Stars For Prospects No Way to Build

The Padres trade of All-Star pitcher Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox for minor league hurler Anderson Espinoza is no way to build a ball club for long-term success, something San Diego’s major league baseball franchise has proven over and over again.

That is, trading away established big league talent for minor league prospects. The Padres only one week earlier moved All-Star closer Fernando Rodney to the Marlins for a minor leaguer. So Rodney is getting old, and maybe Espinoza fulfills his hype and becomes a star pitcher for the Padres for years to come.

It’s just that history is against them. The formula has been used before and usually with poor results.

The biggest examples are Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.

Not long after Peavy’s Cy Young season, he was traded to the White Sox for four minor league pitchers, a few of whom were highly touted. The most hype was on Aaron Poreda, who managed four outings for the Padres, 26 in all in the big leagues. Adam Russell was an okay reliever over two seasons with the team. Dexter Carter never got above A ball.

The best of the bunch was lefty starter Clayton Richard, who compiled a 40-39 record and 4.16 ERA for the Padres over five seasons. He’s still in the bigs, for the Cubs, and was pretty decent for San Diego. Peavy, by comparison, was a number one starter in the rotation. It’s hard to find a legit top-of-the-rotation guy, and you don’t get better by trading him.

Gonzalez, one of the most consistent sluggers in the majors and a slick first baseman, was sent to the Red Sox for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, pitcher Casey Kelly and outfielders Reymond Fuentes and Eric Patterson. Rizzo immediately got psyched-out by pitcher-friendly Petco Park and couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag. He was flipped to the Cubs for pitcher Andrew Cashner, who has never reached his potential. Kelly and Fuentes, by the way, are bouncing between the majors and minors of their new teams, last I saw.

While those aren’t the only examples, those are my favorites to cite. Fact is, you can’t say for sure how minor league players will perform in the bigs. All of the guys the Padres picked up in those trades had potential. Hell, if stars for minor league prospects worked, the Padres would have won the World Series several times over by now.

Here’s what did work. In 1993, the Marlins traded reliever Trevor Hoffman to the Padres. He’d already entered 28 games in Miami that year. He’d made the majors and shown he could play. The Padres gave up a star in outfielder Gary Sheffield, but they also got a legit big leaguer back. Hoffman will enter Cooperstown one day.

After the 1994 season, the Padres and Astros swapped a dozen players. The Padres got third baseman Ken Caminiti, who would become the National League Most Valuable Player two years later, and steady center fielder Steve Finley. Cammy was already an eight-year veteran at the time of the trade, while Finley had been in the league for six years. Neither had set the world on fire, but they were established and blossomed into San Diego, which won the NL West twice and made the World Series once with them in the fold.

After the Pomeranz trade, I took my frustration to the Reddit baseball message board and asked the knowledgeable fans there of any star for prospects exchanges that had worked. In the short time following my post, the only convincing responses I saw were the Rangers acquiring shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitcher Neftali Perez, who subsequently helped Texas to two World Series appearances, and the Mets giving up R.A. Dickey for Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’arnaud.

Most of the other responses dealt with guys already in the big leagues at the time or said I was silly thinking the Padres would be competitive. Or that Pomeranz would regress in Fenway Park, which is a real danger.

This time of year is never easy, as displayed by fictional general manager Eric Bland in my humorous short story, THE TRADING DEADLINE. The Padres have many more moves to make, such as unloading RF Matt Kemp and C Derek Norris. Maybe a team will take on the hefty contract of LF Melvin Upton Jr. Those are trades I can see, even for unproven minor leaguers. Pomeranz was a young All-Star, though. You don’t improve by shipping such nuggets away for players who may, or may not, be future contributors to your team.


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