Slow news day, eh? Neither team has confirmed this, but sources too numerous to count are reporting that the Padres and Red Sox have agreed to a trade that would send All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, center fielder Reymond Fuentes, and a player to be named later.
This has felt inevitable for a very long time. Not just the fact of Adrian’s leaving town but his ending up in Boston. There’s been way too much smoke around these parts for the past, I dunno, 18-24 months… there had to be a big fire somewhere, right?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: I’m sorry to see Adrian go. He represented the team and his hometown well. He was a pleasure to watch, both at the plate and in the field. The Red Sox and their fans are very fortunate to have him. (Think Mo Vaughn in his prime with a glove, or Justin Morneau with more power and fewer MVP awards.)
This is where a dig about deep pockets would go if I felt it were appropriate, which I don’t… so we’ll skip all that… Although I couldn’t resist giving Tom Werner “bonus irony points for taking salary off the Padres hands” (I said there had to be a fire, not a fire sale). Or as Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins put it, “San Diego has given Boston Ted Williams and Adrian Gonzalez. Boston gave San Diego Matt Antonelli.”
In moving to a media market that matters in such things, Gonzalez becomes an immediate threat to win the American League MVP in 2011 (not to mention filthy rich assuming he’s able to work out a contract extension with the Red Sox). As I said in the Ducksnorts 2009 Baseball Annual, “If Gonzalez played in New York or Boston, you’d be sick of hearing about him by now.” So, yeah, prepare to be sick. Maybe invest in paper bags.
Okay, whatever. So Gonzalez becomes the new Tom Brady… some guy on the other side of the country that gets talked about all the time. Good for him.
We don’t care anymore because we’ve got a team to follow here, and he ain’t on it. (I was talking about Gonzalez, but the same applies to Brady… although his former backup’s brother once pitched for the Padres; do connections get any more tenuous than that?) So morn the loss… grab some tissues (or one of them thar paper bags that I mentioned a bit ago), do what you gotta do and then…
Let’s look at what the Padres got (Alex Speier does an excellent job of this, so we’ll refer to his article early and often). It’s like Christmas time in… oh wait, this is already December so… uh, let’s skip the metaphor.
Kelly, a right-handed pitcher, was Boston’s top prospect according to Baseball America, which in July 2010 rated him the no. 24 prospect in all of baseball (Simon Castro placed no. 17). Kelly struggled last season, posting an unimpressive 5.31 ERA at Double-A Portland, but there may have been mitigating circumstances.
Dan Hayes notes that Kelly’s “fastball velocity increased from 89-92 to 90-94″ and suggests that “learning how to handle increased velocity” could have contributed to his poor showing in 2010. Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen (as related in Speier’s article) offers similar thoughts:
Watch the stuff… I know people are going to look at stats and say, “This guy didn’t have that good of a season.” … We beg to differ on that. We feel that he’s had a really good season.
Even bearing in mind that Hazen is part of the organization and has a vested interest, those are encouraging words. Pitchers are an unpredictable lot, especially young ones who are learning their craft. Smart people acknowledge Kelly’s potential, and who am I to argue with smart people?
Rizzo is a 6’3″, 220 lb first baseman out of Fort Lauderdale. Taken in the sixth round of the 2007 draft under the watch of current Padres staffer Jason McLeod and ranked no. 3 in the Boston organization by BA, Rizzo elicits comparisons (hype alert) to Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira.
Speier notes that both Gonzalez and Rizzo spent their age 20 campaigns at Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. How nice of them to be so accommodating for our comparison purposes:
Player Year PA BA OBP SLG BB/K PA/HR Gonzalez 2002 573 .266 .344 .437 .482 33.71 Rizzo 2010 467 .263 .334 .481 .450 23.35
This is promising, but be careful not to become too enamored of the numbers… past performance is no guarantee, your mileage may vary, three for a dollar, step right up… Look, Ruben Rivera led the SAL with 28 homers as a 20-year-old in 1994. That year, at the same age, in the same league, Jermaine Dye hit 15… Magglio Ordonez hit 11… dig? Don’t dismiss Rizzo’s stats, but keep them in their proper perspective.
It’s easy (and tempting) to look back, knowing what we now know about Gonzalez, and make certain assumptions about players who put up those types of numbers. But let’s not set ourselves up for unncessary disappointment, okay? (Seriously, losing Gonzalez is disappointing enough… we don’t need any other appointments.)
Rizzo is a promising young player who could fill a need sooner rather than later. We’ll leave it at that for now and see what more we can divine, say, eight years hence.
Boston’s no. 6 prospect according to BA, Fuentes is Carlos Beltran’s cousin, which is exciting until you remember that Cristian Guerrero is Vladimir Guerrero’s cousin (or Tony Gwynn Jr. is Tony Gwynn’s kid… what, too soon?). Fuentes was taken with the 28th pick overall in the 2009 draft and spent last season (his first full season) at Greenville of the Low-A SAL, where he hit .270/.328/.377 and stole 42 bases in 47 attempts… which sounds suspiciously like Carlos Gomez to me. SoxProspects.com compares him to Jacoby Ellsbury and notes that Fuentes possesses “close to 80 speed.”
Fuentes gives the Padres a fallback option in case the whole Cameron Maybin thing doesn’t work… or Donavan Tate (whom Marc Hulet at FanGraphs places behind Fuentes in his updated Top 10 Padres prospects). You know, it sucks to be Blake Tekotte right about now…
It’s all speculation at this point. Bill Center mentions 2010 draftees Kolbrin Vitek and Anthony Ranaudo as possibilities, but who knows.
We knew headed into the off-season that Gonzalez was the lead domino and that the direction in which he fell would determine how the rest of this winter would unfold. With one question answered, several more come into tighter focus, among which are these:
- Who’s on first? I have no idea, but my suspicion is that he’s not currently in the organization. Kyle Blanks is hurt, Kyle Phillips is old, Rizzo is young, Mike Baxter profiles more as a supporting player… As far as I know, Ryan Ludwick doesn’t play first base (insert obvious right-field defense joke here)… Chris Denorfia? Aaron Cunningham? As for external options, the best of the available free agents that won’t cost draft picks are Lyle Overbay and Adam LaRoche. I kind of like Overbay in a David Segui kind of way but don’t know what he might be asking. Nick Johnson, who is listed as a DH, might be worth a flier if he can still play the field and/or keep from getting hurt (neither of which is a given).
- What about the middle infield? It’s a disaster, thanks for asking. I was hoping the Padres might land a second baseman or, better, a shortstop in any potential Gonzalez deal, but you can’t have everything (as Steven Wright observes, “Where would you put it?”). As it stands, they’ll probably go with Don Mason and Enzo Hernandez. Less facetiously… well, I don’t have a less facetious version. Hope that Everth Cabrera remembers how not to suck and think really good thoughts.
- What happens to Heath Bell and Ryan Ludwick? My guess is, nothing… at least not now. With Gonzalez gone, the Padres should be able to pay both of those guys. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both leave San Diego at some point next summer.
There are probably other questions I’m missing, but it’s a long winter and we’ll have plenty of time to discuss those as we think of them.
The real question, in the end, is whether the Padres were better off a) hanging onto Gonzalez in the hope that they could duplicate last season’s unexpected success, then letting him walk after the season and getting two draft picks that they might be able to develop into something or b) moving him for four promising young players who already have professional experience in the hope that long-term gains from said players would offset any fan backlash that might accompany trading a hometown superstar mere months after a 90-win season. The backlash issue can be dismissed somewhat as a mitigating factor because it was going to happen whether he left as a free agent or via trade.
So the bottom line is, were the Padres better off with the right to sign two amateur players and another year of Adrian or with four professional players? Most likely, it is the latter. In equation form:
3-4 top prospects + fan backlash > 2 draft picks + 1 year of Adrian + fan backlash
Someone should (and probably will) apply the Guttridge-Wang trade model to this bad boy. You, in your mom’s basement (really? really?), get to work on that.
What makes this difficult is that the Padres are coming off one of the most successful (and most surprising) seasons in franchise history. (As Corey Brock notes in an exchange with Padres GM Jed Hoyer, “When asked when Gonzo’s trade value would be highest, Hoyer said ‘last year.’”) But the fact that it was so surprising should give us pause.
This doesn’t belong anywhere, but you can infuriate your friends by pointing out that with Gonzalez gone, Chase Headley has hit more career home runs as a member of the Padres (32) than anyone on the current roster. Will Venable (27) and Nick Hundley (21) are right on his heels. Nate Colbert’s record (163) is safe for a while.
It’s helpful here to consider a question once posed by Jonah Keri: “Where in the success cycle does my team stand?” On the heels of two poor seasons, 2010 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. If you’re in Hoyer’s shoes, do you cash in on the feel-good story (that would have felt a lot better and presumably been more marketable had they held on to win the NL West) and hope to claw your way to an 80- to 85-win season? The Giants won the World Series. The Rockies aren’t going anywhere.
Last season made for a fun ride and a great story. But with the anticipated payroll being what it is (whether anyone likes it or not is immaterial), and with few palatable options available to reinforce what the Padres currently have, the team realistically was looking at a third-place finish in 2011 with or without Gonzalez. And before you scoff at that, consider that a third-place finish is a heckuva lot better than what the Padres were thought to be looking at coming into 2010. (Sure, they could surprise again… but then, it would be a surprise.)
I view last season as a blip on the radar, and it seems that Hoyer and company do as well. This may upset some people in the short run, but as a long-term strategy, I’m completely comfortable with it. And hey, if folks jump off the bandwagon again… that just means more room for me at the ballpark.