Padres Continue To Be Weird, Extend Seth Smith

Over the last couple of years, the Padres have done some weird things. Despite being a lower revenue club, they spent a decent amount of money to have Huston Street close games, and then spent a decent amount more money to have Joaquin Benoit pitch in front of Huston Street. Instead of either extending or trading Chase Headley, they’ve done neither, and are now primed to either sell when his value is lowest or just let him leave as a free agent. They acquired and then extended Carlos Quentin, despite his health problems and their inability to offer him a designated hitter role.

All the way through, it has appeared as if the team couldn’t decide whether they were building for the future or trying to win now. They planted one foot firmly in both camps and ended up going nowhere, which is why they just fired Josh Byrnes and are looking for a new GM to provide direction to a franchise that has been swimming upstream for a while now.

Generally, firing your GM mid-season is a pretty good sign that you’re not a contender. And the Padres certainly are not. Despite having acting-GMs in place, they have a large for sale sign in the yard, and will likely be one of the more active sellers in July. But despite all this, the Padres are apparently not done being weird.

Today, the Padres signed Seth Smith to a two year, $13 million contract extension, and it’s very likely that Smith was also promised that he would not be traded over the next month if he signed the contract. Had he not agreed to the deal, he almost certainly would have been traded, as he was headed for free agency at the end of the season, but it seems that the Padres prefer to keep him rather than move him for younger talent.

But it is basically incomprehensible to think that Seth Smith’s value will ever be higher than it is right now. He’s in the midst of the best season of his career, posting a 155 wRC+ that dwarfs the 113 mark he’s posted over the entirety of his career. Coming into this season, Smith had 2,300 career plate appearances and a 108 wRC+, which is fine but nothing special. He’s basically a platoon guy who doesn’t offer a ton of defensive value, so even with his strong recent performance, he projects as roughly an average player going forward.

In a vacuum, signing an average player for $6 million a year would be a nifty little move. He almost certainly would have gotten more than that as a free agent this winter, and so Smith took a discount to stay in San Diego. This contract isn’t going to be any kind of financial hardship on the Padres, and he’ll likely outperform the deal even if he regresses back towards his career norms.

But the Padres are not a good team, and they’re not going to be a good team by the team Seth Smith is done being a productive big league player. Their horizon for contention needs to be measured in years, not months, and while keeping Smith around will make a bad team less bad, it won’t make them good. The salary is low enough that the contract won’t be a problem, but there’s an opportunity cost involved with not trading Smith that a rebuilding team shouldn’t be looking to pay.

Sure, Smith wasn’t going to bring back a top prospect. Teams will see the career numbers and limited upside just as we can, and their offers would have reflected that. But rebuilding teams need to throw as many darts as they can, because once in a while, trading away a few months of a decent but unspectacular rent-a-veteran gets you Jake Arrieta in return. Whatever prospect Smith would have brought back in return would have been likely to fail, but you get enough of these likely-to-fail prospects and one or two of them will make it. And when they do, now you have a nice young core player to build around.

Passing on one of those lottery tickets won’t kill the Padres, and hey, maybe they’ll just end up keeping Smith for another year and flipping him for a similar lottery ticket next year. After all, it’s unlikely that he got full no-trade protection for the length of the deal, and the new GM might well feel okay with trading him in 12 months without feeling like the organization is breaking any promises. There are enough possible ways for this to work out for San Diego that this isn’t any kind of disaster.

But it’s just weird. A rebuilding team without a GM extending an aging, limited player over a timeline in which they won’t win anyway doesn’t really fit the idea that the Padres do understand that they need a new direction. Hopefully, for their sake, the new General Manager is given enough free reign to make the kinds of decisions that will push the Padres forward eventually. Keeping the status quo of making lateral moves just isn’t going to lead the team to the promised land.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

89 Responses to “Padres Continue To Be Weird, Extend Seth Smith”

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  1. Adam says:

    Don’t forget drafting Johnny Manziel

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  2. mike wants wins says:

    In general, I agree……but at some point, what do you say to ticket buyers? Keep buying for 3 years while we don’t even try to win a game? I love the Astros honesty, and tear down, but is SD in that spot? I have no idea what the real right answer is, but I don’t think it is always as simple as “don’t even try to win for 3 years, and hope people keep coming to the park anyway”.

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    • Josh says:

      I don’t disagree, but its Seth Smith. Hes not bringing anyone to the ballpark and is going to be worth about 3 wins at his peak. That’s not moving the needle at all.

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      • Richie says:

        Every extra win is worth something at next year’s ticket office. Yeah the contention driving wins are much more valuable. But the 69th and 70th wins will also bring a few more fans back next season or later in this one. They’re not valueless.

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        • David says:

          This team isn’t good enough to bring casual fans back to the ballpark, and the ongoing desire by Mike Dee and Ron Fowler to prove that they’re “committed to winning” by making stupid decisions is only going to alienate the few people who are still paying attention to this fetid turd of an organization.

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        • arc says:

          Is that true? I don’t see why that would necessarily be the case.

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        • nilbog44 says:

          yeah. “Hey you guys wanna catch a padres game?” “Nah. they only won 68 games last year. If they would’ve won 70 then I would want to go.”

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    • Richie says:

      Yup, this. Having kicked the tires on this summer’s market for Seth, they’ve decided to instead keep him at a reasonable price. Decent chance that at this time next year he’ll be willing to go to a contender.

      I’m also less pessimistic than Dave as to the Pods’ chances next year. So many guys having anti-career years this season. If they have as much good luck next year as they’ve had bad this one, yeah they’ll be in contention. No I don’t think that’ll happen. Just a better wager, factoring in they do have to sell tickets this winter and would prefer to have their current young players not developing in a ‘trade bait only’ environment, than exchanging Smith for a lottery ticket.

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      • jdbolick says:

        I also reached the assumption that they asked around and found nothing more than third tier or failed prospects on offer for Smith. That may or may not be accurate, but it rings true.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          With no hitters on the market this trade deadline, that seems basically impossible. Even if it’s less than they think they should receive in a trade, it’s probably still more value than what they’re getting from Smith.

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      • David says:

        Today is July the 3rd. It’s a bit early for the Padres to reach the conclusion that they will be unable to trade Smith for anything of value.

        Then again 2/13 isn’t going to hurt his trade value either. The bigger deal would be if they truly did promise to not trade him.

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        • Jolly Good Show says:

          Good point, unless potential buyers are asking for an extension before they trade for him a la Dickey, but Smith is probably not worth it.

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  3. Burton Cummings says:

    This article is just as weird as the Padres.

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  4. dave in gb says:

    Kind of reminds me of the Orioles moves between ’02-’07. Then Andy McPhail came in and flipped veterans for some of the players they have now. It took 4 or 5 years to develop into a winning team, but at least it layed a foundation.

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  5. Ruben Amaro Jr. says:

    Looks like a good deal to me, Dave.

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  6. jc4455 says:

    I think they take into a consideration “whether a guy can play here” and all that entails (whatever that is). This leads to decisions that are inconsistent with what a rational, context-neutral observer might expect.

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  7. Kifah Foutah says:

    Excellent way to start off the new regime.

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    • ttnorm says:

      Strange that they couldn’t wait until the new regime was on board. Wonder if this turns off any applicants?

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      • David says:

        You mean the ones who haven’t already recused themselves from the process after talking to Mike Dee and Ron Fowler?

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      • Larry says:

        It’s a minor move. Smith was supposed to be the replacement for Mark Kotsay, but has turned into a respectable replacement for Carlos Quentin for the 80+ games Carlos misses every year. Carlos is signed for next year, with an option for 2016. Smith can cover for him the next two years, or take over until a couple of promising outfielders (Renfroe and Liriano) are ready.

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      • Baltar says:

        My thoughts exactly. The Padres have just built a 2-year delay into their rebuild. The job has just been made more difficult for the next GM.

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  8. Jack McKeon says:

    All fair criticisms, but this Padre team is hitting .214 (wRC+ of 73), which means they’d improve if they had 9 Danny Espinosas or 9 Clint Barmeses. The offense is completely unwatchable, unless you’re the world’s biggest Tim Lincecum fan. It’s one thing to say they should focus on a more distant future, but at least having a Seth Smith (projectable as average) in the lineup, that might help keep Padre fans from thrusting hot pokers into their eyeballs until the ship is righted, or at least a little more vertical.

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    • James says:

      Sorry, too late for that Jack. I quit watching like 5 years ago yet have mini season ticket package thanks to my son who wanted to go to games with me, Why? Good question but I think it has to do with the fact we are insomniacs and go to the games to sleep. This is weird but only thing I can think of is that more moves to be made where they’ll release Venable, maybe trade Quentin if he accepts. Smith has had a good first half, best on the team, but weird in that with all the moving parts in the organization, this is what you do? Weird.

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  9. King Buzzo's Fro says:

    Better to be weird than stupid?

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  10. vivalajeter says:

    Assuming they could not have received anything decent for him, I don’t think it’s that bad of an idea to keep him around. He’s on pace for about 4 wins this year, he has a career high walk rate, a much better K rate than he displayed with the A’s, and an ISO in line with his best years in coors field.

    If he regresses to the ~1.5WAR/150 games player he was in the past, no big loss. It’s a reasonable contract, and he’s not blocking an elite prospect (that I know of, anyway). If his improvement is real, he doesn’t fall off of a cliff in the second half and performs well in the first half next year, then they can flip him for a much better return than they could get right now.

    It seems like the biggest downside is not giving him up for a prospect that most likely won’t make the major leagues. That’s not a big downside to me.

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  11. JP says:

    Just like you sometimes throw darts and get an Arrieta, sometimes your Seth Smith turns into a Raul Ibanez. He’s a 2.4 oWAR player at age 31, just like Smith. We don’t know the trade market for Smith, all we know is they got an average player at a decent price, with an option to trade him next year when the market might be better and the lottery ticket that he is a really late bloomer.

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  12. snapper says:

    Smith had Lasik surgery late last year, and since then he’s been on an absolute tear.

    I think there’s reason to believe the improvement is real/

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  13. isavage30 says:

    Fangraphs almost always disses signings/extensions of non-elite players from perceived non-contenders, even when the signings are at below-market rates, and I don’t really get why. It’s unlikely anyone’s going to give you much for Seth Smith, a lottery ticket, as Dave says. It’s also quite likely that they have gauged the trade market for Smith before extending him. I’ve seen similar articles in the past. In Fangraphs’ view, signing Freddie Freeman to 8/135 isn’t too crazy, but the Padres spending $13 million on Seth Smith is weird, and the Indians extending Brantley to 4/25 with an $11 million team option is weird, because why bother? I think pretty much any time you can get a decent player at a below market rate, you should take it. You never know when a bunch of your players will have great years and you’ll contend, like Cleveland in 2013, the Brewers this year. Even the Marlins spent a good portion of this year looking like a contender.

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    • Eric Feczko says:

      From the article:

      “Passing on one of those lottery tickets won’t kill the Padres, and hey, maybe they’ll just end up keeping Smith for another year and flipping him for a similar lottery ticket next year. After all, it’s unlikely that he got full no-trade protection for the length of the deal, and the new GM might well feel okay with trading him in 12 months without feeling like the organization is breaking any promises. There are enough possible ways for this to work out for San Diego that this isn’t any kind of disaster.”

      “In a vacuum, signing an average player for $6 million a year would be a nifty little move. He almost certainly would have gotten more than that as a free agent this winter, and so Smith took a discount to stay in San Diego. This contract isn’t going to be any kind of financial hardship on the Padres, and he’ll likely outperform the deal even if he regresses back towards his career norms. ”

      I didn’t read the article as “dissing” the move. I read it as unusual for a padres team to commit to such a signing. As other posters have pointed out, maybe no one offered even a lottery ticket for seth smith, making the 2-year extension more valuable than a trade. Such a situation would still be odd, however.

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      • isavage30 says:

        I already read all of those words in the article. I still think it’s totally normal for a team to “commit” to signing a guy for 2 years at a pay rate that’s $6 million over league minimum, when the guy doesn’t suck, no matter the current circumstance of the team.

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    • TKDC says:

      Yeah, the main point to me is the one you make regarding the 2013 Indians and 2014 Brewers. I also remember a Fangraph’s article about how it is a bad idea to lose on purpose. Who wrote that one?

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  14. Jolly Good Show says:

    Personally, I quite like the move. Since they moved in the fences, LHB have a major advantage playing at home. Jeff Zimmerman’s HURT report shows that Venable has been likely injured for all of the season so far. I would think that he would be a likely bounce back next year, if they can get him healthy again. The two of them at Petco could really improve their home record perhaps.

    Perhaps the Padres should load up on other LHB in their line up, and some Left handed starters (not Stults obviously) to prevent opponents using the same trick, to take advantage of the park factors.

    At the end of the day, if the park makes LHB look good, even at Petco, surely there must be another GM daft enough to think that Smith is worth trading for (“Look! he even hits at Petco, he must be good”) A year and a half, or two years of such data should be more convincing of potential trading partners than only half a season.

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  15. SlickRick says:

    Yeah, I think the article kind of answers itself when DC sys Seth Smith isn’t going to return the Pads very much…. Well weighing that reality against finally finding a player who can hit at Petco and getting him for a reasonable deal and the idea that once in several years a lottery ticket turns into Jake Arietta seems like a weak argument to deal Smith away now, IMO.

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    • Larry says:

      With all the fire sale talk and “several years to contend” pronouncements, the signing of a guy considered a trade chip sends a message that the owners won’t tolerate a tear-down/rebuild period. The team has one of the best bullpens and a good starting staff that has the makings of becoming exceptional.

      If the owners want to spend money, there could be hitters available, either in trade or free agency. It’s a lot easier to pick up some bats than rebuild a starter/bullpen core that’s already very competitive. The problem with a lot of analysis is the assumption that the O’Malley/Seidler majority owners group doesn’t have the money to invest in the team. John Moores’ and Jeff Moorad’s penny pinching over the years, with the “small market” mantra as an excuse, may not be the current ownership situation.

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  16. bh192012 says:

    If Smith is one of the very few that can hit on that team, it means he’s one of the few with a good approach or working knowledge about opponents. You need to have position players who can hit to teach, not just one or two old players from back in the 90′s as hitting coaches.

    I’m not just talking about “veteran presence” either. I mean, the dude can tell others what works, not just be a role model.

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  17. Dave P says:

    I disagree with Dave C on this one. The Padres don’t have any OF prospects that will contribute to the bigs next season. They will probably trade Denorfia and move on from Quentin. The Padres would have paid more than $6.5 million for a decent LF next year. Marlon Byrd at 37 got 2yrs $16M. While it is gutsy for the Astros to tear the team down to the foundation, as a season ticket holder, I am glad the Padres are not choosing to follow suit.

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  18. randplaty says:

    Yeah I agree with you guys and disagree with Cameron. You can still trade Smith. If not this year, in the offseason. If not in the offseason, at the trade deadline next year. You can still get your lottery ticket and perhaps more.

    So the entire article’s premise, that you need to keep Smith for two years, is wrong.

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    • Catoblepas says:

      The point is also that he probably isn’t actually this good, and by waiting to trade him you’re giving him time to regress down to the below-league-average he most likely is and thereby losing out on trade value.

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      • randplaty says:

        I don’t think other GMs are that dumb.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          No, but other GMs are more in need of performance over the next 4 months than the Padres are, and will therefore care less about the coming regression.

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        • randplaty says:

          Regression doesn’t work that way. If he’s hitting wRC+ 155 right now, that doesn’t mean that next month he’ll be at 140, then 130, then 120.

          If you think his true skill level is 100, then that’s what you estimate he’ll hit at the next 4 months. GMs know this.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          Right, but there’s a better chance of sustaining this level for ~4 months than for 2 years.

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        • randplaty says:

          is there really?

          Other than age (and that’s not regression), I don’t see why the next 4 months will necessarily be better than the next 2 years.

          Both Steamer and ZIPs have him as a wRC+ 120 type player. His defense isn’t that good, but that’s still a needed player in the lineup. Getting a player like that for a below market contract will always have trade value.

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  19. Dave says:

    Dave’s logic here:

    “Bad” teams should not look to improve.

    Meanwhile “bad” teams like the royals and Mariners are competing for playoff spots right now… who’s to say that can’t be the padres next year?

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  20. Ben says:

    Plus, if Smith hits well again next year, his value would be even greater than it is now for the 2015 deadline since A) his performance is backed up by a larger sample size and B) he has a team friendly extra year of control. Looks to me to be more of a belief in the player and taking a chance on a team friendly deal, which small market teams like the Padres need.

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    • filihok says:

      I have to agree with this.

      Of all the ‘best shape of his life’ possibilities, Lasik surgery is the one that seems like it might have some weight behind it.

      Signing Smith for below market with a chance to have him build value for another season or season and a half isn’t a bad idea.

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      • Ben says:

        Or, he could pull a Nate Schierholtz, and lose pretty much all of his value. Nate was only 29 last season as well, so the thought he could improve seemed likely.

        Plus, even if Smith stays level, or improves, the market could be far worse next year. There may be more OF available, which drives prices down.

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        • Jolly Good Show says:

          Schierholtz has appeared on Jeff Zimmerman’s HURT report this season, although not the most recent one. Perhaps he is playing through injury.

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  21. Ryan says:

    The Padres locked up a decent player at a good price, even considering their placement on the win curve. I don’t get why people seem to think that non-contenders shouldn’t try to improve.

    Baseball isn’t all about prospects and the future. Winning Major League games counts. For every team.

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    • SlickRick says:

      You have to realize that this is a prospect fanatic website. Once you accept that, a lot of the analysis follows.

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      • Craig Kline says:

        It’s a value-obsessed website, big difference.

        The most cliched form of over-paying pro-athletes is not at the top of the talent pool, but rather in the middle- with veterans who get paid for peak production/career highs during the midst of a career with substantially lower baselines.

        Seth Smith is very likely one such player. The fact that he wasn’t over-paid relative to league average is great for the Padres, but mostly for purposes of trade value. If Smith were willing to sign a similar deal elsewhere, or to be traded with his current deal, it would be much better to cash him in, allowing some other club to pay the premium on the gamble of whether his eye surgery enhanced his true ability. Improved eye-sight has been a concept within the game long enough for the career-curves to take such incidents into account, and the safe money is on Smith regressing to his “average player” status.

        A team like the Padres that has a serious dearth of talent at nearly every spot in the starting lineup can’t afford to pass up the opportunity cost of 1) acquiring mid-tier prospects; and 2) opening up that starting OF spot for ‘the next Seth Smith’ on a cheaper contract. Fans who think the Padres have a chance to seriously compete within the next few years are hoping on very slim odds, especially since the those hopes are based on easily injured arms, and none with true Ace talent. Aiming to be the Mariners is aiming far too low.

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        • Larry says:

          I think your “serious dearth of talent at every position” is a serious dearth of analysis. When you have a half dozen regulars and sub hitting well below their career norms at the same time, you have a pathetic offense, but not a lack of talent. With that many players underperforming, several with nagging injuries, regression to the mean is your friend. Like the guy who was turned into a newt, the injured can get better, and their return to career norms, combined with a contender quality pitching staff, can surprise people.

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        • randplaty says:

          You won’t acquire mid-tier prospects for Smith. Smith is not getting paid for peak production or career highs. His contract is value EVEN FOR an average player. They’re getting an average player at below average player $$. That’s value.

          You should still try to improve the team even if they aren’t able to “seriously compete”. There are plenty of articles on this site that show that its better to improve a team rather than complete tear down and rebuild unless you’re a 100 game loser.

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  22. MK says:

    Perhaps we’re discounting the discord in the Padres front office. Firing a principal in the organization could severely disrupt organizational business processes (Especially if other employees departed at the same time). Are we sure the Padres are capable of identifying talented prospects and executing a trade given the current situation? If the Padres are not confident that they could made an upside deal then the Seth Smith deal may be their best option.

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    • Larry says:

      They just let go the second of the two main Moorad era holdovers in Josh Byrnes. The other was Tom Garfinkel, who left in July of last year. The front office is what the majority owners want it to be, they’re just making changes slowly and deliberately.

      The majority owners, BTW, are not Ron Fowler and the left-over partners from the Moorad group. It’s primarily Peter O’Malley’s sons and nephews, plus some other financial backers that haven’t been announced. They didn’t buy in to run a shoestring operation, and they likely know a mid-market team like the Padres, properly managed, can support a competitive team with bigger payrolls.

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  23. Ted Brogan says:

    I expect this sort of vitriol from a Mariners fan, the Padres’ most hated AL team. This will only serve to continue the great feud between Seattle and San Diego, that all started when Seattle aided the diabolical Crab People during the Kindling Wars of Aught Fifty Seven.

    Also, our Lemon Tree is better than your Turnip Patch.

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  24. bookbook says:

    Given the generally poor track record of total rebuilds, I’m fine with this move.

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  25. baycommuter says:

    Why is this weird? Smith is a good professional lefty hitter, easily still a starter on the A’s except they have Jaso who has a similar hitting profile and can also catch. The Padres are one of the worst hitting teams in the history of baseball. They can’t tear the thing down any further and give their pitchers no run support forever, it’s bad for the pitchers as well as discouraging the fans.
    The idea that the only thing sub-.500 teams should care about is the expected chance of winning a world championship in X number of years ignores the reality that teams need to put a decent team on the field for their fans every year or lose their support for a long time (look at what the Marlins did to themselves last year).

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  26. Matt says:

    Interesting because Dave has made the exact opposite argument about rebuilding teams several times in the past, which I agree with.

    The A’s didn’t get good by trading everything of value for a lottery ticket and eschewing average-ish veterans. In fact, going into 2012 they hung onto guys like Crisp, McCarthy, and Balfour, traded the young, flashier guys for huge packages, and supplemented with undervalued veterans Colon, Gomes, Smith, and Inge.

    It’s easy to forget how dire things looked in the 2011 offseason for the A’s. The consensus was that they were bottom 5 in MLB and minor league talent at the time. “Why would they sign an average player to a two year deal” (Crisp) could easily have been applied to them at the time.

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    • Craig Kline says:

      The A’s have an extreme history with innovative PED use, and with guys like Colon and Kazmir, it’s hard to overlook the possibility that they are up to their old tricks. Every club does it, but some clubs have a history of being leaders in the field of banned substances.

      I don’t think the As model is all that successful nor that clean, as most of their analytics consists of Hollywood fables. In either case, I don’t think their model is all that repeatable, unless Balco set up HQ in San Diego.

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      • Forrest Gumption says:

        When did Kazmir’s name get attached to PED use? He did this thing called “learning to be a pitcher, not a thrower”. His FIP in Cleveland last year was a clear sign he’d dominate with a good defense behind him, like the A’s have.

        Bartolo is old, and as men get older their T level decreases. He took some to replace the old, and still had the worst body in MLB.

        You are absolutely clueless.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      A’s had to sign Crisp simply due to no CF’s in the system that were anywhere near ready.

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  27. elgato7664 says:

    wRC relative to team total (overall wRC rank)

    20.3% Seth Smith (45)
    20.3% Giancarlo Stanton (3)
    20.0% Anthony Rizzo (12)
    19.6% Paul Goldschmidt (7)
    19.4% Freddie Freeman (8)
    18.2% Mike Trout (2)
    18.1% Andrew McCutchen (5)
    17.7% Todd Frazier (17)
    16.7% Troy Tulowitzki (1)
    16.6% Kyle Seager (24)

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    • Craig Kline says:

      That list simply demonstrates that the Padres are bad enough that they don’t have much need of players who project to provide nearly all their excess value within the next 2 and a half seasons.

      The star talents on the list are needed because they are star talents, whereas Smith has demonstrated more fully that he has a lower career baseline.

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  28. Forrest Gumption says:

    SD also signed Mark Kotsay and Chris Denorfia to multi-year deals, when they were never going to contend.

    They love fringe-y non-star outfielders. They are never going to contend like that.

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