Right at the deadline, A.J. Preller managed to squeeze in one more major transaction before the dawn of the regular season. We can say that, now, the Padres’ 2014-2015 offseason is complete; we can say that, now, the Padres’ 2014-2015 offseason also includes Craig Kimbrel. He will, presumably, be available to the team for Opening Day. It’s a little different from the usual roster additions made around this time.
The whole of the deal:
- Craig Kimbrel
- Melvin Upton
For the Braves, it’s a totally understandable and justifiable move — not only do they get to shed the rest of the Upton contract, but Kimbrel meant relatively little to them as an elite-level closer on a basement-level team. The cost savings here are significant, and they can shortly be put toward assets that might be of greater help in the window in which the Braves plan to be good again. Also, Wisler! Wisler could be of help in said window.
For the Padres, it fits with a lot of the rest of the offseason. Kimbrel isn’t exactly a one-year player, since he could be under contract through 2018, but the team’s paying a high price again, borrowing from future talent and future flexibility to make the 2015 roster stronger. That goal has been met — without question, the Padres have taken another step forward. Now we all just get to find out whether this collection of talent can come together and push for something beyond a 162nd game.
Some have given credit to the respective general managers for pulling off this deal without any extra cash changing hands. It’s true that the only things being moved here are players and contracts, but really, cash is being exchanged, just in the form of some human people. Carlos Quentin is basically a cash swap. Melvin Upton is basically a cash swap. Here’s a simple table of salary commitments, with the parentheses showing buyouts of team options.
This is a complicated trade, with many parts, but there’s a lot you can do to simplify. Word is, the Braves are just going to DFA Quentin, so that’s $8 million. Upton and Maybin are similar players and similar disappointments, and while they obviously have different career profiles, they project about the same as backup center fielders. Maybin could’ve had a place on the Padres. Now Upton will, and that shouldn’t change much. Paroubeck? Toolsy, and very young, but, fringe prospect. The 41st pick is just a 41st pick. It’s worth, I don’t know, some millions. Not many of them.
The Braves are shedding just over $80 million in guaranteed future salary. The Padres, meanwhile, are shedding about $24 million in guaranteed future salary, meaning, in the end, the Braves save about $56 million, and the Padres add that much. Kimbrel has both potential performance-based bonuses and a club option, but we’ll stick with the guarantee for now. Here’s the simplification of this deal: the Padres are trading one of their top prospects, and a couple other minor things, for Craig Kimbrel on a three-year contract worth about $56 million. That doesn’t capture everything, but it gets to the heart of this.
And, you know, Kimbrel’s about as good as a reliever gets. Been that way for years. He’s right there with Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, and he’s worth a lot of money. But you can see how this is a steep investment. Consider that David Robertson isn’t that much worse than Kimbrel is. The White Sox signed him for four years and $46 million, and though they also surrendered a draft pick, that pick is actually even lower than the 41st pick the Padres are dealing. For more money and fewer years of Kimbrel, the Padres are also giving up Wisler and a throw-in. It’s…let’s say “bold”. I think that conveys all the right impressions.
There’s an additional variable here. Kimbrel would make any team better. He definitely makes the Padres better, and as you know, the Padres are around that part of the win curve where every additional win makes an extraordinary difference. They’ve built up, incredibly, to look pretty strong for 2015, and now they have a closer who won’t even give a weak team defense many opportunities to mess up. But, just the other day, I wrote up the top half of the relief-pitcher Positional Power Rankings. The Padres ranked tied for second. They already had a really good bullpen. Today, the Padres demoted both Brandon Maurer and Kevin Quackenbush, because their relief corps is that good and that deep. This wasn’t a trade that addressed a weakness, so, Kimbrel doesn’t make the same difference to San Diego as he might’ve somewhere else.
I guess we shouldn’t belabor that, though. Think of this as insurance against ordinary bullpen unpredictability. And while the obvious thing to do is to improve your weaknesses, there’s nothing inherently wrong with improving your strengths. The Padres’ bullpen, now, is even better. It’s even deeper, to protect against injury and under-performance. Not only do the Padres now have the best projected bullpen in baseball — it’s the best by a relatively wide margin, better even than the Royals’ bullpen. The Padres intend to be awful protective of any late leads.
There’s always risk. There’s risk with everybody, but with relievers, you just don’t know. Kimbrel throws hard, and he throws a lot of breaking balls. Just for fun, here are the top 10 relievers under 30 from 2011, by WAR:
- Craig Kimbrel
- Sean Marshall
- David Robertson
- Sergio Romo
- John Axford
- Joel Hanrahan
- Greg Holland
- Tyler Clippard
- Glen Perkins
- Jason Motte
Kimbrel’s still great, and Robertson’s still great, and Holland’s still great, and Clippard’s still great, and Perkins is still great. Not bad! Five out of 10. The other five aren’t great. Kimbrel isn’t showing signs of imminent decline. He’s as good a reliever bet as any. Just, even the safest reliever bets aren’t exactly safe bets. They’re high-risk, a lot like the 2015 San Diego Padres.
One last thing to note: it’ll be interesting to see how the Padres decide to use their position players. There’s an opportunity, now, for Wil Myers to split time with Melvin Upton in center, and to also split time with Yonder Alonso at first. That would put Myers in the extremely uncommon position of playing both first base and center field regularly — Nick Swisher is one of the only comps. But, maybe that won’t happen. And even if it does, it’s not like Myers is your ordinary center fielder. He’s a center fielder out of necessity, just as Swisher was before. Think of this as neat trivia.
The Atlanta end here is easy. They’re not going to be good real soon, so they might as well move their expensive closer, since he’s probably not going to appreciate in value. It’s really easy to focus on how including Upton brought down Kimbrel’s price tag, but that’s not an objective way to look at this — you could just as easily say that including Kimbrel brought up Upton’s price tag. If they were to be moved separately, Kimbrel might’ve brought back more, but then Upton would’ve required that the Braves include either money or talent. The end result would’ve been a very similar package. Both a burden and a blessing have been shed, at the same time, and beyond greater financial flexibility, the Braves get to add to their stable of prospects.
Kiley ranked Wisler at No. 41 in all of baseball. He was ranked by Baseball America at No. 34. Baseball Prospectus, No. 53. He’s 22 years old, and, here’s the Kiley excerpt:
To pitch at the Padres pre-draft workout in San Diego in 2011, Wisler flew to the west coast from Ohio and pitched the day after he threw in a high school playoff game, hitting 91 mph at PETCO Park. He’s shown the intangibles from day one, but came to camp in 2013 looking like a completely different pitcher. Wisler now works 91-94, touching 95 mph with sink and commands the pitch to both sides of the plate. His two-plane slider is plus, his changeup is above average at times and he also works in a fringy curveball. Scouts rave about his makeup and strike throwing abilities, though his command isn’t quite big league ready, as he ran into trouble in the hitter-friendly PCL leaving the ball up the zone. Some scouts think his build is too slight and that he won’t be able to hold up for 200 innings, with a couple suggesting he may end up as a late-inning reliever. The consensus is that he should be able to handle 180 innings as a third or fourth starter and he’ll get a big league look in 2015, though the Padres new starting pitching depth may delay that until late in the season.
Wisler is no automatic prospect — no prospect ought to be considered automatic — and he did just post a Triple-A ERA a hair north of 5. But the upside is big, and the talent is big, and this is just another case of the Braves prioritizing a highly-talented young pitching prospect. It’s a risky franchise-building strategy, because position players are considered to be safer, but the Braves have collected such an assortment now that it would be extremely unfortunate for everyone to bust. It’s apparent that, a few years from now, the Braves are really going to be able to pitch. We’ll see about the rest, but, that’s where the money might come in.
Paroubeck? He’s a long-term project. So, presumably, will be the No. 41 draft pick. Those are both minor assets, although they’re not nothing assets. Wisler, obviously, is the prize. In second place: all the new financial freedom. It doesn’t help to spend that money on guys like Nick Markakis, but that’ll only really be a problem if it develops into a pattern.
The Braves are embracing their lousy projections, and they’ve made a move that makes sense. The Padres are putting even more pressure on the short-term, depleting future resources for the sake of making 2015 a success. If nothing else, 2015 for San Diego will be of extremely high interest, and the team projects to be similar to the Pirates and Cubs. Even if they aren’t quite as good as the Dodgers, the Padres are positioned to stay alive in wild-card contention, and that’s most certainly something. And if it all comes apart? If it turns out the pieces don’t fit together? Then it’ll be on A.J. Preller to swap shorter-term value for longer-term value. All he’s proven so far is he can do the opposite, but then, I’m sure he’d like to keep it that way.
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