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Revisiting the Gerut Deal

When the Jody Gerut trade was announced last week, I noted my confusion over the Padres essentially giving away one of their better players. One of the great things about transactions involving San Diego, however, is that Asst. GM Paul DePodesta is willing to write about the organization’s thoughts on various moves on his blog. Yesterday, he laid out the case for the Gerut trade. Let’s respond, shall we?

Age – Tony Jr is just 26 years while Jody is playing this year at 31. Jody certainly isn’t old, but we are committed to getting younger where we can. We’ve had 32 players currently in our organization who have competed for us at the ML level this season, and 25 of them are in their 20’s (Chris Young just turned 30 on Monday, so we just missed out on 26). Only four of those in their 30’s are full-time starters: Brian Giles, Chris Young, Heath Bell, and David Eckstein. Furthermore, 13 of the players are 26 years old or younger, and Tony Jr fits into that group.

There’s nothing inherently right or wrong with getting younger. Age only matters in so much as it affects our view of expected production going forward. In this case, the expectation for future performance leans significantly in favor of Gerut, even with the age difference.

Service Time – Building on the age element, Tony Jr has just over one year of Major League service (players become free agents after six full years), whereas Jody will be over the five year mark at the end of this season, thereby making him eligible for free agency at the end of 2010. As we try to rebuild the foundation for long-term success, we have to take this into account.

This is definitely a point in the Padres favor, though maybe not as much as you might expect. The Padres do control Gwynn for five more seasons, but three of those are going to be arbitration eligible seasons. When you have a marginal major leaguer like Gwynn, his value disappears very quickly once he reaches the point where his salaries escalate. While San Diego will have the right to retain Gwynn for years 4/5/6 of his service time, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t want to go to arbitration with him. In terms of valuable years of service, there gap is smaller than the service time would indicate.

Money – Nobody likes to talk about it, but the fact is that dollars must factor in our decision making. It doesn’t mean that we’re just looking to move payroll, but every team has to evaluate the cost of each of player on their roster. In this case, Jody was making $1,775,000 this year compared with Tony Jr’s $405,000. That spread will likely increase next year as Jody will once again will eligible for arbitration.

Cost is definitely an important factor in transactions. The Padres will save about $1 million over the course of 2009, and then probably $2 million next year. For a team with a payroll the size of San Diego’s, that’s more than chump change. But, again, cost has to be weighed against the benefit. Would the Padres have gotten more than $3 million additional value from Gerut as opposed to Gwynn over the next year and a half? The projections certainly suggest they would. So, saving money doesn’t help that much if you then have to reinvest that cash to reclaim some of the lost value you gave up in the first place.

Other – It would be silly to ignore the fact that Tony Gwynn Jr’s father is Tony Gwynn. Such an affiliation, however, is never the impetus for a move. When weighing options that are similar, it can probably tip the scales but no more.

I think a lot of people questioned the motives of this deal based on Gwynn’s last name, but I’ll defend the Padres here – if they really wanted Gwynn for nepotism purposes, they could have just claimed him on waivers at the beginning of the year. Gwynn was a minor part of the motivation for this trade.

Other Players – I saved this for last, because it may be the most important piece of this transaction. Most deals are not just simply about the player you’re trading away for the player you’re acquiring. In addition to the standalone deal, there is often a ripple effect on the roster, and in this case that ripple effect may have precipitated the move. Ok, in English… Jody Gerut is a productive offensive outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and is cost effective in relative terms. Well, that also describes Scott Hairston and possibly Drew Macias (who are both younger and have less service time than Jody). This move was about creating at-bats for others like Hairston, Macias, and even Headley as much as it was about the straight-up deal.

Now, here’s the part where DePo essentially lays out the real reasons for the trade – Gerut was in the way of some other players they wanted to get a look at. We talked about that at the time, and moving pieces around to maximize the efficiency of your roster is a legitimate impetus to make a deal.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that they essentially dumped a guy who was a +3 win player last year. Even factoring in expected regression, Gerut is something like a league average player making less than $2 million this season and under control for 2010. Maybe he didn’t fit into San Diego’s long term plan, but he’s worth more than a backup center fielder with little to no upside. The Padres would have been better off hanging onto Gerut and letting him hit his way out of his slump to re-establish some value before moving him in June or July rather than just giving him away in May.

Certainly, DePo is a smart guy who knows far more about baseball than I do. On this one, though, I think the Padres made a bad deal, and for an organization that could use all the talent they can find, giving Gerut away wasn’t in their best interests.