanish in a few weeks. Probably true. Considering that he turned one of baseball’s more boring teams into a legitimate playoff threat in a matter of months, why not? Single-handedly, he has made the Padres the talk of baseball. And props to ownership for finally backing a GM to make such bold moves.
Back to the subject at hand. We know A.J. Preller won’t stop until he’s satisfied with the roster, which will be never, leading me to wonder: What crazy trade is next?
The Padres are in the market to possibly upgrade at shortstop. Current shortstop Alexi Amarista is probably better suited in a utility role, even though his defensive metrics since becoming the Padres’ exclusive shortstop have been among the best in the National League. Having said that, Amarista isn’t the prototypical leadoff man the Padres need. His career OBP is atrocious; but there’s room to improve, I suppose. He’s had encouraging signs, like playing much better at the end of last season, during winter ball and throughout spring training. Do the Padres bank on his potential room for improvement or upgrade? Knowing how competitive and eager the Padres are to win now, the answer seems obvious.
Can A.J. Preller make an impact trade again and risk completely depleting the farm? Because he made creative trades — leveraging top prospects to obtain young controllable players with impact potential along with legitimate sluggers — he won’t need to nurture the farm system to the extent Padres fans are used to.
Padres fans have been getting attached to prospects for years; in part because the team was simply too cheap to spend money on top talent. A.J. Preller seems to be changing that theme, and that’s a good thing. It means legitimate talent is on the 25-man roster now; forget waiting for the possibility of a prospect developing.
If Plan A doesn’t look promising, or is faltering, A.J. Preller will use current value to find the missing pieces or replenish the minor league system by flipping pieces that still hold value. This guy is brilliant.
He’s done something ingenious, by dealing from depth at catcher (Yasmani Grandal) to acquire a proven star in Matt Kemp. He’s dealing from positions you wouldn’t normally think he’d want to deal from, given the talent, limited production, controllable service time and potential.
A.J. Preller understood that teams knew exactly what the Padres were looking to upgrade — and what chips they had to deal — instead of dealing from the pitching core, which every authoritative source believed. Preller turned the tables by finding value in other positions, like catcher Derek Norris, outfielder Wil Myers and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, which, in turn, enabled the Padres to also go after Justin Upton. Remarkable.
This begs the question: Who is Preller considering as a chip to land a shortstop? Many analysts believe he’ll deal from pitching depth, packaging another lessor prospect or two. Okay, that makes sense, but maybe too much sense given Preller’s short track record.
I found it interesting that second baseman Jedd Gyorko was benched for three days in a row, and sat for another game, so early in the season. Not starting four games in the first couple weeks of the season is a bit strange for a guy who hit 20+ homers in his rookie year.
Maybe Gyorko is not A.J. Preller’s guy. Maybe he believes the Padres have a capable second baseman in Yangervis Solarte and prospect Cory Spangenberg. Maybe Preller & Co. believe Kemp, Upton, Middlebrooks, Norris and Myers will provide enough punch, thus making Gyorko expendable for, say, Chase Utley or another more established shortstop?
Utley would have to waive his no-trade clause, but he might want to get away from a losing team in Philadelphia to play with a playoff contender. While Utley isn’t a shortstop, he could make more sense for the Padres’ immediate needs. He’s a left-handed hitting second baseman who could replace Gyorko’s productivity and complement other needs. Utley’s bat creates a more balanced lineup and an ability to provide a higher OBP at the top of the order. Utley also has a star track record and is a World Series Champion.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with an un-named source who shared how loyal Bud Black is to his players, almost to a fault, yet he’s benched Gyorko so early in the season. In addition, if they were planning on dealing him, he’s not exactly getting showcase time to entice teams.
So, I thought about it again, and remembered how A.J. Preller was genius in finding value where others didn’t. I wondered aloud: Maybe they’re showcasing Solarte’s hit-tool while he’s hitting well and Gyorko isn’t. Plausible? Probably not, but neither was the Padres’ offseason or any move by Preller.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn other teams have interest in Solarte, believing he’s expendable considering the Padres depth. He can hit and does seem to fit the Padres needs now, but he isn’t ideal defensively. He’s probably not going to lose you many games, but he’s already made two unbelievably ugly errors, one which led to a four-unearned-runs inning off Andrew Cashner. You need a strong bench, and he’s a big part of that, but what if dealing him helps upgrade a starting position?
Maybe A.J. Preller plans to use another unlikely resource (a strong utility infielder/borderline starter) and package him with a pitcher or prospect(s) to fill an immediate need at short or second. In theory, that would enable Amarista to go back to being a super utility guy, a better role for him. Alexi can also play second, so if they acquire a shortstop, they’d have Amarista, Gyorko and Spangenberg at second. That’s a lot of depth, which could yield a few benefits. First, Gyorko won’t be the sole option at second. In addition, they would upgrade a known need at shortstop by dealing depth (Solarte) while allowing Amarista to be where he probably should be.
It’s not that Solarte is bad, and he seems to be an ideal fit to move all over the diamond. However, his defense is suspect at any position he plays while Amarista excels defensively as a super utility man.
Maybe Preller won’t deal Solarte, but I have a feeling it will be a similar move that no one is mentioning. Maybe it will be a trade a little out of left field. Which would be perfect, because so is A.J. Preller.