Padres trade Rizzo to Cubs for power-arm prospect

Andrew Cashner has the potential to vie for a starting role with the San Diego Padres. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The San Diego Padres have acquired right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-handed pitcher Zach Cates. This will mark the third time Chicago GM Jed Hoyer has his guy in Rizzo, first with the Boston Red Sox, then with Padres and now with the Cubs.

Anyone surprised?

League executives speculated a Rizzo trade once the Padres acquired top-hitting, MLB-ready prospect Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds in the Mat Latos blockbuster trade.

Rizzo was clearly overmatched last year upon promotion when he hit an underwhelming .141/.281/.242 line in a 153 plate appearance. However, some have suggested PECTO Park had a lot to do with that. Of course, PETCO is going to effect left-handed, offensive-minded players. But to what degree? According to a recent article on the home run “park factor” for lefties is 59 at PETCO. Basically, you cut the number of home runs by lefties almost in half when they come to San Diego. Having said that, anyone who was paying attention during Rizzo’s promotion would have told you he was going through a mechanical issue that had more to do with his struggles than anything. Returning to triple-A Tucson, Rizzo then picked back up and was continuing to work on his load, trying to shorten his swing and shoot the ball more to the opposite field. Also, he was leaning over the plate more than he had in his career. Trying to cheat on inside fastballs?

Rizzo hit .331/.404/.652, 26 home runs in 413 plate appearances last year for Tucson. Last year, the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League was arguably one of the worst in recent memory, according to many talent evaluators. Padres GM Josh Byrnes had noted that on top of Rizzo’s struggles upon promotion, along with his reported mechanical issues, there’s a big discrepancy in how the NL West plays compared to the launching pad in triple-A. Hitting in Tucson is almost like playing on the moon. Rizzo was my #1 Padre prospect, pre and post the Yonder Alonso trade, and Baseball America had him as the 75th overall player-prospect coming into 2011. You can check out a scouting report on Rizzo here.

The Padres also gave up Cates, who I liked. His numbers are far from gaudy, but he has potential. Cates, 22, drafted by the Padres in the third round in 2010, went 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA last year in his first year of pro ball. In 118 innings pitched, he struck out 111 batters. Cates’ fastball generally sits between 93-95 mph, but can touch 98 mph. He has a solid change-up and his other secondary breaking pitches are a work in progress. He can lack command of the strike zone. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cates being the better piece in this deal for the Cubs, years down the road. At worst, I see Cates as being a very affective bullpen arm.

In Cashner, the Padres receive a former first-round pick (19th overall) out of the 2008 amateur draft. Cashner has a big frame at 6′-6″ and 200 lbs, with a solid delivery. The Padres believe he can step in right away and be the seventh- or eighth-inning guy. The Padres also believe Cashner, who has electric stuff and has hit triple digits before, can develop into a top starter. Cashner, when starting, hits between 92-95 mph and can touch 98 mph with his fastball, according to Baseball America. Cashner had a rotator-cuff strain last year, but did pitch well at the end of the season in September. He averaged 95.4 mph with his fastball last year. While he only pitched 10.2 innings, he had an impressive 1.69 ERA. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings is right around eight since his promotion in 2010, when he went 2-6 with a 4.80 ERA in 54.1 innings and struck out 50. Cashner was a top-100 prospect in 2010. The main knock has been his lack of control. With the potential of having two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, with a developing change-up, he could be dominating out of the pen, and he could be solid as a starter moving forward, if he can harness his control. While Cashner has similar stuff to Cates on paper, Andrew’s ceiling is much higher.

Kyung-Min Na, 20, is an athletic outfielder who has played all three spots. He intrigues the Padres. Byrnes had interest in him when he was in Arizona before he signed with the Cubs. He’s small in stature, but the Padres believe he could fill out and gain some extra-base power to utilize his plus speed. He has solid plate disciplined and slaps the ball around from foul pole to foul pole. Some have compared his hitting technique to Ichiro, because he does having moving parts as he loads, and swings almost appearing as if he’s running into the ball. The Padres should also like his ability to hit the ball the other way. As I mentioned before, he lets the ball travel deep into the zone. Accompany that with his plate discipline, quick wrists, solid bat control and plus bat speed, he can be a very pesky hitter. He has plus speed and should be a well-above-average center fielder. He seems to have the range and good reaction for roaming the outfield. He hit.268./358/.312 with 10 2B, 1 3B, 22 RBI, 20 SB in 30 attempts, and 56 K in 269 AB between four leagues in the Cubs system last year.

While I believe the Padres received fair value, this is why I dislike this trade, and it has nothing to do with the player-prospects return:

The Padres received fair value for the #2 ranking internal first baseman on their depth chart. Having said that, continuously dealing away top tier talent for players who may or may not fit PETCO Park is extremely reckless, in my opinion. Trading for a player in an already deep position (first base), such as Alonso, to flip Rizzo, who could have a higher ceiling, is a joke because the front office believes Alonso’s bat could play better in PETCO.

I think both teams win in this trade, but I believe the Padres fan base loses because of how management builds its roster due to the extremities of PETCO.

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