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Revitalizing San Diego’s Roster One Trade at a Time

January 9, 2012

Most of the talk so far this offseason has centered on the dramatic roster makeover that has been taking place in Oakland. While the moves the A’s have made are significant – and we’ll look at those moves another time – they aren’t the only organization who has been busy revamping their roster. The San Diego Padres are just one of those teams, having just completed their fourth significant trade of the offseason. Let’s take a look at all that’s been going on in Southern California.

Leading off, the Padres didn’t wait long to fill in the void left by departed free agent Heath Bell. The team sent minor league left-hander Nick Schmidt to the Colorado Rockies. In return, the Padres received closer Huston Street. Colorado also agreed to pick up $1 Million of the $8 Million owed to Street for 2012.

Street, 28, has recorded 178 saves over his seven year career with Oakland and Colorado. He’s added a 3.11 ERA, 9.1 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 in 436.1 career innings. In 2011, he went 1-4 with 29 saves and a 3.86 ERA but did spent some time on the DL with a sore triceps. He’ll have big shoes to fill in San Diego, replacing Bell, but should be able to step right into the role without much trouble. Street holds a $9 Million player option for 2013, or he could decline it after a solid season in order to reach free agency.

To continue their roster turnover, the team surprised many in mid-December by dealing their top starting pitcher, Mat Latos, to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for four players: right-handed pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger, first baseman Yonder Alonso, and catcher Yasmani Grandal.

Latos, who turned 24 about a week before the deal, is coming off a 2011 season in which he went 9-14 with a 3.47 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. He pitched a career high 194.1 innings. While the win/loss record appears disappointing, Latos did pitch fairly well but suffered from having one of the worst offenses in all of baseball behind him last season. He will slide right alongside Johnny Cueto atop the Reds’ rotation, giving the team a fairly solid duo leading their pitching staff.

Volquez has gone a combined 13-12 with a 5.01 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 5.4 BB/9 in 221.0 innings of work over the past three seasons. Injuries, a drug-related suspension, and general ineffectiveness that has led to stints in the minor leagues have really turned his career a different direction after a solid debut season with the Reds. The team had paid a high price for his potential, parting with Josh Hamilton in a trade with the Rangers, but Volquez has failed to live up to it since the start of the 2009 season. He will likely slide into San Diego’s rotation, though it remains unclear just what type of pitcher the Padres will be receiving. Volquez is the most experienced, though likely the least desired, of the four players heading to San Diego in this deal.

Boxberger split the 2011 season between Double-A and Triple-A, making 55 appearances totaling 62.0 innings. Combined on the year he posted a 2-4 record, 2.03 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, and he recorded 11 saves. It was just his second professional season and after moving so quickly through the Reds’ system the 23 year old has started to catch people’s attention. At the time of the deal there were numerous sources who described Boxberger’s potential to develop into a reliable closer, potentially one of the factors that interested the Padres considering they had just lost Bell to the Marlins a week or two before this deal was completed.

In 441 plate appearances, Grandal batted a combined .305/.401/.500 with 14 HR and 68 RBI in 2011. The 23 year old spent most of the season with either High-A or Double-A, capping things off with a brief 4 game cameo in Triple-A at the end. The 2010 Draft Pick has long been highly touted, but the Reds were able to deal from a position of strength to help this deal happen. With Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco under team control for a combined 8 more seasons, Grandal was essentially expendable to the Reds, but valuable to another organization.

Barring a phenomenal Spring Training with the Padres, I’d guess Boxberger sees a little more time at Triple-A at the start of the 2012 season. Street will enter the season in the closer’s role and it seems safe to assume that right-hander Luke Gregerson will return to the setup role he has filled so well the past few seasons. Andrew Cashner, who we’ll discuss shortly, could also potentially be an option to pitch the later innings. There’s no need to rush Boxberger. The team has other options and some additional time in the minor leagues could be beneficial.

Grandal will likely be at the level as well. Nick Hundley will likely earn the bulk of the starting at bats behind the plate and John Baker (who was acquired earlier this offseason in another trade, in which San Diego parted with left-hander Wade LeBlanc) is set to back him up. Grandal will be better served getting regular at bats, considering he’s only appeared in 4 games above Double-A. Time in Triple-A seems best for him.

A few weeks later, as the calendar year was set to turn, the team further addressed their offense. The Padres sent a pair of minor leaguers, right-hander Simon Castro and left-hander Pedro Hernandez, to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Carlos Quentin. Neither Castro or Hernandez appeared in any of the top prospect lists this winter, but Quentin will have an immediate impact in San Diego.

The right fielder is coming off a 2011 season in which he batted .254/.340/.499 with 24 HR and 77 RBI in 483 plate appearances. Quentin, 29, is originally from San Diego and will bring some much needed power production to the Padres lineup. He’s a serviceable, though not great, defensive right fielder and he’ll be a free agent after earning $7.5 Million during the 2012 season. There has been some initial speculation that the team could look to extend him before he reaches free agency, though it would seem wise to see how he performs at least to begin the season.

Now, I know he hasn’t been addressed yet but I didn’t forget about Alonso – the final piece of the Latos trade – so let’s get back to him for a moment.

Alonso was a 1st Round pick by the Reds in 2008 and has risen steadily through their farm system, three times being named to Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect lists (prior to the 2009-2011 seasons). He first made his MLB Debut during the 2010 season and to date has appeared in 69 games in the Majors. In 127 plate appearances he’s posted a .299/.354/.479 line with 5 HR and 18 RBI. He’s a true power threat who’s natural position if first base. With Joey Votto in the fold, first base was not an option for the Reds to play him so they’ve primarily been trying him if left field. With San Diego he’ll be able to move back to his best position.

Alonso’s impact on the Padres goes beyond simply adding him into the everyday lineup. He gave the organization the necessary depth at the position that it needed in order to be able to continue dealing from their strengths. With Alonso in the mix, suddenly the organization was able to shop Anthony Rizzo, their other top first base prospect.

Now, there has been plenty of speculation over the past few weeks regarding what the Padres should do with this sudden surplus – and ultimately which of the two first base prospects is the better choice long term. Rizzo’s on base abilities are being weighted against Alonso’s power production, and the discussion eventually becomes divided among most scouts and analysts.

Personally, I think Alonso will develop into the better overall player. He’s shown a strong and consistent ability to get on base, coming it at a .370 clip across 313 minor league games in his career. He has more power potential than Rizzo and better plate discipline (significantly fewer strikeouts, roughly the same number of walks – Rizzo has appeared in more games). Defensively I’d consider them relative equals. Rizzo I’ve seen in person once before, as I discussed when he was first acquired by the Padres, and he didn’t leave an overly impressive lasting impression on me, so I’m not truly surprised to see what the was the one traded.

Numerous teams were believed to have some interest in Rizzo – including the Rays, who’ve needed a young first baseman for quite some time – before San Diego agreed to deal him to the Cubs this past week. Rizzo, along with right-hander Zach Cates, will go to Chicago in exchange for Cashner (I told you we’d get back to him) and outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Both Cates and Na are non-prospects.

With Chicago, Rizzo instantly becomes the organization’s heir apparent at first base as they begin what appears to be a massive rebuilding phase. However, most accounts have him starting the 2012 season in Triple-A to gain some additional seasoning while the organization sees exactly what Bryan LaHair can offer with the bulk of the Major League at bats.

Cashner, however, has a live arm and a great deal of potential he has not yet lived up to. The 6’6” right-hander is a former 1st Round pick in 2008 (quite a few 1st Round picks being discussed throughout these deals, huh?). Cashner has 65.0 career innings in the Majors in 60 appearances, totaling a 2-6 record, 4.29 ERA, 8.0 K/9, and 4.7 BB/9.

Most of his minor league career was actually spent in the rotation, where his production has been solid, though not spectacular. He shown solid strikeout to walk tendencies, but failed to truly demonstrate an ability to pitch deep into games. The Cubs eventually moved him to the bullpen when they first called him up in 2010 and he seems destined to remain there. San Diego is expected to use him out of the bullpen in 2012. Cashner is the type of pitcher the Padres could develop into a solid piece and the organization does have a strong track record over the past few seasons.

OK, so where do the Padres stand after all of this? And more importantly, what’s it mean?

Gone are Latos, Schmidt, LeBlanc, Castro, Hernandez, Rizzo, and Cates.

Replacing them we have Street, Volquez, Grandal, Alonso, Boxberger, Cashner, Quentin, Baker, and Na.

San Diego added multiple late-game bullpen options in Street, Cashner, and Boxberger while replacing Latos in the rotation with Volquez. Quentin and Alonso provide a much needed boost to a troublesome offense and Grandal offers further depth after some time in the minors. Bottom line, things are starting to look up for the Padres. Or, at least they’re starting to head in the right direction.

First base, third base, behind the plate, and center field (presuming the team signs Cameron Maybin to an extension in the coming months, as expected) are fairly set for the next few years. Quentin and Street could both potentially leave via free agency after the 2012 season, though there are multiple options to replace Street from within if needed.

The organization’s biggest need seems to be in the middle infield. Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett are penciled into the lineup heading into the season, at second base and shortstop, respectively. Both players have also been on the trade block this winter, though neither has stirred up much discussion. Even if the Padres are able to move one or both of the veterans, there aren’t any prospects up the middle within the team’s system that are MLB-ready. The only true middle infield prospect the team has is second baseman Cory Spangenberg but he’s a long ways away from the Majors, having just been drafted last June, and is still highly unproven and untested.

The Padres have been busy this offseason and have quietly rebuilt their roster. It’s too early to call the process complete, but things are improving in San Diego. Don’t forget, the NL West has seen each of its five members reach the playoffs in recent years – meaning any of them could potentially win the division in 2012. We’ll know better in a few months how the sum of all of these moves will turn out. But the Padres are at least a better story to watch this coming season.

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