Padres Reacquire Jason Bartlett

The Padres have traded 2B/SS Cole Figueroa, RHP Brandon Gomes, LHP Cesar Ramos, and RHP Adam Russell to the Tampa Bay Rays for SS Jason Bartlett and a player to be named later.

Without knowing who the PTBNL is, my gut reaction is that Jed Hoyer may have overpaid for Bartlett. Then again, the deal initially was reported — back in the late Pleistocene — as Ramos and Russell for Bartlett, which in all honesty wasn’t much to give up for a decent shortstop. It’s entirely possible that those initial reports have affected my judgment.

Bartlett, whom San Diego picked in the 13th round of the 2001 draft and then deemed expendable thanks to the selection of Khalil Greene in the first round a year later, should bring stability to a position where the the Padres had none in 2010. Among Bartlett’s most similar players through age 30 according to Baseball-Reference are two guys who are currently active, David Eckstein and Ryan Theriot:

Player     G   PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+  WAR
Bartlett 721 2801 .281 .345 .385  96  13.3
Eckstein 725 3233 .282 .351 .362  89  15.2
Theriot  663 2748 .284 .348 .356  82   4.9

Bartlett’s overall numbers are boosted by an insane (.320/.389/.490, 132 OPS+) 2009 campaign that screams fluke but which is part of his permanent record and as such cannot be dismissed. However, given what we know about how Petco Park affects hitters, the smart money focuses on Bartlett’s larger body of work and sees him as a guy somewhere between his prime and decline phase (as they say on cop shows, we won’t know for sure until after the autopsy) who plays 130 games and hits .270/.330/.360.

Bartlett is a reliable, proven big-league shortstop with marginal offensive skills. He’d make a great no. 8 hitter, although on this team, he may end up much higher in the lineup, as Eckstein did when he was here.

Expect Bartlett to provide Eckstein-like production as well — possibly a little better, with a slight chance of much better. Whatever Bartlett does, it will be an improvement over what the Padres had in place at shortstop, i.e., nothing. In that respect, acquiring Bartlett makes perfect sense.

We now take a brief trip down Memory Lane, specifically the 2002 block… While rummaging through the archives, I was reminded that I once saw Bartlett play at Lake Elsinore before Kevin Towers traded him to Minnesota for the forgettable (and largely forgotten) Brian Buchanan. According to my notes, Bartlett knocked five hits that day. I recall seeing him play but I’d forgotten he did so well. Good thing I wrote it down, eh? Or maybe not… As John Dos Passos once told the Paris Review, “…when you write about something you often never think about it again.”

Right. Where were we? Ah, Theriot… the other comp. So, back when we thought the deal was Bartlett for a pitcher (two if you count Ramos), I had this whole thing worked out in my head about how nicely it mirrored the trade that sent Theriot from the Dodgers to St. Louis for Blake Hawksworth… But it didn’t happen, and besides, on further review, Bartlett is a much better player than Theriot so it’s only fair that he should cost more. Bartlett for Russell and Ramos seemed, and was, too good to be true.

As for the PTBNL, we don’t know who that will be, but if the inclusion of Eric Patterson in the Adrian Gonzalez trade is any indication, it probably won’t be anyone of consequence.

What did the Padres give up to get Bartlett? More than I would have liked, but still not a lot:

  • Figueroa is a middle infield prospect of modest upside whose dad enjoyed a brief big-league stint. The Padres selected him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He can play on either side of the bag and possess good on-base skills (.408 OBP at Elsinore in 2010 as a 23-year-old). I ranked him as the Padres’ no. 19 prospect in the Ducksnorts 2009 Baseball Annual, noting that he elicited comparisons to former Blue Jays infielder Russ Adams. I like Figueroa and think he could become a big-league utility infielder.
  • The 26-year-old Gomes has a live arm and has posted excellent numbers everywhere he’s been (career 2.99 ERA, 9.9 K/9). He spent the past two seasons dominating Double-A hitters at San Antonio. Despite the numbers, I don’t sweat losing a minor-league reliever. If you’re smart, you can find more of those. Hoyer is smart, so no problem.
  • Ramos is a wasted first-round pick who has no future. He’s 27 years old and his minor league K/9 is 5.5. His chance to become even Jeff Ballard has come and gone.
  • I like Russell (age 28), in a Ryan Webb kind of way. Like Webb, he throws hard, has good movement on his pitches, and can intimidate right-handed hitters with his size and delivery. Also like Webb, his upside is roughly Jeff Nelson, although Rusell needs better command to get there.

Russell is the most likely to help the Rays right away, while Figueroa may have the most long-term value. Still, the Padres shouldn’t regret moving any of these guys, although hanging onto Figueroa would have been nice from a depth standpoint. Speaking of which, I may be reading too much into this, but the inclusion of Figueroa suggests to me that the Padres are at least exploring the possibility of extending Bartlett (who is arbitration-eligible) beyond 2010.

On a more philosophical note, Hoyer has done a good job this winter of reading the market and using his team’s strengths to address areas of need. When you see the kind of money being thrown at generic relievers (e.g., Joaquin Benoit, Matt Guerrier), it’s clear that these guys have value (perhaps moreso in perception than in reality, but the market isn’t interested in such distinctions).

The Padres had supermassive black holes at center field and shortstop. Hoyer aggressively filled both, at minimal cost:

Gave          Received
Cole Figueroa Jason Bartlett
Brandon Gomes Cameron Maybin
Edward Mujica PTBNL
Cesar Ramos
Adam Russell
Ryan Webb

That’s a middle infield prospect, a minor-league reliever, three decent big-league relievers who weren’t going to play significant roles in San Diego (well, maybe Webb), and a guy who throws left-handed. Bear in mind also that Mujica was a waiver claim, while Russell and Webb were secondary pieces in the Jake Peavy and Scott Hairston (to Oakland) trades, respectively. These guys are out there; it’s just a matter of finding them. Hoyer seems to recognize this and also that it’s much more difficult to find big-league center fielders and shortstops.

Assuming that Maybin develops the way I (and others) think he can and that Bartlett sticks around a while, a bunch of marginal players is a small price to pay. Granted, those are large assumptions, but my guess is that Bartlett and Maybin will be enough better than Everth Cabrera and Tony Gwynn Jr. to offset whatever value the six players given up might have provided the Padres.