San Diego Padres Shortstops: Positional Case Study

This is my third article in an occasional series in which I look at the way that a franchise has filled a single position over the course of time: stars and stopgaps, free agents and trades, hot prospects and positional conversions. My previous columns covered Atlanta Braves center fielders and New York Mets second basemen. This week, I’ll look at another up-the-middle position from another National League team, as I take a look at the way the San Diego Padres have filled shortstop.

While the Braves’ center field featured two superstars and a motley assortment of players obtained in trade, and the Mets’ keystone featured a few high-profile busts and a number of other players who played second while moving across the diamond, the Padres’ shortstop has been a revolving door, haunted by one of the most unfortunate trades in team history. The Padres have never really gotten over trading away Ozzie Smith 30 years ago.

Here is who has manned short for the Friars over the last three decades:

1978-1981 Ozzie Smith (1981 AS)
1982-1990 Garry Templeton (1985 AS)
1991-1992 Tony Fernandez (1992 AS)
1993-1994 Ricky Gutierrez
1995 Andujar Cedeno
1996 Chris Gomez, some Andujar Cedeno
1997-1998 Chris Gomez
1999-2000 Damian Jackson, some Chris Gomez
2001 D’Angelo Jimenez, some Chris Gomez and Donaldo Mendez
2002 Deivi Cruz, some D’Angelo Jimenez
2003 Ramon Vazquez, some Donaldo Mendez and Khalil Greene
2004-2007 Khalil Greene
2008 Khalil Greene, some Luis Rodriguez
2009 Everth Cabrera
2010 Miguel Tejada, Jerry Hairston, Everth Cabrera
2011 Jason Bartlett
2012 Everth Cabrera, some Andy Parrino, and Jason Bartlett
2013 Everth Cabrera (2013 AS)

source: baseball-reference.com

The first three players on that list are the best, unfortunately. Ozzie didn’t quite look like a future Hall of Famer when he was in San Diego; he was a brilliant defender but wretched with the stick. Still, he was an All-Star in 1981 on defense alone (and a five-win player in 1980), so the Padres knew that they were giving up a valuable player. The man they got back, Garry Templeton, wasn’t as good as Ozzie, but he was younger, and a better hitter, and still a pretty good defender, and he became an All-Star for the Padres in his own right.

Amazingly, the Padres got their next shortstop by trading another future Hall of Famer, sending Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff. As it happened, Tony Fernandez performed well, making the All-Star team in 1992, his second and last season in San Diego. The Padres traded Fernandez to the Mets for Raul Casanova, D.J. Dozier, and Wally Whitehurst that offseason, setting off the infamous 1993 firesale when the Padres also ridded themselves of McGriff and Gary Sheffield. (Dozier was a two-way player; he played parts of five seasons in the NFL, but only 25 games in the majors, all with the Mets. None with the Padres.)

After the Fernandez trade, shortstop was a pretty miserable revolving door. Ricky Gutierrez, Andujar Cedeno, Chris Gomez, Deivi Cruz, and Donaldo Mendez all struggled to stay above replacement level. Damian Jackson, D’Angelo Jimenez, and Ramon Vazquez were slightly better, but not by much.

Like many of the Braves’ center fielders, the Padres often obtained these shortstops in trades involving other shortstops. For example, the Padres got Gutierrez in a trade for closer Craig Lefferts, then packaged him in a huge trade to Houston that included Cedeno. They then included Cedeno in a trade with the Tigers that returned them Chris Gomez.

The eight interim shortstops were young: with the exception of the 29-year old Cruz, all of the others were between 23 and 25 when the Padres acquired them. (Cruz was also the only one of the above shortstops who was signed as a free agent; the others were obtained via trade, except for Mendez, who was a Rule 5 pick.) The Padres may have targeted young shortstops in the hopes of capitalizing on upside. But their need for major-league ready shortstops demonstrates that, for more than a decade, they didn’t have any prospects capable of doing the job.

Then Khalil Greene came along. He was by far the best Padres shortstop since Fernandez — Geoff Young called him “the best shortstop in club history” — but now he’s remembered more as a tragedy than a prodigy. He played good defense and had great power, but struggled to get on base and to stay healthy, and his career eventually ended before he turned 30 as he battled Social Anxiety Disorder. The player whom the Padres hoped could be their franchise shortstop only played 659 games in a San Diego uniform.

So the Padres went back to the drawing board. They called up the young, speedy Everth Cabrera, who like Mendez was a Rule 5 pick. But Cabrera was awfully error-prone and the team wasn’t sure that he could hold down the position full-time — which seems strange in retrospect, considering all of the replacement-level players who manned the position between Fernandez and Greene, but that’s what happened. Cabrera became the starter in 2009, but the team traded for a past-their-prime Miguel Tejada and Jason Bartlett for 2010 and 2011.

Finally, Everth Cabrera got the job back. And he was pretty good, leading the NL in steals in 2012 and being selected as the Padres’ lone All-Star in 2013. And then, because he’s a Padres shortstop, the news couldn’t stay good: MLB targeted Everth in connection with the Biogenesis investigation, and he accepted a 50-game suspension. Cabrera enters the 2014 season as the Padres’ presumptive answer at shortstop, but if history is any guide, the road may remain bumpy.

In the past 35 years, only four Padre draftees have logged significant time at shortstop in San Diego, either as a starter or as a backup: Ozzie Smith, Khalil Greene, Jason Bartlett, and Andy Parrino. And Bartlett only played in San Diego at the end of his career; they traded him away as a prospect and reacquired him in his early 30’s after he had been a productive player in Minnesota and Tampa Bay. That is a strikingly bad track record. For a small market team to achieve success, the team will need to be able to fill key positions from within. There is perhaps no position on the diamond more important than shortstop, and the Padres’ habitual punting of shortstop has not yielded good results on the field.

In my mind, this case study yields two main lessons.

First, don’t trade away Hall of Famers. In the course of a decade, the Padres traded at least two, with two others who are borderline: Smith, Alomar, Sheffield, and McGriff. Transcendent talent is hard to come by, as the Padres themselves demonstrate.

Second, it is imperative to be able to draft and develop position players. The Padres talent evaluation may have let them down both in the draft and in trades, but due to information asymmetry, it’s harder to fleece another team than it is to evaluate and develop internal talent. The Padres have employed just three homegrown shortstops since the Carter administration. If the Padres could have done a better job of drafting and development, they might have had more than that.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


29 Responses to “San Diego Padres Shortstops: Positional Case Study”

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  1. IamConfused says:

    Great read. Nice work!

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  2. Drew says:

    stop the ride i wanna get off

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  3. badenjr says:

    This is a surprisingly great series. I’d love to see what you’d learn from Baltimore’s handling of 1B over the years.

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  4. not another pun says:

    So this is the reason the Padres always seem to come up short.

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  5. Rally says:

    Go back a bit before 1978 (not sure why you’d use that as a cutoff point, Padres existence only goes back a bit longer than that) and you’ll find another one: Bill Almon.

    He was the #1 overall pick and starting shortstop before Ozzie claimed the job. I started watching the game in the 1980s and remember Almon well. He was a below average fielder and hitter, though with some speed, and I just could not understand how anyone could have ever seen him as the best player available in any draft.

    Not to say he was terrible, he had a 15 year MLB career and that is an impressive feat in itself. It’s just that for a #1 overall, you’d expect him to excel in at least one aspect of the game. Almon was just ordinary. Had someone told me in 1982 that he was a 42nd rounder who made it through hard work and scrappiness, that story would have been a much better fit with the player that I saw.

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  6. Rally says:

    Do that 1974 first round over and Dale Murphy would be the #1 pick, followed (not necessarily in any order) by Lonnie Smith, Garry Templeton, Lance Parrish, Willie Wilson, and Rick Sutcliffe.

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  7. By the way, when I say “the Padres have employed just three homegrown shortstops,” what I mean is, just three players have come up from the Padres’ farm system to log any significant time at shortstop. I didn’t look at players who played fewer than 10-20 games in a single year, and I didn’t count Bartlett because he only played for the Padres long after he had come up to the majors.

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  8. Barney Coolio says:

    Great article! True, trading away Hall of Famers is a bad idea. However, you include Gary Sheffield who is borderline at best, and the Padres received Trevor Hoffman in exchange who has a better Cooperstown case. Even so, as a lifelong Padres’ fan, I think that Gary Sheffield would have been more valuable than Trevor Hoffman.

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    • Right, Sheffield and McGriff are borderline, and Alomar and Smith are already in. Moreover, at the time of the trade, Sheffield was a 24-year old who had just finished third in the MVP voting; Hoffman was a 25-year old who was coming off a year where he posted a 4.27 ERA in Triple-A.

      Obviously, he became one of the greatest closers of his generation. But generally speaking, you don’t want to go down that road when you’re trading.

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    • B.C. says:

      Just to throw it out there:

      Sheffield: +62.5 WAR
      Hoffman: +23.0 WAR

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      • Barney Coolio says:

        Yeah, but I think that Sheffield is a unique case. He was traded 5 times, so I think trading Sheffield should not be seen as a huge mistake. The Marlins and Dodgers traded him while he was still in his prime. And the Yankees traded him while he was still productive. Earlier, the Brewers traded him because he was an outright problem, even Sheffield admits that.

        The Padres had Hoffman for 16 seasons, one largely lost to injury. 16 seasons of Sheffield is probably way better than 16 seasons of Hoffman, but it is pretty hard to imagine Sheffield staying in SD for 16 additional seasons.

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  9. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I think the Padres were also ready to draft Stephen Drew and he basically said “I won’t sign with you” if my memory is correct.

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    • It wasn’t exactly Drew who said that. Here’s how Tracy Ringolsby recounts it:

      Three days before the 2004 draft was held, then-San Diego scouting director Bill Gayton had made up his mind. After weighing the pros and cons of right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver of Long Beach State and shortstop Stephen Drew of Florida State, he decided he would take Drew with the first pick overall that year.

      Then Gayton found out it wasn’t his choice. Drew was represented by agent Scott Boras and it was no secret it would take $6 million or so to get a deal done. Padres owner John Moores didn’t feel any player was worth that much money, so he vetoed not only Drew, but also Weaver, who also was a Boras client.

      Next thing Gayton knew, not only had his top two choices been eliminated, but so had everybody on his top 10 list of candidates for the draft, including Vanderbilt pitcher Jeremy Sowers who was his next target. So Gayton was being forced to take Matt Bush, an undersized shortstop from San Diego.

      http://www.foxsportsarizona.com/03/26/12/The-decision-that-still-haunts-Padres-to/cactus_league_landing.html?blockID=696496

      However, that IS what happened with Hideki Irabu. The Padres obtained his rights from the Chiba Lotte Marines, but Irabu refused to report to the Padres and demanded that they trade him to the Yankees. So they did, eventually receiving the ill-fated Ruben Rivera in the deal.

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  10. clutheran says:

    “Still, he was an All-Star in 1981 on defense alone (and a five-win player in 1980), so the Padres knew that they were giving up a valuable player.”

    By fangraphs measure, the Wiz clocks in at four-wins in 1980. Are you using a different standard?

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  11. Barney Coolio says:

    I find the concept of trading Hall of Famers interesting.

    1. Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton. Templeton played 10 years in SD and is their all time leader at games at SS. It would have been nice to hang onto Smith, but I don’t think keeping him would have changed the history of the franchise that much.
    2. Trading Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. Again, it would have been cool for SD to keep Alomar, but this one was kind of a wash since all 4 players made the 1992 All Star team. Also, SD traded one HOFer, but received a borderline guy mentioned in the article (McGriff). If the Padres had kept McGriff and Fernandez longer, this trade doesn’t look that bad at all.
    3. Trading McGriff and Fernandez for scrubs. That was bad. McGriff has 4 career trades though.
    4. Trading Gary Sheffield for Trevor Hoffman. At the time, it looked bad, but it worked out for SD. Sheffield has 5 career trades.

    Instead of “Don’t trade away Hall of Famers,” I think it should be, “Don’t trade away young players on the cusp of Hall of Fame careers.” The Mets probably regret trading away pre-stardom Jeff Kent in 1996. They probably don’t care about trading away future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in 2000. The Padres also traded away Rickey Henderson in 1997.

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  12. Barney Coolio says:

    Other teams’ records with trading HOFers during the same time period. I am limiting this to players in their 20’s:

    Dodgers: Mike Piazza ’98, Sheffield ’02, Pedro Martinez ’93.
    Expos: Randy Johnson ’89, Martinez ’97, You might want to include Larry Walker.
    Marlins: Trevor Hoffman ’93, Sheffield ’98, Piazza ’98. Does Piazza count? Did they ever intend on keeping him?

    Hmmm, I guess the Padres really do have a bad record in this department. I cannot readily think of other teams with multiple examples. And it can be argued that both the Dodgers and Marlins made rational choices when they traded Piazza. (Again, I’m not sure why the Marlins traded Piazza. Was it a delayed 3 way trade). Gary Sheffield was traded so frequently, it was probably justifiable in every case. The Padres gave up on Smith and Alomar too quickly. They also traded away Roberto’s brother Sandy who was a 6 time all star in Cleveland. However, the Padres also had Benito Santiago at the time.

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    • Other potential HOFers traded during the period include:
      • Curt Schilling, who was 24 when the Orioles traded him to the Astros in ’91, and 25 when the Astros traded him to the Phillies in ’92
      • Kenny Lofton, who was 29 when the Indians traded him to the Braves in ’97
      • Scott Rolen, who was 27 when the Phillies traded him to the Cardinals in ’02
      • Alex Rodriguez, who was 28 when the Rangers traded him to the Yankees in ’04

      The Lofton trade was a one-year rental, and it didn’t hurt the Indians. The Rolen and Schilling trades were, of course, disastrous. The Rodriguez trade was basically precipitated by a team unwillingness to pay the contract it had signed.

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    • Mark says:

      In a span of a decade (80’s) Cubs traded:

      Bruce Sutter
      Dennis Eckersley
      Lee Smith
      Rafael Palmeiro
      Joe Carter.

      2 Hall of Famers, one that could have been (Palmeiro) and 2 that are close (Smith/Carter).

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  13. Tanned Tom says:

    The weird thing about the Smith-Templeton trade is that Smith instantly became a much better hitter, and Templeton a much worse hitter. Since neither were power threats I can’t think the home parks had much effect. Rather it was career trajectory. Templeton peaked in St. Louis and declined thereafter (the norm), whereas Smith was a classic late bloomer with the bat. It seems that knowing whether a player is going to suddenly improve at age 25-27 is not possible, but this stands as a terrible trade for the Padres.
    The Robbie Alomar trade was painful, giving up a 22 year old All Star Second baseman, along with overrated Joe Carter to receive Fernandez (who later had his best years after 35 and after missing an entire year due to injury — hmm) and McGriff (who was already an elite First baseman).
    Later trading McGriff was horrible.
    And it should go without saying that trading an elite slugger like Sheffield for any relief pitcher is insane. I realize that Sheffield had a rep as a clubhouse cancer, but just for on the field value that trade is easily an awful one for SD. Trading a slugger for a closer when you’re a last place team is a Kevin Towers-type idea. But he wasn’t even there yet. No wonder they hired him.

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    • Barney Coolio says:

      The Smith-Templeton trade is unique in that two shortstops were traded for each other. And each player played at least 10 seasons with his new team. It is shocking how bad of a hitter Templeton became in San Diego. He was only 26 when he came to SD. Smith definitely became the better hitter, but it is ironic that Templeton is the only one between them to win a Silver Slugger Award. (One in STL and one in SD).

      Why did SD hang onto Templeton for 10 years? To justify the trade? He doesn’t look good by either old school or sabermetric stats and he seems to have had an uptick in his later SD years. Maybe he was just overrated by the Padres’ brass and fans.

      You call Carter overrated, but how much of that is for the 1993 World Series which happened after the trade in question? Carter had a crappy one season in SD, OPS+ of 85. He followed that with 4 seasons in Toronto with OPS+ ranging from 112-124. It would have been nice to have that kind of production in SD.

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      • Carter’s OPS+ is very SLG-heavy; his career OBP was an abysmal .306. His wRC+ was just 102. He was also a really bad fielder. So he was a one-dimensional player, but because that dimension was power — homers and RBIs — people viewed him as a star.

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  14. evo34 says:

    Um. Where the hell is the racial and/or gender inequity angle? I want a refund.

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  15. Roman says:

    Templeton/Smith trade wasn’t a bad one for the padres. They weren’t going anywhere anyways. Templeton ripped up the league when he was with the Cardinals. Led the league in triples 3 times and was the first player to get 100 hits from both sides of the plate. A feature that still to this day , has only been accomplished by one other player (Willie Wilson). Even with the down years in SD Templeton still had a career higher batting average (.262 vs .271) and ranks top 3 in almost every category in SD history. The only reason his numbers went down with the Padres was due to the 5 knee surgeries he had. He still batted .333 in the NlCS and .316 in the 84 World Series. Smith was great don’t get me wrong. But he never had the 5 year run that Templeton had from 1977-1981. Those were some awesome years. One of the fastest players on the bases. knee problems just slowed him up. He still is the greatest padres SS to this day.

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