Should the Padres Trade Adrian Gonzalez?

The Padres are clearly in rebuilding mode, coming off of a 63-win season and with little hope of competing next year, even in a weak division. They have made their intention of trading Jake Peavy known, and even though talks have stalled, Peavy is still very likely to be dealt this offseason.

That begs the question: should they trade their other big ticket, Adrian Gonzalez?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on what they would receive in return. However, there are few players who would command more on the trade market than Gonzalez, and it may behoove the Padres to deal him now.

 

Everyone knows that Adrian Gonzalez is good, but few people understand just how good he is. He hit .279/.361/.510 this year with 36 homers, a slight improvement in his offensive production from last year (when he hit .282/.347/.502 with 30 homers). However, overall offense declined in 2008, leading Gonzalez to have an OPS+ of 138, as compared to 125 last year (and 127 in 2006). Gonzalez is a lefty who struggles against left-handed pitching, but is still decent: he has a career line of .248/.308/.427 against southpaws – he certainly doesn’t need to be platooned.

However, Gonzo has been hampered by playing half of his games in PETCOPark. His career line at home is .264/.336/.439, as compared to a .299/.360/.544 line on the road. Of course, we can’t take these splits at face value: unlike every other non-Padre, Gonzalez’s road stats don’t include games played in PETCO, and he has played 38 games in Chase and Coors Field every year. However, there’s no question that PETCO has significantly hampered Gonzalez’s overall offensive statistics.

 

Defensively, the numbers and the subjective ratings disagree. Gonzalez won a gold glove this year – not that that’s a reliable indicator of defensive prowess – but ranked below-average according to both UZR and John Dewan’s +/- numbers. The truth probably lies somewhere in between – while Gonzalez is not the defensive wizard of a Mark Teixeira or Albert Pujols, he’s certainly not an albatross like Ryan Howard.

The key to Gonzalez’s trade value is his team-friendly contract. Gonzo can’t be a free agent until the 2012 season, and is due a total of $13.25 million over the next three seasons – his age 27-29 seasons, arguably the most productive seasons of any hitter’s career. Gonzalez has also missed a total of seven games over the last three seasons, and played in all 162 games this year.

So what might he command on the trade market? Well, his contract would allow small-market clubs like the Indians, Twins, Rays and maybe even the Marlins to get involved in the bidding, rather than having it relegated to large-market teams (like the Johan Santana sweepstakes). Gonzalez is extremely low risk and offers a very high reward – he has patience and power, and will be entering his prime having already established a very high level of play. He may lose a little bit in a transfer to the more difficult American League, but his numbers can only go up upon leaving PETCO Park.

Justin rated Gonzo as 31 runs above replacement this year – a 3-win player. However, that includes a -4 rating for defense, which I think undersells Gonzalez’s defensive ability, as well as only a +47 offensive rating, which probably undersells his offense, thanks to PETCO Park.

If we assume that Gonzalez is going to be somewhere around 4-5 wins above replacement for each of the next thee years, we come up with a value of ~$22 million per season, or roughly $66 million over the next three years. And remember, Gonzalez will only be paid $13.25 million in that time.

Thus, it follows that teams would be willing to part with top-notch prospects in return for Gonzalez. They essentially can give up $53 million “worth” of players and still break even – and even this isn’t a fair comparison, because it doesn’t factor in A) the inherent risk associated with prospects, even top prospects, and B) the increased value that Gonzalez adds to a team on the cusp of success, and it’s most likely a team like this – rather than someone like the Pirates – is going to acquire him, should he be dealt.

It’s rarely in a team’s best interests to trade top-notch prospects for a “veteran” – especially for smaller market teams that rely on cost-controlled players to compete. However, in the case of Adrian Gonzalez, it would behoove many teams to give up a lot in return for Gonzalez, thanks to the unique combination of his low risk, his high amount of production, his age, and his contract status. Therefore, it’s likely that the Padres could get a significant haul in return for him. I’m talking a type of deal that would eclipse what the Rangers received for Mark Teixeira (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones).

Adrian Gonzalez’s trade value could be immense, and the Padres are not going to compete this year (or probably next year). It makes sense for them to attempt to deal Gonzalez, and it makes sense for a whole host of other teams to part with a lot in return for him.

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