There’s a saying in fantasy that I’ve heard for evaluating potential deals: Whoever gets the best player usually wins the trade. This isn’t always the case, but it has served me pretty well in my dealings. The San Diego-Cincinnati swap that sent Mat Latos — the best player in the deal in my opinion — to the NL Central might be the exception to that rule. San Diego may have delayed their next period of competitiveness by dealing Latos for prospects, but they definitely improved the team at a number of positions and cut down on their costs in the meantime.
Latos himself will be covered at length in another piece, but here is how moving to San Diego will affect the pieces headed west.
The immediate reaction any time there’s a trade involving pitchers moving to or from San Diego is that pitchers will absolutely get worse if they’re leaving and will get better if they’re moving into PETCO Park. It is definitely a pitcher’s park, but in just the same way hitters with a high groundball rate don’t necessarily see a large swing in value at Coors Field, pitchers with a high groundball rate may not see much of a change at PETCO. In both of the last two seasons, Volquez has posted a groundball rate over 50 percent, and 41 percent of plate appearances against Volquez ended with either a strikeout or a groundout in 2011. The fences could have been a mile away from home plate and it wouldn’t have mattered much in those PAs.
Part of me thinks that the extra space will help Volquez drop his rather high 21 percent HR/FB from 2011, but looking over the home runs he allowed, I’m less than encouraged. Near as I can tell, all but one of the home runs Volquez allowed at home last year would have still been home runs had they been hit at PETCO. If opposing hitters change their approach when they’re playing in the expansive park, perhaps Volquez will be able to take advantage of that, but I don’t see the extra distance at the park affecting him much at all. Volquez was the second to last pitcher taken in the RotoGraphs staff mock, and while I bet he’ll go higher the next time around, I don’t think this move alters his value all that much. He’ll still live and die by his ability to generate groundballs and miss the occasional bat.
Of the four players dealt to San Diego, Alonso probably sees his value change the most. Even with Anthony Rizzo in the system, Alonso probably enters Spring Training as the presumptive starter at first base. This is a marked improvement from his situation in Cincinnati, where the Reds were probably going to stuck playing him in left field, where he didn’t exactly acquit himself well during his call up last year. While they would have lived with his glove to keep his bat in the lineup, defensive replacements would have cost Alonso — and by extension fantasy owners — a fair number of plate appearances over the course of a season. There should be no such concerns in San Diego, where Alonso will be counted on to drive in a solid portion of the team’s runs.
Moving from Great America Ballpark to PETCO is obviously a less than ideal development for the young slugger, but just because the park favors pitchers doesn’t mean it’s going to prevent Alonso from doing damage. Obviously Adrian Gonzalez should be taken as an extreme exception, but there have been other players, like Kevin Kouzmanoff, who have also maintained solid offensive value while playing in San Diego. To be successful, Alonso must do what he’s always done: Draw walks, take hittable pitches the other way, and punish mistakes with Draconian force. Nothing about PETCO changes that strategy.
My biggest worry is that he’ll get away from that game plan if he has a slow start to the season and become pull happy. He has obvious power that way, but owners will get a better return on their investment in him if he stays within himself, even if that means batting .280-.290 with 20 home runs instead of .220-.230 with 25. I still like him, I think he’s worth a grab in keeper or dynasty, but I do think the move to PETCO lowers his ceiling a little bit and introduces a bigger bust risk.
Alonso may be the biggest name of the prospects moved in this deal, but it’s probably Grandal that’s actually the best of the bunch. He just turned 23 earlier this offseason, plays a premium position, and showed both good power and great plate discipline at three levels in the minors last season. In dynasty leagues, he’s definitely worth putting on your draft board if he wasn’t there already.
For leagues that don’t utilize the minor leagues, however, I think it’s too early to be drafting or stashing Grandal. The Padres have no reason to start his service time clock this season — when they aren’t likely to be competitive — and with Nick Hundley already in place behind the plate, there is a strong incentive to keep him in the minors for 2012. This isn’t a Buster Posey situation, Hundley truly is an acceptable option behind the plate and Grandal has played fewer than 50 games above High-A. His time in the sun will come soon enough, but unless Hundley struggles to stay healthy, Grandal will be spending the season in Tucson.
With the departure of both Heath Bell and Mike Adams, the back end of the Padres’ bullpen is looking a little bare. Boxberger won’t be the man they turn to this season to fill that void, but he certainly has the potential to be a strong option at the end of games in the future. He holds an 11.71 career K/9 and held hitters to a .152/.250/.237 line across 55 appearances between Double- and Triple-A in 2011. Unfortunately, middle relievers don’t hold much broad fantasy value, though in deep leagues his strikeout potential might be useful if he can keep his walks down. If he ends up as the prime set-up option or a closer, he’ll have a wider, clearer fantasy use, but until such a time, he’ll be more valuable in real life than he is to fantasy players.
In the short term, Volquez and Alonso are probably the only fantasy-relevant pieces going to San Diego in the deal. When all is said and done, Grandal could be the best piece — Latos included — moved in this trade and I see all five players being potentially useful players, though Boxberger’s future is a little cloudy at the moment.