The San Diego Padres have been rather quiet since trading relievers Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel at the start of the offseason. They have made several other trades, but those were depth moves. Depth is important (and often undervalued by fans) but the roster is still largely incomplete. Perhaps the biggest area of need for them is at short, which is why it makes a lot of sense the Padres are reportedly having ongoing discussions with free agent Ian Desmond.
Having spent his entire career to date with the Nationals, this is Ian Desmond’s first foray into free agency. It comes at a somewhat inopportune time for him. He does have draft pick compensation attached so the signing team will be required to forfeit their highest draft pick. He’s post-30 now which can hurt a free agent’s bargaining leverage. He’s also coming off a rather poor season. He hit .233/.290/.384 and provided just 1.7 fWAR for the Nats in 2015, but he does have some things working in his favor.
Last season wasn’t good for him, but Desmond provided over 4 fWAR in each of the last three seasons. He also hit 20+ HR and stole 20+ bases in each season as well. He and his agent can easily argue 2015 was just a fluke. They might be right. And even still, the 30 year old Desmond is easily the best shortstop on the market, which includes Clint Barmes, Willie Bloomquist, Alexei Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins as the best alternatives. If you need a shortstop and don’t get Desmond, free agency becomes a grim proposition.
The Padres desperately need a shortstop. The top in-house candidate is Alexi Amarista. In five seasons at the major league level, he’s accumulated a staggering -0.7 fWAR. Last season was his worst. He hit .204/.257/.287 and cost the team close to one win (-0.8 fWAR). The trade market appears rather barren, so free agency is the Padres best recourse. And that means Ian Desmond.
So yeah, it makes total sense for the two sides to be discussing a deal. However, the Padres can’t stop there if they want to compete in 2016. Third base, second base, left field, maybe even center field and catcher are all a little sketchy. After trading their two best relievers, the bullpen might be questionable as well. With so many potential weak areas, it does beg the question: can the Padres compete no matter what they do? I’m leaning towards answering with a “no.”
The Dodgers are better. The Diamondbacks are better. The Giants are better. That’s three teams in their own division that are probably better than them. With some combination of the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs in the mix for Wild Cards 1 & 2, San Diego would have to win their division to have any real hope of making the postseason. And that seems highly unlikely, which makes giving up the draft pick a tough sell.
That doesn’t mean I think the Padres shouldn’t sign Ian Desmond. He certainly makes them a better team. And sometimes, it takes a season or two to build a team to completeness. Besides, they could still sign other free agents or trade to fill holes. It’s just going to be an uphill battle. But as AJ Preller showed last year, that’s not something of which he’s afraid.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs