Being currently without a general manager isn’t stopping the San Diego Padres from doing some business. It’s just a bit curious that transactions like signing players to new contracts are happening without the executive that would normally attend to such matters in place.
The Padres signed outfielder Seth Smith to a two-year contract extension on Wednesday, keeping the 31-year-old in-house before he became a free agent after the season. The deal is worth $13 million, and includes a $7 million club option (versus $250,000 buyout) for 2017. Smith was acquired from the A’s during the offseason in exchange for reliever Luke Gregerson to provide a left-handed power bat for the lineup.
And the eight-year MLB veteran has done just that, though his numbers might not be as impressive as those from top sluggers around baseball. The Padres are hardly an offensive powerhouse this season, but Smith is the best hitter in their lineup. He leads the team with a .282 average, .890 OPS, 18 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 25 RBI. His .386 on-base percentage currently ranks among the National League’s top 10 hitters.
While it might seem curious to sign a relatively underwhelming player on the wrong side of 30 to a multi-year deal, Smith’s contract isn’t very expensive, which could make him easier to move in future seasons. Why not try to move him this year, since his value won’t likely get any higher and he was set to hit free agency?
Well, that’s a good question. The guess here is that the Padres knew they wouldn’t get much for Smith in return, so why not just keep him? Besides, there just isn’t that much other outfield help on the roster or in the organization.
Following a breakout 22-homer season, Will Venable looks like a one-year fluke, batting .197 with 63 strikeouts in 255 plate appearances. Maybe the Padres were worried that Venable’s 2013 success was an anomaly, and that’s why they traded for Smith.
Cameron Maybin is still a question mark, especially in terms of health. Carlos Quentin is signed for one more season (with a mutual option for 2016), but is batting .185 and with his injury history could be on the disabled list again by the time you’re done reading this post. And Chris Denorfia looks likely to end the season in another uniform, with some speed and an ability to play all three outfield spots that could add depth to a playoff contender.
There’s not much help in the minors either. Hunter Renfroe is struggling since being moved up to Double-A in mid-June and probably needs at least one more year of development. Rymer Liriano missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Though he’s playing well in Double-A, he likely needs to develop further after losing a whole year.
Trading Smith might help address that organizational depth. But with such a poor offense, the Padres have to keep their one productive bat around. Besides, there are other pieces on the roster that should yield a far better return by the July 31 trade deadline (and later on, at the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline).
At the top of the list are relievers Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit. Closers and setup men are in high demand at the trade deadline, and both should be popular trade targets that will likely be pitching for another teams by September. The Tigers — who need bullpen help like your car needs gas — are showing interest in bring Benoit back, according to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale. Street would presumably be a good fit too, but Detroit knows what they’re getting in Benoit, who pitched for them from 2011 through 2013.
Ian Kennedy is under team control through 2015 with one more year of arbitration eligibility. That could appeal to a team looking for starting pitching help that isn’t a two- to three-month rental or as costly as the likes of David Price, Jeff Samardzija or Cliff Lee. The Padres have younger pitchers — led by Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross — under multiple years of team control at a lower cost that can be the foundation of their future rotation.
(Perhaps San Diego could dangle those two around the league and see what they could get in return. It would be worth checking for a team in the Padres’ position. But the team also has to build around someone.)
Chase Headley also appears to be an ideal trade candidate, but his impending free agency and inability to stay healthy won’t help his market value. The third baseman basically embodies the failure of recently fired GM Josh Byrnes. Headley needed to be traded after his 31-homer 2012 season, when he looked like a MVP-caliber hitter at a premium position.
Perhaps Byrnes had to try his best to sign Headley to an extension and make him a cornerstone player. But once it became clear Headley was more interested in testing free agency, Byrnes should have tried to get something for him. The Padres will be lucky to get anything of value now.
But with Byrnes dismissed and a three-headed assistant GM monster of Omar Minaya, A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. running the front office until at least after the trade deadline, will San Diego be able to get full value for its available assets? Minaya and Hinch are former general managers who can presumably make some deals happen, and Uhlman has experience in scouting and player development. But will this be a case of too many voices chiming in, rather than one figure leading the effort?
Hinch admitted that getting Smith’s contract done was “tricky” because of the upheaval and uncertainty in the Padres front office. But Smith’s willingness to re-sign helped matters. So what happens when things don’t fall into place quite so easily while dealing with other teams and evaluating which prospects to seek in trades?
And what if San Diego’s next general manager doesn’t like the trades that his interim predecessors made? Is that something that has to be taken into consideration? Are such matters already being discussed among the rumored potential replacements, who include Dodgers scouting director Logan White, former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, Yankees assistant GM Billy Kepler and MLB executive Kim Ng?
Perhaps ownership’s commitment to winning — something that was mentioned several times in the announcement of Smith’s contract extension — can guide the team through these choppy waters. Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler says he wants a “reset,” rather than a fire sale. But if the interim front office doesn’t make the right moves before a new GM is hired, that reset could become a Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow-like scenario in which this team lives the same bad day over and over again.