The San Diego Padres entered last offseason in full win-now mode. New general manager A.J. Preller made big move after big move in order to fix the slumping Padres, acquiring outfielders Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers, pitcher James Shields, catcher Derek Norris, and closer Craig Kimbrel, among other players.
By trading a handful of good prospects and young players, including Trea Turner, Jace Peterson, and Zach Eflin, he made a bet that winning in the short term was a priority of the long term. That approach failed miserably, as the Padres finished with 88 losses (three more than 2014) with Preller’s aggressiveness costing the club.
So far this offseason, Preller’s taken a much more measured approach. The Padres haven’t swung any major trades that benefited them now, nor have they inked a big name free agent, instead letting Upton, who led the Padres with 26 home runs, and pitcher Ian Kennedy walk. For better or worse, Preller seems content to give a mostly returning group a second chance at winning, only addressing the current roster with smaller moves.
Preller’s biggest move was trading Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox for a package of prospects, which netted the Padres outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, infielder Carlos Asuaje, and pitcher Logan Allen. The deal was a major coup for San Diego and was a much-needed one to rebuild a depleted farm system.
Margot was ranked the 72nd best prospect of 2015 by Baseball America, and the 20-year-old Guerra gives San Diego a shortstop of the future they lost when they traded Turner. Kimbrel is a dominant reliever who will be missed, but scoring four good prospects for him is a huge win.
Preller also addressed a depth issue this week, signing shortstop Alexei Ramirez to a one-year deal.
The move makes sense for a variety of reasons. The Padres’ starting shortstop would have been Alexi Amarista, who’s far better off as a utility infielder after hitting .204 in 118 games. The 34-year-old Ramirez had a decent enough 2015 after an atrocious start to the season. He hit .224 before the All-Star break with only two home runs, but he turned in around in the second half with eight home runs, 35 RBI, and a .277 average. For the year, Ramirez managed 10 home runs, 62 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and a .249 average.
What’s concerning about starting Ramirez every day, is despite low strikeout numbers, he only sports a .310 OBP, which was a career worse .285 last season. On a one-year deal, Ramirez makes an average placeholder for a non-contending club until Guerra is ready.
The Padres have plenty of options to close games now Kimbrel’s gone, with Kevin Quackenbush likely getting the first crack, though Preller signed Fernando Rodney to a one-year deal yesterday as a fail-safe option. After three straight seasons of 37+ saves, Rodney collapsed with the Mariners in 2015 and was designated for assignment in late August. He was picked up by the Chicago Cubs, and in a small 12 inning sample size it looked like Rodney figured things out, as he posted a 0.75 ERA with 15 strikeouts and four walks.
Now, I’m not betting he’ll replicate that limited success, but he’s worth taking a flier on. He could rebuild his value, and net the Padres even more prospects in a trade down the line.
Preller has also made some smaller moves, like trading Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski to Oakland for reliever Drew Pomeranz and Jose Torres. He also traded pitcher Casey Kelly to Atlanta for catcher Christian Bethancourt, a highly-regarded defensive catcher who’s yet to find his bat at the MLB level.
Both moves were made with the future in mind. The franchise foolishly took the step to try to contend last season after a down year, and it backfired, so this offseason has been about recouping some value and laying low.
With Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and a handful of other candidates to fill out the back-end, the rotation is in good shape, but make no mistake, this team isn’t on its way to contention in 2016 – which isn’t a bad thing. These moves aren’t flashy, and shouldn’t generate excitement. But Preller has quietly improved the future of his team without making any franchise-alternating moves.
Are his Padres contenders today? No. Are they better in the future because of it? Absolutely. San Diego fans are in for a long year, but at least they should sleep well knowing their franchise isn’t a total trainwreck.