The Padres acquired Carlos Quentin over the weekend by sending prospects Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez to the can-anyone-tell-if-they-are-actually-rebuilding White Sox. At first glance, the move doesn’t make much sense for the Padres. Quentin’s attributes may not translate to the spacious PETCO Park and he is about to enter his final year under team control. Further, the Padres aren’t really in a position to contend in 2012, where a slugging corner outfielder could be the difference in a tight race.
Even if they were, this deal is worth scrutinizing because Quentin is a tough player to peg. He can hit, but plays the field about as bad as a corner outfielder can. His home run totals can partly thank the friendly dimensions of US Cellular Field — fifth-highest park factor for homers in 2011 — whereas dingers are suppressed in his new digs. And given his contractual status, the Padres aren’t even going to get a great deal out of this, as Quentin will likely cost around $8 million before being able to file for free agency.
However, trades like this are always interesting to discuss because they shed light on an element of transaction theory. Mainly, they elicit questions about why a team in the Padres situation would even bother acquiring Quentin. Before delving into their mindset, though, let’s take a closer look at Quentin himself.
Quentin is, without question, a talented hitter with a good eye and plus-power. Even after granting that his 2008 campaign was somewhat fluky — he hasn’t come close to that power output since, and his walk rate tailed off as well — his plate production over the past three years has been solid. In over 1,400 plate appearances since 2009, Quentin has a .245/.336/.479 line and a .354 wOBA that ranks 30th out of the 98 qualifying American League hitters. His 71 home runs ranks 15th among that same group and his slugging percentage ranks in the top 25 as well. How that translates to PETCO Park remains to be seen, but expecting 30+ homers is unrealistic.
His walk rate doesn’t measure up to his reputation, placing him in the lower half of the qualifying list, and his OBP is likely further inflated — even at just .336 over the last three years — by his propensity to get hit by pitches. It’s unclear whether that is a legitimately sustainable skill, but Quentin’s 58 HBPs since 2009 clearly leads the junior circuit; Kevin Youkilis ranks second at 40, a full 18 beanings behind. Quentin may sustain his HBP totals by virtue of his batting stance but it’s far less indicative of his patience or eye than if his OBP was more contingent on his ability to draw walks.
Despite his decent rankings on the offensive leaderboards, Quentin has tallied a measly 2.1 WAR since 2009, which ranks 90th out of the 98 qualifying AL players. The major reason is his horrific fielding. His -38.1 UZR is by far the worst in the league. That calculates out to an average of -13 runs per year at one of the easiest-to-field positions. Those marks also came in a smaller park — roaming left field in PETCO will prove to be a much tougher task than in US Cellular.
The other contributing factor to his low WAR output is time on the field. He played just 348 of a possible 486 games over the last three seasons and has never played more than 131 games in a single season. Overall, Quentin is a very odd player. He hits home runs but isn’t prolific in that area. He is reputed to have a good eye but has a lower OBP driven a great deal by HBPs. He’s a terrible defender that can’t stay on the field for a full season, and he won’t come necessarily cheap this year.
The Padres will pay around $8 million for his services in addition to the value of Castro and Hernandez. While those two aren’t considered to have much upside, Quentin produced -0.5 WAR in 2009 and defined the replacement level in 2010. Only last season, when his UZR improbably improved, did he produce positively, and it’s hard to imagine a positive UZR from him in PETCO. But the Padres may not have made this move specifically for their own well-being this coming season. It’s entirely possible that Josh Byrnes and company are hedging their bets here, hoping to turn two mediocre prospects into Quentin, who in turn can be flipped for a better package at the trade deadline.
Acquiring Quentin for half of a season and $4 million might make sense for several playoff contenders. In that regard, the Padres may have agreed to this trade given its sheer lack of risk. If Quentin stinks, then they pay him his $8 million and he signs elsewhere as a free agent. If he performs well, they could attempt to work out a team-friendly extension, or trade him to an interested party at the deadline.
Then again, as the David DeJesus situation showed us last year, this type of “domain name squatting” could come back to bite a team. Since Quentin has struggled to stay healthy, the worst possible situation would involve mediocre production from him that fails to inspire anyone, and a season-ending injury that comes before they could eke anything out of another team.
The Padres will monitor the situation closely, and it will be interesting to see how they handle a player who, on the surface, doesn’t seem to fit anything they’re doing.