Kemp Acquisition Nice First Step But Another Bat (At Least) Needed
The long-awaited and ultimately successful pursuit of Matt Kemp is easily the Friars biggest acquisition since perhaps the trade that brought Kevin Brown to San Diego over a decade-and-a-half ago. Needing bats in the worst way, freshman GM AJ Preller has demonstrated he isn’t afraid to push large amounts of the team’s limited chips into the pot to get the player or players he wants. After aggressively bidding on free agent sluggers Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas only to see them sign elsewhere, Preller wasn’t going to be outbid in his quest for Kemp. Now that he has secured his prized bat the Padres are certainly a better team but if they are in any way serious about making a move toward playoff contention, Preller needs to make at least one more deal for a slugger.
Aside from Kemp, no other Padres position player currently penciled into the lineup has a proven record of success with the stick (i.e. more than one year of above average performance ever or in recent memory). And while there is at least moderate hope for a better season from Jedd Gyorko, arguments can be posited that a regression is in store for both Seth Smith and Rene Rivera. That combined with sacrificing Yasmani Grandal in the deal to get Kemp, suggests the Padres offense is probably not much better on paper than it was unless you buy into the idea that Kemp’s presence alone will help some of the team’s other hitters. I’d rather not bet on the lineup improving drastically, one through eight, simply because the Friars finally nabbed a legitimate bat to hit in the middle. In my book, Preller can’t rest on this move alone; he needs to get back on the market and add at least one more potent hitter.
Rumors seem to suggest Preller is of a like mind in that regard as there is a belief the club is still engaged in talks to add Justin Upton from the Braves. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Padres fans and the team’s rivals might actually have to take the Friars offense seriously if they managed to pull off an Upton acquisition. The question is; just how likely is a trade for Upton or someone else of the same ilk.
Before we delve into that, let me be clear about one thing: If nothing else, Preller’s acquisition of Kemp is a positive one in that it shows he is willing to swim with the big boys in pursuit of expensive veteran talent and that this ownership group will put their money where their mouth is. So far this winter Preller has reportedly offered Sandoval a contract totaling somewhere around $100MM, the highest total offer made supposedly, and assumed $75MM in payroll with Kemp. Plus, it’s on good authority he isn’t done committing Ron Fowler and Co.’s money to add more veteran help. That’s a great sign whether or not his moves actually translate to success on the field.
Now, as for Upton, the Braves are targeting a return greater than the one they received in exchange for fellow OF Jason Heyward. In that trade, Atlanta picked up Shelby Miller, a young controllable arm who was once thought of as a future ace. Unless the Friars want to give up Tyson Ross for one year of Upton, I don’t see a match with the Braves to acquire the talented OF given Atlanta’s current asking price. It’s possible the team could bring in a third club that has that type of asset but three-team trades are complicated and rarely come to fruition (unless you are Detroit, Arizona and the NY Yankees).
Maybe Preller is able to convince his counterpart, John Hart, to take a package of players headlined by a couple of the Friars better young arms. Would a combination of Joe Ross and Burch Smith be enough to get Hart to return AJ’s calls? I have my reservations but stranger things have already happened this week.
If not Upton there aren’t a lot of other options out there. The Braves were thought to be listening on Evan Gattis as well but with four years of team control remaining, the Padres would seem to be in the same boat they are in with Upton in trade talks with Atlanta; without the right player or players to get the Braves to bite.
Yoenis Cespedes was already moved to Detroit. Jay Bruce could be available if you believe the Reds dealing both Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos is a sign they are punting on 2015 with an eye toward retooling on the fly as opposed to cashing in expiring assets.
The Red Sox could still be prompted to trade 1B Mike Napoli but they appear to have solved their need for mid-rotation help by adding Wade Miley and Justin Masterson as free agents, and by trading for Rick Porcello, making a hypothetical Kennedy-for-Napoli deal unlikely.
The Mariners and Orioles are also scouring the market hard looking for a bat. Competition will be fierce for any actually available.
Seattle was linked to White Sox OF/DH Dayan Viciedo and the Cuban slugger would appear to be available. Unfortunately, his best position is DH as evidenced by his -19 Defensive Runs Saved in the OF over the last few seasons. He cost the White Sox 2.4 wins by virtue of his “defense” last season alone.
On the free agent front, OF’s Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios both remain available. However Cabrera wants five years, which is steep for a guy with his history with PED’s. Rios hasn’t hit all that well the last few years. Maybe Preller, who has shown he is willing to gamble, rolls the dice and outbids everyone else for Cabrera.
With Kemp on board the Friars are a better team today, no question. However they still aren’t close to being good enough to challenge for a playoff berth. In order to further close that gap, they will need to add at least one more impact bat and that does not look to be an easy chore.