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A Look Back: The Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to Padres Trade

The 2005 San Diego Padres were far from a perfect playoff team.

The '05 Pads won the National League West on the "strength" of an 82-80 record only to be swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.

Though the team ended the season two games above .500, their Pythagorean Record was 77-85 and it was clear changes needed to be made in order for the 2006 Padres to play in the postseason once again.

Two of the teams gaping holes that season were at first base and in the starting rotation.  

Padres' first basemen hit .243/.311/.390 thanks largely in part to below-average production from Phil Nevin (90 OPS+) who was no longer a long-term option for the team.  Ryan Klesko was considered the team's primary option at first base for the 2006 season, but injury problems coupled with mediocre production in previous seasons didn't guarantee the Padres production at first.

In the starting rotation only Jake Peavy pitched 200+ as Adam Eaton and Woody Williams each spent time on the disabled list with guys like Tim Stauffer, Chan Ho Park and Tim Redding each filling in producing at a replacement level (or in Redding's case below replacement level) rate.

With a cavernous hole at first base and a starting rotation that wasn't the least bit reliable, Padres GM Kevin Towers made quite possibly his most successful trade in his tenure in San Diego with the Texas Rangers.  

The Trade

Here is how the deal broke down:

Padres Receive:  1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Chris Young and OF Terrmel Sledge

Rangers Receive:  C Billy Killian (minors), RP Akinori Otsuka and SP Adam Eaton

Here was Christina Kahrl's take from the Padres' point of view:

Some of what the Pads do grabs you on the spot as sensible on one or two levels, the sorts of moves that help them win now while handicapping their future. On that score, I particularly liked the trade with the Rangers. First, there's the challenge portion of the trade, in that the Pads are sort of daring the Rangers to see if Young does as well as Eaton in the immediate future. On that score, it's a reasonable bet: Young outpitched Eaton last year (posting a WARP of 4.3 to Eaton's 3.1, a SNLVAR of 3.6 to 2.3, and a VORP of 24.1 to 8.0. It's hard to believe Texas sees this as a real upgrade, but there you have it. PECOTA forecasts Young to be about as valuable as Eaton for the next three years, with WARPs of 3.4, 2.1, and 2.1 to Eaton's spread of 3.1, 2.3, and 2.2. As if that wasn't benefit enough, it's also a deal that saves San Diego money, because while Eaton has arbitration eligibility generating pay hikes for him both this year and next, the Rangers had locked Young up through 2008 for a fraction of what Eaton will make in 2006 alone ($4.65 million). So, as weird as it might seem to be trying to contend with a rotation featuring a couple of ex-Rangers starters (let's not forget Chan Ho Park), the Pads seem to have actually helped themselves through the exchange.

Then there's getting Gonzalez in the deal as well. While you might think Gonzalez as blocked in San Diego behind Ryan Klesko as he was in Texas behind Mark Teixeira, Klesko is no Teixeira, and the Padres can't really afford to wait out Klesko's cold spells the way they have in the past. Also consider that Gonzalez is the most likely beneficiary of almost any injury to a player in one of the lineup's power slots. If left fielder Dave Roberts breaks down, Klesko can go back out to the outfield; enter Gonzalez. If Mike Cameron or Brian Giles get hurt, it's the same story: Roberts can move over to center or right, Klesko can move out to left, and enter Gonzalez.

And now from the Rangers' perspective:

I guess I'm not quite so certain that the Rangers got anything they really needed out of Eaton-Young deal, and if Eaton's useful, he's also more expensive, and that makes it more difficult for the team to do something when the rotation is already relying on Vicente Padilla to bounce back and adapt to life in the rough environs of Texas. A front three of Millwood, Eaton, and Padilla just doesn't look all that fearsome, not in a division where both the Angels and A's offer much better.

I don't see Otsuka as that valuable, in that his WXRL last season was 1.542, good for 55th in the game, a big comedown after a brilliant "rookie" campaign in 2004 (his WXRL of 5.066 that year was tenth in all of baseball). Maybe there's something to be said for Japanese pitchers losing the 'surprise' effect after the league sees a bit of them. Shingo Takatsu went from valuable to marginal pretty quickly, and guys like Keiichi Yabu didn't even manage that initial bit of bushwhacking. But if Otsuka's just an okay right-handed reliever, then you just added expense in the rotation without getting a guarantee of quality to add an adequate bullpen staffer and a lefty-hitting catcher who's years away from being a 'maybe.' This was simply a bad move, all to acquire a recognizable young veteran for the rotation, and it's going to come up short.

I think it's fair to asses that none of us were really impressed with this deal from the Rangers standpoint at the get-go.

At the time Adrian Gonzalez looked like a former top pick that had just bombed out.  He had spent nearly five full years in the minors and was boasting a .296/.365/.448 career MiLB line that was limited to first base.  He was blocked by Mark Teixeira and the best of us expected that he would eventually be dealt.  But he was entering his age 24 season at the time of the deal, so chances of a major league career were there.

Chris Young was (and still is) an extreme flyball pitcher that many of us though wouldn't mix well with the very-hitter friendly Ameriquest Field over the long-term.   Here is a look at Young's statistics with the Rangers during the 2004 and 2005 seasons:

Despite the small sample size, we can clearly see Young struggled a bit more at home with the Rangers.  As we would expect from a flyball pitcher (Young's groundball rate during his time with the Rangers was a lofty 32.7%), his home run rate shot up at Ameriquest and his road ERA was over a run lower than his home ERA.  

But the K/BB ratio and upside were there and as Kahrl already mentioned, Adam Eaton (who is a year older than Young) wasn't exactly much of an upgrade to begin with.  PECOTA saw nearly identical production coming from the two over the next three seasons and Young was locked up through 2008, so expecting Adam Eaton to not only produce further, but also remain more economically beneficial was stretching it.

Then there's the case of Akinori Otsuka.  Otuska's rookie season in 2004 was outstanding (5.066 WXRL), but the thought was his decline in 2005 (1.542 WXRL) was attributed to National League hitters "figuring out" his unorthodox delivery.  Kahrl mentions Shingo Takatsu as a comparable player who flamed out in his second year in the same league.  We'll never know just how Otsuka would have performed in his third straight season in the National League, but it's something Kevin Towers wasn't going to find out.

Looking at the big picture, Young and Gonzalez weren't by any means star players with the Rangers.  Gonzalez was a .225/.275/.390 type hitter during his tenure in the majors with Texas, while Young's flyball concerns did overshadow some of his upside, but was it worth trading both for a pitcher of Adam Eaton's caliber and a relief pitcher in Otsuka coming off a season in which he saw a significant decrease in effectiveness?

Probably not.  Kahrl mentiones the deal was just a "bad move" from the Rangers perspective and the following season we found out just how much of a good move it was for the Padres.

The Results

Here is a look at how both the Rangers and Padres have fared in the deal in terms of WARP.  A few notes:  Billy Killian is not included due to the fact he has not played in a major league game.  Eaton's 2007 WARP is not included due to the fact he is not playing for the Texas Rangers. The WARP's used for the 2007 season are each player's WARP1:

The most valuable player acquired in the six player deal was a big surprise to just about everyone in Adrian Gonzalez.

After taking only 192 AB's with the Rangers big league club, Gonzalez had an outstanding year with the Padres hitting .304/.362/.500; and it all started with Ryan Klesko's shoulder injury.  Klesko was placed on the 15-day DL on April 1st, 2006 and he missed just about all of the '06 season paving way for Gonzalez' monster year.  His VORP 32.8 runs was good for 11th among major league first basemen and his defense (+ 15 FRAA) was outstanding.  His WARP of 7.0 wins was nearly a half win better than that of then-Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira and he was the most productive hitter in the Padres' lineup outside of Mike Cameron.  Gonzalez is currently experiencing a bit more of a down year hitting .268/.342/.482, but his defense is still very good (+14 FRAA) and given the fact he's signed through 2011 (the final year being a club option), the Padres won't have to worry about their situation at first base for quite a while.

Then you have Chris Young, who has seemingly blossomed into a #1 type starter since being traded to the Padres.  PETCO Park is the perfect place for a flyball pitcher and Young has adapted well, but surprisingly enough he's actually pitcher better on the road, just take a look at his splits:

Young's pitching much better at home than on the road this season, but Young's career with the Padres looks like it's been taken out of the book of Johan Santana.  Young's VORP of 45.8 runs was the 21st best mark among major league starters and he's been even better this season; despite a DL stint his VORP of 44.9 runs is 9th among starters and he's right in the thick of things for the NL Cy Young Award race.

Sledge spent most of 2006 in AAA for the Padres and hit only .229/.308/.357 for the big league club in 78 PA's.  PECOTA saw good things from the utility-outfielder this season (.269/.353/.463; 19.2 VORP in 442 PA's), but he's struggled on the year hitting .212/.310/.371. Regardless, he's been worth only about one less win than what Eaton brought the Rangers in the deal.

Moving over to the Rangers side of the deal, Eaton's 2006 season can be summarized in one word:  Disaster.  Eaton pitched only 65 innings for the Rangers last season as he battled injuries the entire year and when he was healthy, he produced at a replacement level rate (6.4 VORP). Given the high demand for starting pitching, the Phillies signed Eaton to a 3-year deal, effectively ending his tenure with the Rangers.

Otsuka was outstanding in his first season with Texas producing at the same rate Chris Young did with the Padres last season.  The thought a league change would help him certainly seems true as his WXRL rocketed back up to 2.674; good for 30th in the major leagues.

He's pitching effectively once again this season, but his peripherals have worsened just a tad and talk that American League hitters are "figuring him out" is surfacing.  Otsuka will test the market following this season and given how often his name popped-up in trade rumors this summer; it's very unclear whether the Rangers will bring him back.

As a whole, you currently have an edge of a little more than 15 wins in favor of the Padres over the past season and a half.  When you consider the fact Gonzalez and Young can both remain with the Padres until 2011, this deal is only going to look worse and worse for the Rangers as time goes on.

Looking Forward

It's very possible that by next season not a single player the Rangers acquired in this deal will remain in their organization.  Eaton and Killian have moved on, whereas Otsuka will test the market and may very well sign with a new team.

As for the Padres, well the future looks plenty bright.  PECOTA expects Gonzalez to produce 23.7 wins above the replacement level player through 2011 and Young 13.2 wins through that tenure as well.

Whether or not those two actually do produce at that rate over the next four seasons is another story, but I think it's safe to say that if Rangers GM Jon Daniels could have this trade back he'd take it back.

[editor's note, by Mike Pindelski]: Thanks to Adam J. Morris for pointing out a minor flaw in this piece. Otsuka will test the market following the 2009 season, not following this year.