Reshaping the Padres: What Have We Got?

With hopes for 2008 all but gone, I’ve turned my focus to reshaping the Padres so that they can return to the competitive levels we’ve grown accustomed to since the club moved to Petco Park in 2004. I attacked the problem as follows:

  1. Take inventory of organizational strengths and weaknesses
  2. Identify potential trade partners based on their needs
  3. Seek scenarios based on the above two parameters that might benefit both parties

We’ll take inventory today, and then turn to potential partners and trades on Friday.

Strengths

The Padres are deep at catcher, particularly in the high minors. Nick Hundley is a potential future regular, while Colt Morton and Jose Lobaton could be big-league reserves. Further down, Mitch Canham shows promise. At the top, Josh Bard and Michael Barrett are established big leaguers. Bard was having an off year even before he sprained his left ankle in Wednesday night’s contest, while Barrett has missed much of the season with a sprained right elbow; because of this, neither is likely to fetch much in a trade.

First base is one of the organization’s brightest spots. With Adrian Gonzalez firmly entrenched in San Diego and Kyle Blanks waiting in the wings, Tony Clark and Brian Myrow are expendable. Both could have marginal value to a contender looking for an extra bat off the bench, but don’t expect much in the way of return.

Second base is in pretty good shape, Matt Antonelli’s early struggles at Triple-A notwithstanding. At the big-league level, Tadahito Iguchi provides reliable defense and hits enough to be useful. There should be a market for him. Antonelli may not be ready for prime time if Iguchi is moved, in which case someone like Craig Stansberry or Edgar Gonzalez could probably keep the position warm until needed. Iguchi is a free agent after the season, and I’ve heard (but been unable to verify) that he won’t net his former team any compensatory draft picks should he sign elsewhere in 2009. If true, this increases the incentive to trade him but also may reduce his value to potential trade partners.

At third base, the Padres have two legitimate big-league caliber players. Incumbent Kevin Kouzmanoff is coming off a fine rookie campaign, while prospect Chase Headley has little left to prove in the minors. Kouzmanoff’s value may be down right now because of his slow start in ’08; however, this may also be offset by the fact that his contract (1 year, $410,000) is very desirable. Headley has spent most of the early season in left field, though he has seen some action at the hot corner and there shouldn’t be much, if any, difficulty switching back full time if needed.

Weaknesses

Shortstop is extremely thin. If the Padres move Khalil Greene, they need to acquire someone to replace him. The best available internal options are Sean Kazmar and Luis Rodriguez, which is to say, there are none. As has been discussed ad nauseum in these parts, Greene has holes in his game (and he’s stumbled out of the gate in ’08), but he could be a nice chip to play assuming the Padres can find a replacement, which seems doubtful given the paucity of quality players at the position.

The outfield is a mess. The only big leaguer likely to have much trade value is Brian Giles. He has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to eight teams. He also has an escalator that kicks his price tag to a minimum of $14 million ($11 million this year plus a $3 million buyout for ’09) if he is traded. The Padres almost certainly will have to eat some of that. Jody Gerut, Scott Hairston, Paul McAnulty, and Justin Huber all have shown potential at various points during their career, but none is performing well enough to be anything more than a throw-in. The Padres probably are better off hanging on to these guys for now and hoping they develop, because nobody else is likely to pay anything of consequence to acquire them.

On the farm, Chad Huffman and Will Venable are closest to being ready, but neither projects as an impact player. Further down, Cedric Hunter, Brad Chalk, and Yefri Carvajal are intriguing but far away.

The pitching staff, lauded by some as a strength during spring training, has been exposed for what it is: a few elite talents surrounded by low-ceiling command specialists. Jake Peavy is one of the best pitchers on the planet when healthy, Chris Young (who had his nose broken by an Albert Pujols line drive on Wednesday) is a solid #2 or #3 type pitcher with a good contract, and Heath Bell is one of the better setup men in baseball. Peavy isn’t going anywhere, but Young or Bell could be moved in the right deal. More likely, veterans like Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux will be shopped — maybe Shawn Estes if some GM just woke up from an 11-year coma, maybe Cla Meredith.

Of these guys, Wolf may not fetch much because of his injury history; ditto Maddux because of his age (last time he got traded, it was for Cesar Izturis). Bell and Meredith both have palatable contracts and could be part of the next contending Padres squad (depending on what you believe the time frame for that will be); at the same time, with precious few exceptions, I don’t consider relievers to be a core component of any team — bullpens, maybe; individual relievers, not so much.

At the minor-league level, Josh Geer, Cesar Ramos, and Wade LeBlanc are closest to being ready. Geer and Ramos are puff-ballers, and LeBlanc has been terrible at Triple-A Portland. Further down, Will Inman looks good at Double-A, as do Drew Miller at High-A and Mat Latos at Low-A. Inman, Miller, and Latos shouldn’t move unless something ridiculous falls into the front office’s lap (like the Matt LaPorta fantasy that some folks are indulging).

Bottom Line

Based on this inventory, the Padres’ best trade chips are, in descending order, Young, Greene, Bell, Kouzmanoff, Meredith, Iguchi, Giles, Maddux, and Wolf. I wouldn’t be eager to unload any of those first five, although Headley’s presence is a mitigating factor in the case of Kouzmanoff.

As for what the club needs, most pressing is help at shortstop, center field, and pitcher. Shortstop in particular is a gaping black hole once you get past Greene. The best of the lot, Andrew Cumberland, is at least 3 years away and is no lock to remain at the position (he’s already seeing some time at second base in the Midwest League).

Tomorrow we’ll look at trade targets…