A.J. Preller has laid his cards on the table.
Fresh off a trade of Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp (pending physical), the new Padres’ general manager has just acquired 24-year-old Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-way trade that also includes the Washington Nationals. The deal was first reported by Jim Bowden of ESPN.
In acquiring the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, Preller has demonstrated that his objective is to win now. This is a swift turnaround for the Padres and their fans, who in recent years had gotten used to their team trading away established talent for prospects.
But now, the tables have turned: to acquire young Myers, the Padres parted with young arms Joe Ross and Burch Smith, catcher Rene Rivera, 19-year-old first base prospect Joe Bauers, and 2014 first-round draft pick Trea Turner–perhaps the biggest surprise of all in this trade.
Turner and Ross were sent to the Nationals, who sent outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott. The Padres also received veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan, and young pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo.
It’s hard to see how Tampa Bay benefits from this deal: they trade Myers to San Diego, and yet Washington ends up with the Padres two best prospects in Turner and Ross!
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo helped his club a lot in this deal, trading minimal talent and replentishing his farm system with the high-ceiling Ross and shortstop-of-the-future Turner.
But for the Padres, the message is simple: win now.
Whenever a team hires a new general manager, it’s always interesting to see what direction he wants to go. It is now clear that since being hired in August, Preller observed his new team and came to certain conclusions:
1. This team has the pitching (both starters and the bullpen) to be competitive right now.
2. The missing ingredient is offense, so move some of your minor league talent to go and get some–notice that in the Kemp and Myers trade, only two established big leaguers, Yasmani Grandal and Rivera, were surrendered.
3. Manager Bud Black is a keeper. Since he has a year left on his contract anyway, keep him around and see how well you can work with him.
In acquiring Myers, the Padres now have a potentially solid middle of the order, to go with Kemp. Noteworthy is that their top three starting pitchers, Tyson Ross (brother of the departed Joe Ross) Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy, originally thought to be the Preller’s best trade chips this offseason, are still with the team.
More About Myers
This is not the first time Wil Myers was moved. He was originally drafted by the Kansas City Royals, and groomed in their minor league system.
But then, in the 2012-13 offseason, he was dealt to Tampa in a package of prospects for James Shields, as KC had World Series aspirations. Pundits were aghast, as Myers was very highly regarded, even as the next George Brett.
Myers began the 2013 season in the minors, but was called up to the Rays in June. In 88 games, he slashed .294/.354/.478, with 13 home runs, 23 doubles, and 53 RBI in 373 plate appearances. His play merited him the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
In 2014, Myers regressed badly: in 87 games, he slashed .222/.294/.320, with six homers in 361 plate appearances. While part of this can be blamed on a broken bone in his hand, Myers was slumping before then as well.
Even still, Myers will only be 24 years old on opening day, and he has tremendous upside. Along with Kemp, he will be controlled by San Diego until 2019.
Did They Give Up Too Much?
In getting their second big bat in a week, the Padres mortgaged a lot of their future. While Ross and Smith both have lots of potential, their inclusion in the deal is not a huge surprise: in order to get a bat like Myers’, you have to give up something.
The shocker was their inclusion of Turner, who was a first-round pick just this last June. Until today, he was considered the Padres shortstop of the future. However, San Diego also has Jose Rondon, acquired in the July trade of Huston Street, in the minors. Like Turner, he is also at least two years away from being major league-ready.
If dealing Turner was a shocker, then swapping Rivera for Hanigan was a head-scratcher. Here, the Padres and Rays basically swapped solid backup catchers. It appears the plan for backstop is to have Hanigan and Tim Federowicz (acquired with Kemp from L.A.) to hold down catcher until highly touted prospect Austin Hedges is ready, probably for a late season call-up in 2016.
More To Come?
Preller is not done yet.
San Diego’s already-stacked outfield is now overwhelmed: even before Kemp and Myers, they already had Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith, Will Venable, and Cameron Maybin.
What to do with the overflow? The most likely conclusion is that Smith and Quentin are gone; both are corner outfielders, as are Kemp and Myers. The Padres will miss Smith, who signed a two-year contract immediately prior to Preller’s arrival. He slashed .266/.367/.440 with an .807 OPS with 31 doubles, 12 homers, and 67 walks in 136 games. For this reason, Smith’s value is high, and so he will be a solid piece to trade to another team to help shore up needs elsewhere.
Quentin will be more difficult. Owed $8 million in ’15, there are two options: release him now, and just eat his contract, or see if he performs well in spring training, and hope he does well enough to pique an AL team’s interest.
Venable and Maybin, who were perhaps two of the previous GM’s worst signings, will probably platoon in center field–there are no other options in the foreseeable future.
Preller clearly knows that there are many holes, especially at first base (Yonder Alonso is too injury-prone), third base (in-house options Yongervis Solarte and Cory Spangenburg don’t inspire much enthusiasm), and shortstop (assuming they don’t go with Alexi Amarista).
So even though bats have been added, there is still work to do. But it is apparent that Preller is a work-horse, and he wants to see this team go for it all in 2015. Otherwise, there is no way he would have pursued Kemp and Myers–let alone with so much diligence.
With Preller, Padre fans don’t need to put on a poker face; they can grin with satisfaction that finally, they have an aggressive general manager who’s backed up by a front office that’s willing to spend the money to win.