This is a project where 30 people got together to act as the GMs of the 30 MLB teams with the idea of conducting the offseason in one week. This is what happened in this simulation, not a prediction of what will happen in real life.
On August 6th, 2014, the San Diego Padres hired A.J. Preller, the assistant general manager to Texas Ranger wunderkind Jon Daniels. The Long Island native proceeded to turn the 2014-2015 offseason into a transaction extravaganza, acquiring via trade or free agency a boatload of well-known players, some of those names being Justin and Melvin Upton, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel, James Shields and Matt Kemp. By the end of the 2015 season, the Padres had paid out 110 million dollars in salary, the highest in team history, for a 74 win team.
Three years later, the Padres had a payroll that was 40 million dollars less and they won only three fewer games. In fact, that roughly 67 million dollar payroll number included 40.5 million dollars paid to players not even on the team (Shields, Melvin Upton, Hector Olivera and Jedd Gyroko), the price paid for Preller’s extravagant expenditure of assets in the winter of 2014-2015.
So, as the GM of the Padres as a part of the 2018 MLB Project, there appeared to be a few hurdles to circumvent. To begin, the payroll of the Padres was set at 75 million. This is a pretty honest figure, as ownership of the Padres has publically said that they will put very little into the team at this time until improvement and attendance figures rise. Considering that 20 million of that payroll is still set aside for Shields, Olivera and Gyroko (thankfully the Melvin Upton contract came off of the books in 2017), that left me with very little money to work with. Think about that. A major league team functioning off of a 27 million dollar payroll last year and a 55 million dollar payroll this year? It’s amazing that the team won 71 games last year. It seemed like an impossible task.
At least, that was my initial take. When I looked at the roster and the farm system, I realized that Preller, despite his initial missteps, had done a good job in pulling together young talent. Most of the big name players he had acquired he was able to spin for prospects and he seemed to have a knack for finding players in the bargain bin to either help build the roster or turn into other prospects. On top of that, he had signed Myers to a very affordable 83 million dollar extension (the biggest contract in Padres history), in which the big money part of the deal didn’t kick in until 2020.
All of this made me realize that the goals for the Padres for the MLB project were not about building a contender, but were about building upon the core that Preller had pulled together over the last two years and adding to the farm system.
Prior to the project starting, I had two immediate goals. I wanted to find a young, arbitration eligible, front line caliber starter and trade Brad Hand. Hand was coming off of two terrific seasons, including a dominant one as the Padres closer in 2017. With two arbitration years left, he was never going to have more value than he did this offseason. I sent out feelers to multiple teams in need of closer help, and sat back waiting for offers to emerge.
While that was going on, I reached out to the Indians. The Indians were in an interesting situation. Coming off of back to back playoff appearances and boasting a terrific pitching staff, the Indians were still a team that could contend, but had need of players that wouldn’t cost a lot of money. I immediately reached out to the Indians about one of three arbitration eligible starters, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger or Trevor Bauer. Manuel Margot was offered in return. This might seem to go against the core goal of building with young players, but the Padres are deep in outfield talent at the minor league level. In addition, Travis Jankowski was on the roster. Although Jankowski is probably best suited as a fourth outfielder, he is a terrific defender in centerfield and had shown a solid capacity to bat leadoff, something that Margot had struggled with in 2017. On top of Jankowski, the Padres have an intriguing prospect in Franchy Cordero, who tore up the PCL and showed some of that talent during a call up in 2017. He had to learn to control the strike zone more, but also made me feel better about moving Margot.
After some negotiating, the Indians agreed to trade Salazar to me straight up for Margot. Although there is some risk here, as Salazar has struggled with shoulder problems, Salazar is also an undeniably talented pitcher. If he puts it all together, he is both the ace of the Padres staff and under control for three more years. Sacrificing Margot was a risk, but considering the outfield depth in the system and the talent level of Salazar, I felt it was one to take.
Soon after the Salazar deal, trade talks for Brad Hand heated up. Multiple teams offered prospects, major league players and packages. The most intriguing talks were happening with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as multi-player packages were discussed. We finally came to an agreement and the Padres sent Hand and Jankowski to Arizona for A.J. Pollock, Shelby Miller, Chris Owings and pitching prospects Jared Miller and Jose Almonte.
I was very satisfied with this transaction. Jared Miller is a nearly major league ready left handed, back of the bullpen prospect who throws in the high 90’s and has had impressive numbers in the minors. Almonte is a lower level prospect, but was extremely effective in A+ ball last year and will get his chance to run his 95 mile per hour fastball and plus secondary stuff at Double-A this coming season. Owings is under control for two more years and will start at second base for the Padres, his best defensive position. He’s either another building block or an asset to move next year, with one year left of control. Pollock was either going to manage centerfield for the Padres this year, and be a potential asset at the trade deadline, or be flipped in the offseason as he is on his last year of arbitration. Shelby Miller will be shelved for the year with Tommy John surgery, so he’s a risk reward type of acquisition. If he recovers fully, he’s got another year of arbitration left and will be a frontline starter again, potentially being a trade deadline asset in 2019. All in all, it was a pretty great haul for a closer and a fourth outfielder.
During this time period, the Padres made some minor arbitration decisions. Cut loose were injury plagued starters Jarrod Cosart, Christian Friedrich and Robbie Erlin. Retained were infielder/outfielder Cory Spangenburg, back-up catcher Hector Sanchez, fourth outfield Matt Szczur, hard throwing bullpen arm Kirby Yates and Carter Capps. Capps was the hardest decision. The injury plagued reliever has always looked like someone who could develop into a closer, but hasn’t stayed healthy enough. He ended the year well, after coming back from injury, so he’ll have at least one more year to prove his worth.
The other asset I was working to move was Yangervis Solarte. The versatile infielder is on a very team friendly contract, but doesn’t really have a position. If I couldn’t move him, he’d continue to be my swiss army knife, but I felt I could use other players on the 40 man roster for that role. Discussion regarding Solarte initiated trade talks with the Royals. Although he didn’t end up being part of the discussions, Pollack and others were. The discussions end with the Padres trading Pollock and Jose Pirela to the Royals for closer Kelvin Herrera, Nate Karns and prospects Hunter Dozier and Daniel Tillo.
This was another trade that satisfied the Padres needs. Flipping Pollock for Herrera was about maximizing value. Pollock has an injury history. He’s terrific when healthy, but he hasn’t shown he can do that consistently. Recent history has also shown that teams are willing to give value for pitching at the trade deadline and not hitting. Herrera is going to be 28 to start the season and is in a contract year. With back end of the bullpen experience, playoff experience and a potential big contract in front of him, Herrera should be due for a big season and be a player that teams are willing to pony up prospects for at the deadline, more so than Pollock. Karns is a real wild card. He has three years of control left and has a big time arm. He’s just never been able to stay healthy. If he does, he has mid-rotation stuff. If he doesn’t, he could be a big armed bullpen guy or a swing man. The Padres will have the opportunity to take a look. Tillo was drafted in third round in 2017. He’s a left handed starting prospect with some room to grow into his 6’5” frame, a big fastball and an excellent slider. He’s still raw, but he adds to a bevy of pitching prospects in the Padres system. Dozer was the number three prospect in the Royals system. The Padres system is strong at the middle infield position, but less so at the corners. There are no prospects at Double-A or above, so Dozier fills that need. Dozer got a lot of power potential and has a gun for an arm. He was moved to the corner outfield in the Royals system, as they had a lot of corner infielders at either the major league level or higher levels of the minor league system, but he will get every opportunity to play third base at Triple-A for the Padres. Considering that the only people blocking him at the big league level are Ryan Schimpf and Charlie Villanueva, he will get a chance at the big leagues this year.
Trade discussion for Solarte continued, but never really gained steam. Late in the process, the Cubs reached out about starting pitching. By the time they did so, the Padres had been able to make several low income free agent acquisitions.
These were veteran infielder Cliff Pennington, veteran bullpen arm Sergio Romo, middle infielder Matt Duffy, center fielder Jarrod Dyson and starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood. In total, these five players cost me 7.75 million dollars, a bargain. I also felt good about being able to resign Jhoulys Chacin, a starting pitcher the Padres had signed prior to the 2017 season on a prove it 1.5 million dollar deal. With Travis Wood pitching for me for free (the Royals are covering his 2018 salary), Chatwood on the roster, Colin Rea recovered from Tommy John surgery and the imminent return of Chacin (along with the acquisitions of Karns and Salazar), I suddenly had an abundance of starting pitching. I offered the Cubs veteran starter Clayton Richard. Richard was an innings eater for the Padres last year, but also sported an ERA of 4.79 and was 33 years old. After some negotiating, the Padres traded Richard to the Cubs for right handed relief prospect Dillon Maples. Maples sports a fastball that touches 100 and absolutely dominated Double-A and Triple-A last year. He made a September call up and, although the ERA doesn’t look good, it was really the bi-product of one bad appearance. Even with that, Maples averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning in his initial foray in the majors and the Padres were happy to add him to the bevy of young, hard throwing relief prospects in the system.
All in and all, it felt like a successful venture. The Padres didn’t trade away any prospects and were able to hold onto key young players Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges and Dinelson Lamet. By adding Owings, Salazar, Karns and Duffy, I feel like I added to the core of players. The prospects further deepen a system that I didn’t have to trade from and the veteran free agents will hold the fort until some of the prospects develop, while adding a key veteran influence that is always needed for a young team.
This all resulted in the following roster:
Carter Capps – 1.3 million
Jhoulys Chacin – 3.0 million (most likely signed a long term deal with low early salary, like Myers)
Tyler Chatwood – 2.0 million
Kelvin Herrera – 8.3 million
Nate Karns – 1.4 million
Dinelson Lamet – 555,000
Luis Perdomo – 560,000
Sergio Romo – 1 million
Danny Salazar – 5.2 million
Jose Torres – 555,000
Travis Wood – 0 (6.5 million paid by the Royals)
Kirby Yates – 1.1 million
Austin Hedges – 560,000
Hector Sanchez – 1.1 million
Matt Duffy – 1.5 million
Wil Myers – 4.5 million
Chris Owings – 3.8 million
Cliff Pennington – 750,000
Ryan Schimpf – 555,000
Yangervis Solarte – 4.125 million
Christian Villanueva – 555,000
Alex Dickerson – 555,000
Jarrod Dyson – 2.5 million
Hunter Renfroe – 560,000
Matt Szczur – 800,000
Arbitration Players in Minors to start the season
Cory Spangenberg – 2 million
Shelby Miller – 4.9 million
Other Payroll Obligations
James Shields – 11 million
Hector Olivera – 7.5 million
Jedd Gyorko – 2.5 million
Total Payroll – 73.73 million
Remaining players on 40 man roster (in minors)
This will be a year of growth and questions. Can Renfroe and Hedges meet high expectations? Can Alex Dickerson come back from back surgery and be the left handed bat in the lineup the Padres hoped he could be before his injury? How will young starters Perdomo and Lamet develop? What young bullpen arms will finally make it to the big leagues and who will be successful? Will Owings finally meet his potential? Can Duffy, now healthy, return to his runner up to rookie of the year form and handle shortstop (where the Rays planned to play him before his heel injuries)? Can Karns and Salazar stay healthy enough to reach their potential? Which minor leaguers will make a big league impact in the lineup (Dozier, Franchy Cordero, top prospect Luis Urias, etc.)? Which borderline major leaguers (Spangengburg, Schimpf, Villanueva) can cement their big league careers or will be soon off of the 40 man roster? Can Wil Myers be the face of the franchise, as his contract indicates?
That’s a lot of questions, but that’s what happens with a re-building team. I think the moves made will not only make the roster better this year and help answer some of those questions, but will also help the team take the next step forward in the future.