Before I get to how I would offseason – it’s a verb now – if I were the Padres, let me lay down some ground rules for this exercise.
- The whole exercise is premised on trying to win the World Series in 2015. I’m not allowed to rebuild, as that’s something the Padres have explicitly said they’re against (and something that dismissed GM candidates believed needed to happen). As unrealistic as it is to expect Uncle Ron to fork over big bucks for what I’m about to propose (since we know he’ll never do it), it’s more unrealistic to expect an old fart with “not much time left” – his words, not mine – and a tentative hold on the reigns of Padres head honcho to give in to a rebuild.
- No ripoffs. I’m not going to propose the Padres deal Will Venable, a prospect, and some more crud for Giancarlo Stanton. GTFO Henry Silvestre (although your creativity trumps the Padres’, I’ll give you that).
- Because of point (2), all trades must be rough concepts. Concrete names on the receiving end are no-gos, as it’s extremely unrealistic to believe that one particular trade would be agreed upon with 100% certainty.
- No targeting people who are going to accept mutual options or be part of a team option. They have to be guys who are actually going to be available. This eliminates Alex Gordon, for example.
- I have to stay “within budget”. What is the budget? We really don’t have much to go on here other than the fact that the Padres actively consider themselves “part of the middle third” of baseball team salaries. Knowing the Padres that probably means ’20th’, but for the sake of this exercise it means anywhere from 11-20th.
Here’s how I would conduct the Padres offseason if I were in charge.*
* - The team budget and how the finances work out will be discussed in the final section.
Sign Yasmany Tomas
The Padres need offense more than any other team in baseball, and they need power hitters even more than that. Yasmany Tomas is a young player whom all outlets are saying has the power to hit 25+ homeruns at the Major League level. Here’s everyone who has hit 25 homeruns in a season for the Padres since Petco Park opened:
- Chase Headley (2012)
- Adrian Gonzalez (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007)
- Khalil Greene (2007)
- Phil Nevin (2004)
That’s fucking it. Over a decade of baseball in Petco Park and we’ve been treated to four players who have hit 25+ homeruns in Petco.
I don’t care that Tomas is a “blind” investment into someone who could totally bust and give the Padres an unmovable, crushing contract on their books for the foreseeable future. Because if the Padres do not add assets through sheer spending, they’re never going to get anywhere. We can trade X for Y, or A and B for C all we want, but we’re really only shuffling the deck and hoping the cards are slightly better. At the end of the day, a strategy entirely reliant on your general manager repeatedly swindling the rest of the league is a losing strategy. At some point, you’ve got to buy some extra cards.
Sign Max Scherzer
Get out that pocketbook Ronnie, you’re shelling out record-setting bucks this offseason.
Before I justify the principal reasons for signing him, let me tell you why he’s NOT Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, or a similar bust candidate.
- Legendary strikeout rate. Simply put, the only other starter who strikes out batters at the clip that Max Scherzer has in Detroit over the past three seasons (11.08 K/9 in 2012, 10.09 in 2013, and 10.29 in 2014) is Yu Darvish. Those are values Clayton Kershaw has only reached one time in his entire career, Lincecum twice, Peavy never, etc. All while not having the luxury of facing the opposing starting pitcher for an easy strikeout or two every game. In fact, at the same age, Max Scherzer actually has a higher strikeout rate per nine innings than Randy Johnson. These are generational numbers he’s putting up.
- He’s a flyball pitcher and would be coming to Petco Park. I mean an extreme flyball pitcher. Of the 92 Major League pitchers with at least 400 IP over the past three calendar years, Max Scherzer ranks 6th in flyball percentage. His HR/FB rate is already fairly low, indicating weaker contact on those flyballs to begin with, and I’d expect that to drop in Petco.
- A large majority of the homeruns Scherzer gives up are to left-handed batters. Petco Park, even after the field modification, is still far less favorable to lefties (and particularly when it comes to homeruns). Take a look at the batted ball data against him (in the graphic below) over the past three seasons. A lot of those homeruns hit to right field will become flyouts at Petco, further buoying his value to the Padres in particular:
- His fastball hasn’t really lost velocity. In 2010, Max Scherzer’s average fastball was 93.1 miles per hour. In 2014, Max Scherzer’s average fastball was 92.8 mile per hour. Scherzer throws hard, but not too hard, and hasn’t lost velocity. That’s a good situation for him to be in because a) he’s not really reliant on his speed to succeed, since there are plenty of guys who throw harder, and b) he’s not losing that speed that he does have. This isn’t like Justin Verlander, who succeeded based on having the hardest fastball in baseball, whose velocity has declined for five straight seasons.
- The Tigers defense has basically always sucked behind him. Peralta at short, Miggy anywhere, DHs playing corner outfield spots, etc. Playing with a respectable defense behind him and some plus pitch framers in Yasmani Grandal or Austin Hedges would buoy his numbers even further.
Principally, though, if any team is serious about becoming a World Series winner, they need a bonafide #1 ace. Padres fans love to wax poetic about how Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross are “aces”, but that’s an extremely liberal definition of the term “ace” where you’re really blurring the definition of ‘top 30 starter!’ and ‘ace’. Max Scherzer is a bonafide, no argument, top ten pitcher in Major League baseball. The Padres don’t have one of those, but need one in order to give themselves a legitimate chance at becoming a World Series contender. He’d basically be like Kevin Brown 2.0, except not as douchey and actually signed for more than one season.
Signing Scherzer (at a cost of around 20-25 million per season) does seem to create a logjam at starting pitcher – “you can’t have enough starting pitching!” squeaks a non-caffeinated Josh Byrnes somewhere in the distance – but that’s by design. The Padres will need more than just Yasmany Tomas on offense, so signing Scherzer allows the club to dangle their controllable arms for pieces that can help them on offense. Like…
Trade Tyson Ross for offense
If the Padres want to go from 30th in almost every classical offensive category to something that would put them in World Series contention, they still need at least one or two more pieces beyond just Yasmany Tomas. The free agent market can only supply so much of that, so the Padres will have to get more creative in order to procure additional help offensively. One way of getting creative in this regard is by adding to the Padres starting pitching in free agency and subsequently trading away a starting pitcher; that was the whole premise of signing Max Scherzer. The Padres take the long-term risk involved with signing a free agent starter to a 7 year deal (as Scherzer will likely get) and in return end up with an expendable, highly prized commodity in Tyson Ross.
Tyson Ross is team-controlled through the end of the 2017 season, meaning he’ll earn arbitration values for the next three seasons. While the UT likes to call arbitration raises “hefty” (as if it were an immutable fact), the truth is that these players generally still earn less than their market worth, and considerably so. Basically, the Padres need to find a bonafide bat somewhere in baseball whose contractual value is roughly the same as Tyson Ross’s. One such example would be a guy like Edwin Encarnacion in Toronto. Encarnacion has 2 years left on his deal in Toronto, which will pay him $20 million total. That’s roughly 20-30 million in value (compared to what teams would likely pay him for the next two seasons of his services) and is in the ballpark of Ross’s excess contractual value.
It may require packaging a few mid-level prospects in addition to Tyson for Encarnacion, for example, but the overwhelming bulk of the value going away from the Padres will be in the form of Tyson Ross. There are plenty of other names to consider here, too: Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, etc. It’ll come down to which team values Ross the most (and their own guy the least), but it’s at least a doable concept.
There’s plenty of discussion in Padres land over whether they should deal Kennedy, Cashner, or Ross. I think Kennedy should be kept simply because he’d fetch the least amount of value on the market, since he hits free agency after 2015. Most other pick Ross over Cashner due to durability but, from an injury risk standpoint, I’m not sure that I consider Tyson Ross any less of a risk than Andrew Cashner. They’re both pitchers and by nature that makes them extreme injury risks. Both have injury histories that make me hesitant to conclude that one is less of a risk than the other, too. Additionally, industry experts, like Eno Sarris, actually think Ross is more of a risk going forward due to his mechanics. While I don’t entirely buy that, one such example of a guy who people always said had questionable mechanics and who now is completely worthless: Tommy Hanson. I hate using anecdotal evidence to prove a point, but I do think there’s the possibility that some of the mechanics wonks are onto something. At the very least, let’s not overrate Ross’s durability based on 1.5 years of pitching through the sixth inning at Petco Park.
Okay, so now we’ve got a workable offense with the Ross return and Tomas penciled in. We’ve also upgraded the rotation by adding a true ace at the top. Let’s make this a real contender:
Sign Aramis Ramirez
The Padres desperately need a productive third-baseman and, even after adding Tomas and a bat through the Ross deal, could use more offense. Aramis is expected to get a 2-3 year deal worth around $15 million per season, which isn’t chump change but certainly isn’t crippling in the long term.
And, oh yeah, Aramis Ramirez’s hitting tendencies are about as Petco friendly as they can get: he’s a staunch pull hitter from the right side, meaning he’ll basically avoid Petco’s cavernous right-field area entirely. Take a look at his spray chart since 2012:
Basically every homerun was hit to left-field, meaning Petco will have less of an effect on his power than virtually any other free agent imaginable.
Yes, Aramis is likely to have draft pick compensation tied to him through a rejected qualifying offer, but the Padres already forfeit their first selection by signing Scherzer. They don’t lose another first, but rather a later pick through doing this, so they actually would have some slight leverage in negotiations (compared to other teams).
Extend Yasmani Grandal
Time to resolve the catching logjam with a two-step approach. This is step one and the next move I’m going to suggest is step two.
Extending Yasmani Grandal seems backwards. He’s had a major injury, tested positive for PEDs, and is coming off a slightly disappointing season. However, that actually make this the absolutely perfect time to sign someone to a long-term deal; his value is at the lowest it has ever been and probably ever will be.
There are a lot of reasons to like Grandal as a player: he’s a valued pitch framer defensively, he plays a demanding position, he switch hits, he has some power, he draws walks, … there really isn’t anything he can’t do short of run the bases. Locking up a potential major contributor while his value is at its lowest, and hence making him a potential bargain, could end up as a major coup down-the-road.
It also enables the Padres to have the confidence to…
Trade Rene Rivera for a post-hype youngish player
After buying low long-term on Yasmani Grandal, and with Austin Hedges waiting in the wings, the Padres will be throwing value down the drain every time they bench one of these three or play one of them out of position. The Padres aren’t in a position to be pissing away value on their bench, so they need to resolve the logjam sooner rather than later.
Rene Rivera’s value has never been higher. It will probably never be higher and even if it does get higher, the Padres will be losing value by benching Grandal or Hedges. Rene Rivera cost them literally nothing to acquire; there’s nothing wrong with cashing your chips while you’re ahead and taking whatever it is you can get in return for him, while opening up the position and reducing the amount of wasted value the team will have on its bench.
In the mean-time, get basically the exact opposite in who you acquire back: someone who used to be highly valued but no longer is. Examples of players who were once surrounded by hype that are now less highly regarded: Brett Lawrie, Travis Snider, Will Middlebrooks, and Christian Colon. Now, some of these guys will be tougher to acquire than others, and perhaps some (or most) are more valuable than Rene Rivera as a 1:1 comparison, but you get the concept here:
Sell high on Rene Rivera and buy low on who you get in return, while simultaneously ensuring the Padres don’t waste value.
The new depth chart and payroll
C: Yasmani Grandal, Austin Hedges
1B: Tyson Ross return
2B: Jedd Gyorko, Jace Peterson, Cory Spangenberg
SS: Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Jace Peterson
3B: Aramis Ramirez, Yangervis Solarte
LF: Seth Smith
CF: Cameron Maybin, Cory Spangenberg
RF: Yasmany Tomas, Will Venable
Unknown: Rene Rivera return
Total cost: ~$75 million (which includes Carlos Quentin’s $8 million)
- Max Scherzer
- Andrew Cashner
- Ian Kennedy
- Jesse Hahn
- Matt Wisler/Robbie Erlin/Odrisamer Despaigne/Joe Weiland/Casey Kelly/Juan Oramas
Total cost: ~$45 million (which includes Cory Luebke’s $7.5 million)
- Joaquin Benoit
- Dale Thayer
- Nick Vincent
- Kevin Quackenbush
Total cost: ~$10 million
Final payroll: ~$130 million (with roughly $15 million of that in dead salary to Quentin and Luebke).
This would have put the Padres at 11th to begin 2014, and will probably be something around 13th in 2015, with around 40 million of that coming off the books after 2015 when the Quentin/Luebke/Kennedy/Venable/Cabrera grouping hits free agency or otherwise has their contract not renewed.
You know how many times a top-half-of-the-league payroll has failed on the field in Petco Park? 0.
You know how many times a bottom-half-of-the-league payroll has failed on the field in Petco Park? All of the times.
You know how many times a top-half-of-the-league payroll has failed to produce a profit in Petco Park? 0.
I’m so confident that this roster would produce an attendance boost of at least one-million fans (helping to recover the majority of the payroll increase immediately) in 2015, and so confident that there’s no way in the hell the Padres will ever try this, that if the Padres assemble this roster and attendance in 2015 doesn’t exceed 3,195,373, I’ll get a picture of Ron Fowler’s face inside a pink heart tattooed on my ass, and will jog from Carlsbad, California all the way to Peoria for spring training in 2016…where I’ll promptly hand Wayne Partello a check for season tickets.
Some of you might gawk at the 11th ranked $130 million payroll, but that is the logical conclusion you’d reach if you combine Mike Dee’s “top third of team payrolls” statement with Ron Fowler’s “under-promise, over-deliver” statement. None of the moves are “not doable” because none of them depend on anything other than signing a check or completing a broad concept…and if Max Scherzer refuses to sign in San Diego, despite being offered equivalent or more money, then just plug in James Shields’ name. Seriously, the only reason this couldn’t happen is the Padres’ refusal to spend the coin that would make Mike Dee and Ron Fowler’s statements actually true.