In just his second offseason since becoming GM of the Padres, and following an incredibly successful, encouraging campaign in 2010 – though it was also thoroughly disappointing – Jed Hoyer has been anything but stagnant. While Jed was trained in the midst of Theo Epstein’s growing empire, the Boston Red Sox – of which Bill James is also under the employ – where each offseason is a battle between the richest and most dominant franchises for each league’s elite talent, the Sox of Beantown – not Oakland – and Evil Empire of Gotham specifically, he now finds himself sifting through the bargain bin in sunny San Diego.
In mid-November, just a couple of weeks after the Giants put the finishing touches on their first World Series championship in San Francisco, Hoyer kicked off the winter by trading Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica for Cameron Maybin. Maybin was once thought to be a future star, so much so that he was the real get in the Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis trade. But not one of the haul of prospects in that trade panned out for the Fish, not even in the form of an average regular, and so many wondered if Florida’s eagerness to launch Maybin to one team or another was for little other reason than to obtain: out of sight, out of mind.
In roughly a full season of at bats, split between a 2009 and 2010 audition in Florida, Maybin has a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .310, or around 30 points below average. He’s also failed to make contact in about a third of his plate appearances, troubling for obvious reasons. But in nearly a full season of at bats in Triple-A, also split between ’09 and ’10, Maybin has a .325 average to go along with a .401 on base percentage (OBP) and .477 slugging percentage (SLG). And defensively, he’s proven to be a quality center fielder if not a plus one with plenty of speed and athleticism, his instincts the only question mark to become the latter, an absolute must for a team playing in Petco Park.
Webb is a right-handed reliever with a hard fastball and lots of sink. He’s a very solid option in the bullpen but certainly not a future closer. He’s never had incredible strikeout rates in either the minor leagues or in San Diego in 2009 or 2010 and his walk rate is solid but nothing special. His greatest skill is to induce the ground ball as his career rate of 60.7% is outstanding, but also a skill far more valuable if you’re pitching half your games in say Colorado rather than San Diego, and thus was something Jed probably saw as expendable given the return he hopes to get. Webb also gave up just .15 home runs per nine innings in 2010, a huge delta from the 1.05 he relented in 2009, a sign his baseball card might not reflect another sub-3 ERA in 2011.
Mujica is another interesting righty who struck out more than a batter per inning for the Padres in 2010 and produced a Cliff Lee like 12:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Unfortunately, he basically gave all that value back by giving so many souvenirs to the folks in the bleachers, or sand boxes, or whatever they have in San Diego. His 1.81 home runs per nine is truly flabbergasting given his home ballpark, and it really doesn’t look to improve much with a 1.43 mark over his career of 233.1 innings. He’s a rare case in which his pitching coach – and his manager Bud Black, who used to be one too – probably wished he’d mix in a few more walks, if only to reduce the gopher balls. He became, like Webber, expendable.
San Diego has quality bullpen arms falling out of their pockets, and Hoyer kicked off the hot stove by taking what seemed like a worthwhile risk. I think Rob Neyer said it best: “If you’re not willing to trade two relievers for a young every-day player with potential, you might as well get out of the business and find a real job.” Bill James seems to share Hoyer’s optimism, projecting a .344 wOBA for Maybin in 2011, roughly between his Triple-A line and disappointing major league numbers, or something that’s hardly difficult to expect for a 23 year old with excellent tools.
In a subsequent and expected move, the Padres non-tendered Scott Hairston and Tony Gwynn Jr., despite his bloodline, because he didn’t project to ever hit and the former, though powerful and versatile, wasn’t all that much with the bat either.
He then did the unthinkable, trading franchise player Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for prospects. Instead of going for major league ready players already on Boston’s roster, Hoyer targeted future value, prompting many to say the Padres were punting 2011. While this undoubtedly weakens their team going into 2011, it far from eliminates them as contenders in 2011 and positions them nicely for 2012 and 2013. Everyone knows what they gave up*, so let’s focus on the return.
*This is actually a bit misleading. People know what they gave up, but probably fail to realize what they REALLY gave up. Gonzalez is a free agent at the end of 2011, and the odds of him signing long-term in San Diego were about as good as the odds it might snow there this Christmas. He’s an excellent player and has every right to be – no, would be stupid not to be – paid handsomely for his on-field contributions. The Padres’ 2010 payroll was around $38 million and neither their market nor their uninspiring attendance during their completely unexpected season atop the division is indicative of a substantial increase in payroll. You have to expect Adrian’s salary bidding to start around $23-$25 million per season, or if you’re not a math whiz, more than half of their payroll. Such an investment in one player would be so irresponsible for the franchise, it would render Alex Rodriguez’s original contract in Texas prudent. They gave up one season of his services, as well as the first-round pick in 2012 from the team which he would have signed with. Unless, an overzealous team such as the Orioles offered him the most dollar signs and years and scooped him up. Given their almost certainty to once again reside in the cellar of the mine-field which is the American League East, a nightmare that has become theirs and the Jays’ reality, their first rounder would become protected and the Padres would have gotten just their second round pick instead. So, you see, this is not the type of risk a small-market, sane-brain General Manager can take.
The Padres picked up three of the BoSox’s top six prospects, according to Baseball America. They got their number one prospect, Casey Kelly, who had the best curveball in their system. They got their number three, Anthony Rizzo, the best power hitter in their system. And they got their sixth best prospect, Reymond Fuentes, who was the best athlete in Boston’s system.
Kelly received a substantial $3 million bonus to pull him away from a quarterback scholarship at Tennessee in the 2008 draft. He’s expected to have plus command and sit in the low-nineties when he makes it all the way up, which could be as soon as 2012. Keith Law had a nice write-up [Requires EPSN Insider] on each player. He called Kelly's curveball “…sharp…with excellent depth…” and went on to say he’s “… an outstanding defensive pitcher to the point that it’s like having an extra infielder…” The Sox let him play shortstop for half a season in 2009 at his request before he became a full-time pitcher in 2010, giving further evidence to the type of athlete he is. He struggled in 2010 but was a 21 year old in Double-A hampered by a fingernail issue. A similar fate fell upon the Giants’ Zack Wheeler this season, yet the long-term outlook for both remains promising.
Rizzo is a left-handed hitting first baseman and the natural replacement for Gonzalez, at least eventually. Again, deferring to a more capable evaluator, Keith Law said of Rizzo: “In 2002, Gonzalez played in Portland at age 20, which was a Marlins affiliate at the time, and hit .266/.344/.437 with 34 doubles and 17 home runs in 573 PA. Rizzo played most of 2010 in Portland, also at age 20, and hit .263/.334/.481 with 30 doubles and 20 home runs in 467 PA…given the overall similarity and the fact that Rizzo lost a year of development while he fought cancer*, it’s more evidence for optimism in San Diego.”
*That’s right, the kid fought off cancer. And if John Lester, also from the Sox’s system, is a good litmus test for the type of competitor and person one has to be to overcome such adversity, well, the Padres may have plucked a good one in Rizzo.
Fuentes is the least of the prospects but no slouch. He, like Kelly, was a first round pick himself who Law says, “…has the potential to be Jacoby Ellsbury without all the injuries.”
The Padres needn’t be too gun-shy on this deal. For one, Hoyer knows these players about as well as Epstein as he was apart of the organization just one year ago. And two, he can feel confident that the Red Sox know what it is to keep a solid relationship by dealing value for value as they moved young superstar Hanley Ramirez to Florida for Josh Beckett and netted themselves a World Series championship in 2007 by doing so. Moving Gonzalez furthermore provides San Diego with a little more payroll flexibility to incrementally improve their 2011 roster in other ways.
With most of the heavy lifting done, Hoyer then targeted some starting pitching and scooped up Aaron Harang for just $3 million. Harang was as solid as they come just a few years ago, averaging 225 innings from 2005 through 2007 and pitching very effectively in a tough environment – Cincinnati’s ballpark – for fly ball pitchers. But a myriad of injuries – appendectomy, forearm and back – have somewhat derailed his career over the past few seasons. Jed pretty much struck gold with Jon Garland in 2010 and probably is hoping to do the same with Harang. While he’s no longer the slam-dunk, guaranteed 200+ inning horse that Garland is, he’s got more upside – and yes, more risk as you would expect – but he won’t necessarily have to be to earn the slight salary he’s owed. What’s more, it’s hard to imagine he won’t benefit going from one of the friendliest hitters parks in the National League to the without question worst hitters park in the Senior Circuit. If healthy, he’ll be a bargain.
He also added Dustin Moseley, which just became official, in order to add starting rotation depth and a pitcher capable of being a swingman.
And in another move, though one that is yet to be officially exacted, the Padres traded two more capable relief arms in Adam Russell, who has struck out well over a batter per inning, and Cesar Ramos, a young and projectable lefty, for Jason Bartlett. Adding Bartlett allows the Padres to go younger and more athletic than Miguel Tejada who departed to San Francisco, as well as with a bigger bat than the non-hitting, offensive-sinkhole that was Everth Cabrera. And if any team had the capability to subtract from the ‘pen to add to other areas, it was the Padres. Beyond that, Hoyer will look to add depth to the remainder of his roster and rotation.
Did the Padres reduce their win total in 2011 by trading Adrian Gonzalez? Probably, if not, absolutely. But you have to understand that even a player of his extraordinary talents is only worth around six wins per season, most of which could completely evaporate in the outside chance he went down with a freak injury such as being hit on the hand and breaking a finger or any other unfortunate malady that strikes each team, and almost every player, from time to time.
Many Giants fans were thrilled to see Gonzalez leave the division, thereby immediately improving San Francisco’s chances to repeat as division winners in 2011. I, however, was not. I see a franchise that’s being smartly run by a Red Sox trained, protégé of Theo Epstein, and which has likely significantly improved it’s positioning to contend on a yearly basis in the very near future. And within the haves and have-nots economics of baseball, of which there is no end in sight, this is the only way to conduct business. Otherwise, you become the Royals instead of the Rays.