The average fan probably thinks of Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas like any other free agent bat, and average fans want the Padres to sign a free agent bat, like they have wanted for a long time. But 15 years of putrid offensive production, unanswered by the front office, isn’t the only reason they should do so.
Most importantly, Tomas will be a great deal. True, Cuban players aren’t the bargain they were when Yasiel Puig signed for only $6MM per year for 7 seasons (gee, doesn’t it seem like the Padres could have afforded that?), but they are still the best discount item out there when you compare them to MLB free agents.
Tomas will likely get a deal a significantly richer than countryman 27 year-old OF Rusney Castillo, who signed for 7/$72MM. From a skills perspective, it seems Castillo, while possessing some raw power, really won’t drive the ball in games very often, because his swing will generate more line drives than loft on low pitches (a la Yonder Alonso).
Given his bat (superior to Castillo’s) and age (23), we’re likely approaching a $100MM contract for seven or eight seasons of work, especially considering the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are all said to be in on the slugger.
Let’s put the average annual value at $13MM per season for Tomas.
What does $13MM buy you in today’s free agent market? Let’s take a look at some guys who signed contracts last off-season to find out.
Thirteen million dollars is less than a rapidly declining 33 year-old Curtis Granderson makes to put up numbers that barely breach replacement level (0.7 WAR). For a familiar reference point, Cameron Maybin has put up that same WAR this year in approximately half a season, meaning Maybin is twice as good as Granderson, when on the field.
That’s also less than Tim Lincecum made this year to be a mascot for the Giants, while getting shelled out of their rotation (-0.2 WAR).
All in all, the price of a “Win” as defined by WAR was about $6.5MM last offseason. By that math, if Tomas makes $13MM per year, all he has to do to avoid bust status, is be worth the same level of production as Dioner Navarro or Jordy Mercer. Both of those players have generated 2.1 WAR this season.
Even flawed and aging impact Major League free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin Soo Choo make around $20MM a year to get worse over the course of their contracts.
Now, Tomas isn’t without risk. Obviously, he has flaws like nearly every player. He is said to need some fine tuning in his approach, and as a huge kid at 6’4″ 240, he will probably end up at first base. But the power sounds legit and he makes consistent contact. He also moves pretty well for a big man (at least for now), according to Castillo, who also had nice things to say about his makeup.
But in Tomas, what you will almost certainly end up with is a guy who gets better as his contract matures, and who only needs to produce like Howie Kendrick has this season to give his team a 50% “savings” per Win.
In the position the Padres are in, they need to pursue as many high ROI talent acquisition opportunities as they possibly can. And a big bat in LF would be a great start. Moreover, it would be negligent to let another great bargain, like Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes, which the Padres can easily afford, slip away to one of the juggernauts just because they’re intimidated.
With the Padres now beginning to shut the toilet on 2014 and A.J. “Heaven-sent” Preller beginning his tenure, the usual nuggets of filth about how we should “trade for a proven bat” have begun sloshing around as the garbage truck drives off with them. And another seasonal favorite returns as the familiar refrain emanates from a chorus of worms: “sign a free agent hitter.”
I want to know something. How is grabbing a solid major leaguer or two supposed offset the fact that the Padres only have two position player roles that might qualify as “solidified” for a playoff caliber team? And by roles, I mean just that, we’re talking about…
1) Platoon left fielder: Seth Smith
2) Backup catcher: Rene Rivera
The primary candidates to fill the rest of the positions in the field are almost all entering the stage in their careers where they either prove they’re Major Leaguers or they’re gone. Nearly all of them also have to prove they can stay healthy.
First Base: Yonder Alonso – a 92 wRC+ in 288PA, 0.7 WAR
Second Base: Jedd Gyorko – a 63 wRC+ in 339PA, -1 WAR
Third Base: Yangervis Solarte – a 104 wRC+ in 447PA, 1.6 WAR
Shortstop: Everth Cabrera – a 64 wRC+ in 391PA, -0.4 WAR
Center field: Cameron Maybin – a 81 wRC+ in 220PA, 0.9 WAR
Right field: Rymer Liriano – a totally unproven, raw rookie with a lot of tools, who missed all of 2013.
Primary Catcher: Yasmani Grandal – a 94 wRC+ in 345 PA, 0.3 WAR
Small half of the Smith platoon: Will Venable – a 73 in 386PA, 0.3 WAR
The problem with the “sign a bat” strategy (besides the fact that it’s more of a move than a strategy) is that even if the Padres signed two of the top free agents in the class, it won’t be enough to offset the problems everywhere else on the diamond. Though cheaper, it’s a similar waste of time to sign lesser free agents to “rent-a-bat” deals. Bear in mind this would also prevent someone in a “prove it” year from playing.
And all that feeds into the argument against the cries to “trade for a proven bat.”
Of course, most of the specific trade proposals offered by members of the general public are mainly of the “trade depth for quality” variety. The reality is that trades like this don’t exist. As the intelligent among us will point out: if you give from depth you will receive from depth.
Now, sometimes those deals work out, as in the Gregerson for Smith swap, or the trade for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. In fact, those are the kinds of trades the Padres should make this offseason.
But the club has no earthly reason to trade prospects to get proven talent, because just as with the “free agent approach” they’d only be adding talent to a loser, at the cost of their future core, which would ultimately only prolong their tenure as the team that gets the 13th pick in the draft.
It’s not a path to a World Series.
The time to sign free agents and trade prospects for proven Major Leaguers is when your team needs a nudge over the hump. The Pirates are a team in this position.
The Padres are nowhere near the hump.
The hump would be Yonder Alonso hitting .280 with 15 home runs and 40 doubles, while Jedd Gyorko socks 25 bombs and gets on base 35% of the time. It would be Cameron Maybin perpetually repeating 2011, and Rymer Liriano having a rookie season you could describe as “2013 Starling Marte with more walks.”
You will know the hump when you see the hump.
For now, Preller’s task is to build a team that can get to that precipice. So what do we do this offseason?
Trade from positions of depth for undervalued commodities – as mentioned above, sometimes you can steal an impact guy if you know they’re just a small adjustment away.With Seth Smith, it happened to be the fact that he just needed a Lasik tuneup. With others, you can diagnose a mechanical tweak that allows a player to tap into his full natural ability (a la Tyson Ross).
Similar to last season, the Padres have a glut of utility infielders. With Chris Nelson, Alexi Amarista, Jace Peterson and Yangervis Solarte all having roughly the same value as Logan Forsythe did last season. There are also a handful of fourth outfielders hanging around. This brings us to Will Venable.
Trade Will Venable – After parts of 7 seasons in the Majors, it’s obvious the results will never materialize. Right field should be Rymer Liriano’s to lose. While raw, he’s much less so than Venable was as a rookie, he’s excellent defensively and has the highest ceiling of any Padres position player prospect.
Disturbingly, Bud Black is still playing Venable a lot. Preller would do well to look to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak trading Allen Craig so that manager Mike Matheny would be forced to play Oscar Taveras as an example of how to remedy this. Now, I’m not comparing Liriano to Taveras, just the situation.
Venable’s value to other clubs is as a fourth outfielder or platoon guy with a solid glove, so expect an appropriately modest return. Abraham Almonte and Jake Goebbert have less trade value and should be able to fill in fine when Venable leaves. Alex Dickerson is also an option.
Get rid of Eric Stults… somehow – Despite the fact that Stults is 34, he is still arb eligible until 2017, so if you can get anything for him, that will be why. If not, he’s a prime non-tender candidate given the depth the Padres have here. Jesse Hahn seems a lock for next year’s rotation and Cory Luebke’s return to the Big Leagues, while far from certain, should take place in 2015. The same theoretically goes for Joe Weiland, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin. Keyvius Sampson and Matt Wisler are also options next year, if additional depth is required.
Let Josh Johnson walk – Johnson is a perpetual DL spot where there is plenty of depth… don’t you dare touch that option!
Ditch Carlos Quentin – I struggle to imagine a scenario where a team would be willing to part with anything other than a PTBN for Carlos Quentin. That’s fine. The Padres should eat as much of this contract as they have to, even if that means all of it. Of course, it’s possible there will be no willing trade partners. In that case, releasing him means the roster can be constructed without the possibility of Carlos Quentin built into it, which has more value than retaining him.
Blow up the staff– I won’t bore anyone with another recap of the DL disaster the Padres have become as a result of bad player acquisition policies and a totally incompetent medical staff. The fact that we all know that story so well means heads must roll and the organization’s philosophy must change.
The Padres also need to drastically alter a player development staff and philosophy that have consistently produced scared hitters.
The Major League hitting coaches also need to go. There is no excuse for a full squad of players that either watch or foul off fastballs down the pipe with shocking frequency. The number of obvious mechanical flaws (see: Cameron Maybin’s swing path), and approach deficiencies (see: Gyorko trying to pull everything) allowed to persist on the club is absurd.
Commit to crushing the International Market – This is the fun part.
I know it’s sad for some that the Padres won’t be spending a ton of cash on the free agent market, despite having the funds to do so. But that means A.J. Preller should have no problem convincing ownership to allocate a large chunk of change toward acquiring the best Caribbean talent available on July 2nd. Spending limits be damned, nab four or five of the top 25 guys. In this era of baseball, spending $20-30MM in the dominican is a much better investment for a mid-market team than spending that same amount on the Major League roster.
2015 won’t be the year of the Winner, no matter what Preller & Co do this offseason. But the guys on the roster will either prove it or lose it. The front office will begin to show us if they’re serious about giving Preller the levers he needs to build the core we’ve never had. It can be the year of the Answer, the year of a meaningful turning point.