Every MLB Trade deadline has had the same front-office superstar owning it, since 2016. That genius is San Diego Padres general manager (GM) A.J. Preller. In the past, Preller had been dumping MLB assets, and acquiring young talent. It began with his legendary 2016 campaign, where Preller traded his entire rotation & All-Star closer, along with dumping OF’s Matt Kemp & Melvin Upton, Jr. That trade deadline was Preller’s calling card to MLB, in which he acquired SS Fernando Tatis, Jr., and young RHP Chris Paddack, for spent veterans. The Padres broke the J2 draft in 2016, by grabbing every young player they liked, and happily paying the fine for ‘overspending’. Teams can’t do that anymore, because of A. J. Preller.
Ace lefty set-up man, turned closer, Brad Hand was the card Preller held onto in 2017, when he didn’t receive a fair offer, in comparison to what the Yankees got in 2016 for lefty relievers Aroldis Chapman & Andrew Miller. The Dodgers needed Brad Hand most, but wouldn’t cough up the prospects, and they lost in 7 games to the Astros, in one of the most exciting World Series ever. In 2018, after Preller had signed Brad Hand to a 4-year deal over the winter, he dealt him to Cleveland, along with righty reliever Adam Cimber, for top catching prospect Francisco Mejia, who has struggled so far and is currently on the IL with a bruised thumb.
In 2019, Preller & the Indians made the biggest deal of the deadline, in a 3-way trade that send RHP Jake Bauer to the Reds, CF prospect Taylor Trammell to the Padres, and OF/DH Franmil Reyes to Cleveland. The Indians have got the better of both those deals so far, but that doesn’t make A.J. Preller afraid to make another deal with the Indians. The Padres needed RHP Mike Clevinger to lead their rotation, so Preller did what was needed to do to get him. It cost him a lot, but not as much as you may think. Preller needed to deal away a lot of these young players who weren’t championship-level, such as Austin Hedges & Cal Quantrill, due to upcoming roster crunches.
Corner OF/1B/DH Josh Naylor is the main bat for Cleveland in the deal. Recall that Josh Naylor was the key (remaining) piece in the infamous Andrew Cashner/Colin Rea deal to the Marlins in 2016. Quick recall: manager Don Mattingly wrecked Colin Rea in 3.1 innings, the night they acquired him along with Cashner. See the picture below.
The whiny Boston Red Sox then got involved, over “undisclosed anti-inflammatories” in the Drew Pomeranz deal (for RHP prospect Anderson Espinoza, who has had 2 TJ surgeries since), and A.J. Preller was forced to return RHP Luis Castillo to the incompetent crybaby Marlins, for a wrecked Colin Rea who didn’t pitch in the majors again until this season, with the Cubs. A. J. Preller was later suspended by MLB for a month, for winning too many trades. Luis Castillo was later dealt again by Marlins GM Mike Hill, this time for Cincinnati Reds righty meat-baller Dan Straily. That was before Derek Jeter took over as owner. Things have gotten much worse in south Florida since.
Back to the 2020 deadline, and this time around A.J. Preller is buying talent, with prospects & young players. The Padres have the deepest organization in MLB, as far as talent 1-60 goes. This MLB season is unique, with the coronavirus pandemic. Teams have 60-man pools of players, and no one else. Active rosters have been reduced from 30 to 28, meaning up to 32 players are at each team’s alternate site. A lot of mediocre & bad teams have no talent to draw upon for reinforcements, with the minor leagues shut down.
In the NL, the Brewers, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Marlins, Mets & Nationals have little-to-nothing helpful at their alternate sites. The Phillies & Braves are running dry, and coming up short. Only the Dodgers & Padres can bring up impact talent to help, or trade from depth. The Dodgers got OF Mookie Betts & LHP David Price in February. Price opted-out in April, and Betts was extended. Those were the Dodgers’ big moves, and it put them in a position where they didn’t need anything at the deadline. They still have talent at their alternate site.
There’s no fan revenue in MLB in 2020, so a lot of owners are sellers at this deadline, because every dollar counts. The Padres have ownership that is still willing to spend. They are led by a hungry, aggressive GM who smells blood, and just devoured the 2020 MLB deadline. It’s a buyer’s market for MLB talent, and A.J. Preller had all the best chips to deal. He needed to deal quantity for quality, to avoid losing tradeable talent to waivers & the Rule 5 draft. A. J. Preller redefined how to steal talent in those markets, years ago. Now he’s just proven he won’t give it away when he’s on the other end. Preller knew exactly what he needed, and got the best available talent at each position: catcher, DH, relief pitcher & starter.
Above is a screen shot of the Padres top-10 remaining prospects, after all the trades, and it’s still impressive. As far as the top prospect they dealt goes, the Padres were discouraged by CF Taylor Trammell’s progress in 2020, and saw him as expendable with the acquisition of CF Trent Grisham from the Brewers last winter– another A. J. Preller heist. The Padres not only got a young lead-off hitting CF with pop in the deal, but also a reliable rotation piece in Zach Davies. Preller dumped banjo-hitting 2B Luis Urias, and lefty gopher-baller Eric Lauer. Both stink, and the Brewers probably aren’t even making the post-season in 2020, largely because of this disastrous deal.
Stealing Trent Grisham allowed Preller to dump CF Manny Margot (low OBP, no pop) to the Rays for hard-throwing reliever Emilio Pagan. That, and the Tommy Pham/Jake Cronenworth deal, transformed the Padres roster into a contender. By adding C Austin Nola (Mariners) & DH Mitch Moreland (Red Sox) at the deadline, the Padres lineup when they get LF Tommy Pham off the IL will be: CF Trent Grisham*, SS Fernando Tatis Jr, 3B Manny Machado, 1B Eric Hosmer*, LF Tommy Pham, 2B Jake Cronenworth*, RF Will Myers, DH Mitch Moreland*, C Austin Nola. Lefties are asterisked. Notice these are mostly AL players (the better league) that Preller has acquired, to create an AL lineup which will bludgeon opposing pitching from both side of the plate, with high OBP & power: 1-9.
The Padres rotation is now: Mike Clevinger, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Zach Davies & Garrett Richards– all right handed. They have a reinforced & balanced bullpen, with an ace closer in Trevor Rosenthal. This team, which hasn’t made the post-season since 2006, is now built to win in October.
Baseball is so random that anything can happen, and the Padres could get swept out by a team like the Cardinals in the first round. That’s just two losses, and it can happen to any team. But the Padres have taken measures to significantly increase their odds of winning the World Series, which was less than 2% at the beginning of the season. They’ll also be better in 2021, presuming there will be a 2021 MLB season.
This is why AJ Preller is the best GM in MLB. In the past few days he’s completely upgraded the Padres catching platoon, from replacement level to championship level in getting Austin Nola from the Mariners & Jason Castro from the Halos. Austin Nola is a stud, and is team-controllable. Preller added a big DH in Mitch Moreland, since that position didn’t exist in the NL back in March. Moreland has a $3M option in 2021– which is nice. A.J. Preller also got the top closer on the market in Trevor Rosenthal, and bullpen reinforcements. He got them cheap, because these teams were told to sell by ownership.
A. J. Preller got the best starter available in Mike Clevinger from Cleveland, who has two years of team control remaining. What Preller gave up is largely stuff he doesn’t need, along with fringy prospects that were going to be exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December. There was some upside in there too, of course, as you have to give up value, to get value.
But this was beautiful asset management by AJ Preller, and the Dodgers have been put on notice. The Padres now have a line-up that is better than the Dodgers, and can mash with the Yankees. The Dodgers still have better pitching, but Preller has closed that gap significantly in the past week. The Dodgers are elite defensively, while the Padres make a few too many errors, mostly because they are young. The Padres have the talent, and the time to come together to improve as a unit, but their bench is thin with all the deals they’ve made. The Padres need to stay healthy to win it all in 2020. There is still plenty young talent to draw upon in their future.
Above is the San Diego Padres September schedule, and then it’s the post-season. As it stands now, the Padres will be the #4 seed, meaning they get home field advantage in the 1st round, which is a best of three, win two. All games are played in the higher-seed’s park. That should be exciting, if it gets that far. If the Padres & Dodgers survive, then they’ll face-off in the 2nd round. These are the two best teams in the NL. The Cubs rotation is old, and the Braves don’t match up with either the Dodgers or Padres– at all. We’ll see how it goes, but that’s how I handicap the NL after this unique trade deadline.
In the AL, it’s the Yankees, Rays & Indians in the elite class, with the A’s, White Sox & Twins a notch below them. The Blue Jays made a lot of mediocre starter acquisitions (mostly rentals), which may help them get into the post-season, but doesn’t get them past the AL elite. Note that the Blue Jays were the 2020 deadline buyer that helped themselves the 2nd-most, finishing miles behind the Padres. The Phillies got some needed relief help, and since they are all-in, they placed a distant 3rd as buyers this deadline.
Obviously the Indians & Mariners got the best prospects (from the Padres), but it was the Arizona Diamondbacks (who dumped everything) who scored the best haul for sellers. Look for the Snakes to be the next sustainable powerhouse in a few years, they have a smart GM.
The Texas Rangers were rumored by some baseball insiders to “hold the keys” to this year’s trade deadline, with RHP Lance Lynn & OF Joey Gallo made available. Neither were traded, as their asking price was too high, so the Rangers still hold these keys. The Dodgers & Braves could have used Lance Lynn, for sure, but would not overpay.
This was a unique trade deadline in that there were no Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Nationals, Astros, or Cubs— oh my!! All these behemoths have maxed themselves on payroll, and (except the Dodgers & Yankees) have emptied their farm systems. That left the field open for A. J. Preller, who scooped up all the best talent, and in a few magical days, turned the San Diego Padres into heavyweight contenders with a bright & sustainable future. The Dodgers are stunned by what just happened, for sure.
As of these deals, the Padres are a shade north of $150M in 2020 payroll, and one of the five best teams in baseball, The MLB luxury tax was set to be ~ $208M before COVID-19 changed everything. This puts the Padres in position to hang onto their young stars with payroll increases into the future. A big part of winning a WS in 2020 (& beyond), will be avoiding a coronavirus outbreak within the organization. That is the final unknown variable to all this. So far in 2020 MLB, the NL West has been the best division in avoiding outbreaks.