When you head toward Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline, one type of transaction that gets made is a team out of contention for the playoffs will move a star or two in exchange for prospects who might help in the next season. Or the one after that. Or, well, you get the idea.
The kings of the stars-for-prospects trades are the San Diego Padres, who have tried this numerous times and usually without success. The question is, how do you get better by trading away your best players? The prospects are just that — unproven. Maybe one will work out. Maybe none will.
This year, the Padres traded All-Star closer Huston Street to the Angels for infielders Taylor Lindsey and Jose Rondon, and right-handed pitchers R.J. Alvarez and Elliot Morris. Minor leaguers all. Lindsey is rated highly but is batting just .274 with 30 RBI in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Rondon was batting .327, but in A ball. The Padres are already strong in pitching.
Street, meanwhile, had 24 saves in 25 chances and a 1.09 ERA. What are the odds of the production being equaled or exceeded by the four players the Padres received in return? High.
So, basically, you need Alvarez or Morris to become a consistent big-league closer and either Lindsey or Rondon to become a viable infielder for the parent club for this deal to be worth it.
Looking back on the three most recent times the Padres have pulled such a maneuver:
— they sent No. 1 starter Mat Latos to Cincinnati for pitcher Edison Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso and C Yasmani Grandal. Latos has a 30-12 record with the Reds and a 3.28 ERA. His numbers are actually better than with the Padres, when he threw in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The extremely frustrating Volquez was 20-21 as a Padre with a 4.96 ERA — in Petco. It doesn’t look Alonso would start on a contender, and Grandal was one of the players suspended for using performance-enhancing substances.
— they exchanged 1B Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for 1B Anthony Rizzo, P Casey Kelly and OF Reymond Fuentes, who was a September call-up last season and has spent 2014 shuttling between Double-A and Triple-A. Kelly has been sidelined with an arm injury for two years. Rizzo never took to Petco Park and was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for P Andrew Cashner, who is a developing young talent — though 2014 has been an injury-riddled disappointment. This trade was nearly four years ago and there has been hardly any payoff. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has maintained his star status.
— they moved another No. 1 starter, Jake Peavy, to the Chicago White Sox for four pitchers, Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell and Dexter Carter. Richard became a reliable mid-pack starter for several seasons but, remember, the man he was replacing was an ace. Poreda was supposed to be the high-end catch, but he just never developed. Russell was a pretty good reliever who was later shipped to the Rays for SS Jason Bartlett, who was a disaster in San Diego. Carter never made it out of Single-A.
Now look, the Padres — especially in those days — weren’t going to sign Gonzalez or Peavy. The money just wasn’t there. But the star-for-prospects record isn’t very good with this franchise. Even picking up veterans like Volquez and Bartlett didn’t pay off. The question is why go down this route yet again when it’s a proven failure? Especially when the Padres have a little more money lying around these days and Huston Street would not be a strain on the budget. It has to be maddening for Padres fans.
If your team is drifting, determine who your core players are and build around them. For the Padres, it’s Cashner, P Tyson Ross, P Joaquin Benoit, OF Seth Smith, and 2B Jedd Gyorko, because of the financial commitment in him. You can make a case for OF Chris Denorfia. Start getting rid of the dead weight, not the stars like Street.