Smartbuilding #10: San Diego Padres | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

If the Brewers hire a new GM externally, how many of the club’s core prospects will remain? Among Orlando Arcia, Tyrone Taylor, Victor Roache, Clint Coulter, Tyler Wagner, Jorge Lopez, Michael Reed, and now Brett Phillips, Zach Davies, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser? Or Gilbert Lara and Marcos Diplan? Or Devin Williams and Taylor Williams? Etc., etc., etc.

This is not meant as an empty “disaster” question. This is not an MLB dystopia. This is a potential, even likely, reality: if Brewers President & General Manager Doug Melvin steps away from everyday GM duties after his contract expires at the end of the year, and the club has not arranged a plan for an internal GM candidate, the next GM will have a fresh set of eyes (and potentially new scouting infrastructure) to judge a bunch of guys that are not “his.” One only need to look to the Brewers’ current opponent, the San Diego Padres, for a potential scenario that involves a new, fresh GM overtaking a roster and steering the club in a new direction. Oh, those new prospects, or most of the prospects I listed above, are too close to the MLB to deal? Dig Joe Ross, Trea Turner, Matt Wisler, Max Fried, and even Jace Peterson: all solidly graded within the Top 300 prior to the 2015 season, including two Midseason Top 50 (one cracking the Top 10); three of those guys have already made the MLB (and arguably outperformed some of the Padres’ veteran trade returns).

Notable Prospects Traded BA Revised Organizational or Midseason Rank Note (~1.7 WAR)
Trea Turner Midseason #9 “Top Order Hitter / Dependable Glove” -BA p.387
Joe Ross Midseason #31 #3 ceiling -BA p. 388 / 0.8 pitching WAR
Matt Wisler Padres #1 Control could “play as plus” -BA p. 386 / 0.2 pitching WAR
Max Fried Braves #3 LHP / #2 ceiling with extreme risk due to injury -BA p. 389
Jace Peterson Braves #9 0.7 batting WAR

I don’t mean to dump on the Padres’ offseason plan: they received an aggressive go-ahead from ownership, and corrected a few years of organizational uncertainty by absolutely shredding their system in a true “win-now” bid. Ironically, after a furious offseason that involved a handful of the industry’s most aggressive trades, Padres Executive Vice President and General Manager A.J. Preller dug in his heels and exhibited a mode of sudden roster conservatism: the Padres traded away not one of their pending free agents. Not Justin Upton, not Ian Kennedy, not even Shawn Kelley or Will Venable.

Instead, the Padres basically doubled-down on winning now, and gambled on getting hot to seize either the National League West or a Wild Card spot. Given that the Padres are about as close to the Brewers as they are to the Wild Card, their front office made a questionable gamble that Milwaukee fans should consider when judging the Brewers’ deadline: it is possible, even permissible, for a big league GM to do nothing at the trade deadline, and try to win as many games as possible. We should not ever take it for granted that the Brewers “had” to trade Carlos Gomez or Mike Fiers or Aramis Ramirez or Gerardo Parra or even Jonathan Broxton.

Padres 2014-2015 Trades Return Note
Reymond Fuentes Kyle Bartsch Fuentes a speed & spray hitting OF / Bartsch a mid-90s LHP “Loogy” candidate
Yasmani Grandal / Joe Wieland / Zach Eflin Matt Kemp / Tim Federowicz / cash Eflin became Phillies #4
Jesse Hahn / R.J. Alvarez Derek Norris / Seth Streich
(3-Team Part One) Rene Rivera / Burch Smith / Jake Bauers Wil Myers / Ryan Hanigan / Jose Castillo / Gerardo Reyes Smith has not pitched in 2015 / Bauers hitting at AA Montgomery
(3-Team Part Two) Joe Ross / PTBNL (Trea Turner) Ross cracked MLB / Turner hitting at AAA Syracuse
Jace Peterson / Max Fried / Dustin Peterson / Mallex Smith Justin Upton / Aaron Northcraft Fried has not pitched / J. Peterson cracked MLB / Smith hit at AA Mississippi
Ryan Hanigan Will Middlebrooks
Johnny Barbato Shawn Kelley
Seth Smith Brandon Maurer
Cameron Maybin / Carlos Quentin / Jordan Paroubeck / Matt Wisler Craig Kimbrel / Melvin Upton Jr. Wisler cracked MLB

One of the benefits of judging the Padres’ offseason and midseason is that Brewers fans can face their own “rebuilding” orthodoxies, and also brace themselves for the potential coming of new front office talent. It is absolutely the case that a new President, GM, or whatever, could look at the Brewers’ farm system and roster with an austere vision: we tend to applaud the Braves’ offseason because they rather quickly and effectively assessed a “middle of the road / trending downward” club with a vicious and uncompromising rebuilding plan that could pay quick dividends. That’s arguably the same gamble the Padres took after looking at a cushy middle-of-the-road Senior Circuit that seemingly lacked elite, definitive clubs during the offseason. Either way, winning now, rebuilding, staying put are all gambles in some way, shape, or form, but one can almost always expect new front office talent to feel ambivalent toward players that are not “their guys.”

Even the Gomez & Fiers trade exhibits a corollary of this axiom: Santana, Hader, and Houser were not “Jeff Luhnow guys.” Which is to say that even if they are objectively talented prospects (and they are, as each has made the jump to the high minors, and Santana even made the MLB jump), one must question whether Luhnow valued their potential and organizational depth as much as the apparently “untouchable” Phillips.

(Embedded in this argument, one can find some solid benefits with keeping Doug Melvin as Brewers President, perhaps even promoting him to a CEO-type role where he can continue to employ a broad “vision” while handing over “everyday operations” to new executive prospects).

Trade Return AVG / OBP / SLG or IP / ERA WAR (~7.3)
Justin Upton .249 / .322 / .431 3.3
Derek Norris .238 / .285 / .402 1.9
Craig Kimbrel 42.3 / 2.76 0.8
Matt Kemp .255 / .304 / .399 0.7
Brandon Maurer 50.0 / 3.06 0.5
Wil Myers .277 / .327 / .459 0.5
Shawn Kelley 38.7 / 3.03 0.4
Melvin Upton Jr. .237 / .317 / .366 0.2
Will Middlebrooks .212 / .241 / .361 -1.0

There is an argument to be made that the Padres actually successfully retooled their roster. First and foremost, several of their players returned in their 2014-2015 offseason trades have performed well, especially Wil Myers (prior to injury), Derek Norris, and Justin Upton. Moreover, they have a chance to compete again in 2016, perhaps with a few more offseason tweaks. It is easy to forget that the Padres already controlled several solid pitchers via arbitration, and those hurlers now enter their potentially-final season in San Diego for 2016. Moreover, the Padres still retain enough intriguing players to enter a quick, Braves-style rebuild if they so choose. Basically, they sit in the same middle of the road that the Brewers have faced for the last few years, which Brewers fans know all too well as a paralyzing-and-almost-always-justifiable invitation to “win now” and seek that extended Wild Card playoff.

Padres Guaranteed Contracts / Final Arby              
2014-2015 Carlos Quentin Ian Kennedy Cameron Maybin Joaquin Benoit Corey Luebke Will Venable  
2015-2016 Matt Kemp Melvin Upton Jr. James Shields Craig Kimbrel Tyson Ross Andrew Cashner Jedd Gyorko

The Padres are perhaps one of the most extreme examples of a sudden “win now” campaign in recent MLB history, but their front office change provides valuable insights for Brewers fans. As much as one clamors for new GMs from time-to-time, fans may not always be ready for the ramifications of new eyes overlooking their beloved prospects. These “win now” and “rebuilding” wagers are also difficult to judge at times, for as much as one can say objectively that the Padres probably could have kept their most advanced prospects and been just as good in 2015, the club also arguably has a better core for “next year” than they did at this point in 2014 (and, as mentioned above, another chance to rebuild). Keep these wagers in mind when the Brewers hire their replacement for Doug Melvin: the next GM could win over ownership with an aggressive win-now campaign involving several prospects on the move, or they could continue with an austere / severe rebuild, or stand pat. There are more than two forks in the road between “winning now” and “rebuilding” when MLB teams swap executive talent.

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