I used to play with Legos a lot when I was young. My friends and I always tried to build the coolest spaceship. In my mind, I always envisioned this perfect spaceship that I was going to build. But theory and practice are two very different things. Oftentimes, about halfway through building my ship, I'd look over and see one of my friends with a better ship than I had. It was pretty clear that mine probably wasn't going to end up as good as his. So I had two options -- either I could continue building my mediocre ship and pray to the Lego-building gods that somehow mine would miraculously turn into a masterpiece; or, I could tear it apart and start over. The latter option would be the more painful route, but it would eventually be the right one with the greater chance of unseating Mr. Good-Spaceship-Builder.
Padres' GM A.J. Preller basically faces the same problem with his team, except that he's dealing with players rather than little studded squares and rectangles. While he could choose to tear down the Padres, and raise them from the ground up, he recently said that he will not entertain the idea of rebuilding.
His vision is to contend while simultaneously reinforcing the Padres' minor league system. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that; but considering where the Padres are as a franchise, Preller isn't being realistic with himself and his team. FanGraphs currently projects San Diego to finish tied with Colorado for dead last in the NL West. For reference, FanGraphs has the Padres winning 74 games and the first-place Dodgers winning 91. While it's not impossible (imagination is a wonderful thing), it's very hard to envision a scenario in which the Padres can overcome a 17-game projection gap.
So what can Preller do about that? Well, the Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks won't be this good forever. The Friars probably won't realistically contend in the next two years, but 2018 seems like a more-than-reasonable window to target for the next great Padres team. That essentially means that any positive value a San Diego player produces in the next two years is wasted value.
Thankfully, there are many teams out there that are willing to exchange future value for current value. Any player under contract for the Padres right now that could be exchanged for value down the road should be traded. It's highly unlikely that Preller and company hold a complete fire sale, but what would it look like if they did sell everything that they wouldn't need or be able to keep?
Warning: I'm about to propose a series of trades. None of these have substantial evidence of occurring; they are simply ideas thought up by this lunatic author. You will probably come across a trade or three that makes you say, "No way Team X would ever make that trade!" And while you're not wrong, the point of this isn't to predict the prospects received; it's to try and illustrate roughly how much a fire sale could help the Padres' 2018 outlook.
SD trades Andrew Cashner to AZ for Brandon Drury.
The Diamondbacks have shown this offseason that they are in win-now mode, and their rotation looks a little shaky behind Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, and Shelby Miller. In return, the Padres would be getting their potential third baseman of the future. Preller and Dave Stewart have had discussions before, so while trades within the division are typically difficult, these two teams have seemingly shown a willingness to try to work something out before.
SD trades Tyson Ross to HOU and Javier Guerra to MIN; HOU trades Mike Fiers, Alex Bregman, and Joe Musgrove to SD, and Luis Valbuena to MIN; MIN trades Trevor Plouffe to HOU.
The Padres would be getting their potential shortstop of the future in Bregman, along with potential rotation stalwarts in Fiers and Musgrove. Guerra most likely won't be ready by 2018 and would be blocked by the newly-acquired Bregman. For the Astros, they're essentially trading Bregman and Musgrove in order to upgrade from Fiers to Ross and from Valbuena to Plouffe. For the Twins, they're essentially selling Plouffe for Guerra. They also receive a somewhat-decent replica of Plouffe, in Valbuena, as well.
SD trades Jon Jay to CWS for Chris Beck.
The White Sox are known to be looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder, and Jay fits the bill perfectly. San Diego probably can't get much for one year of Jay, and Beck is nowhere near an elite prospect, but the Padres do pick up a starting pitching prospect that has the chance of filling out a rotation spot in the future.
SD trades Matt Kemp, Nick Vincent, and money to BAL for Hunter Harvey and Christian Walker.
This one will probably be the most controversial and will largely depend on what you think of Kemp at this point. Most of his value is weighed down by his awful defense, but his bat (.286/.339/.528 second half last season) will play anywhere, especially an AL destination with a DH spot. And remember that with the Dodgers already paying his salary down to around $15 million per year, the original return for Kemp last offseason included Yasmani Grandal and Zach Eflin. The Padres will be clearing a lot of money off of their books through these trades and will have available money to include with Kemp's contract, further driving down the Orioles' potential salary commitment to Kemp and increasing his value. The Padres will be taking a gamble on a high-upside but injured pitcher in Harvey, alongside a slugging first baseman in Walker.
SD trades James Shields and money to BOS for Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, and Roenis Elias.
The Padres would be taking a flier on Barnes, a former top prospect that's still young and flashes the crisp fastball that once got him prospect recognition. Barnes could start or relieve and is not too dissimilar to Brandon Maurer when the Padres acquired him. Johnson is another potential fit in the rotation, and Elias could start or relieve as well. The Red Sox would be adding a pitcher to supplement their shaky rotation while only giving up what amounts to spare parts for them.
After all these trades, San Diego would end up with a haul of Drury, Fiers, Bregman, Musgrove, Beck, Harvey, Walker, Barnes, Johnson, and Elias. The Padres' roster of the future would then look something like this:
C -- Derek Norris/Austin Hedges
2B -- Cory Spangenberg
3B -- Brandon Drury
SS -- Alex Bregman
1B/OF -- Wil Myers, Christian Walker, Manny Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Jabari Blash, Travis Jankowski, Alex Dickerson, for four spots
SP -- Mike Fiers, Hunter Harvey, Joe Musgrove, Brian Johnson, Colin Rea, Chris Beck, Roenis Elias, Matt Barnes, Brandon Maurer, Robbie Erlin, Luis Perdomo, for five spots
A failed attempt at contending and years of poor drafting and development have led to this dire situation in San Diego. Their MLB roster isn't particularly competitive, while their farm system is largely anchored by the package they got back for Craig Kimbrel. The Padres probably should have traded Justin Upton last trade deadline, but it's too late for that now. A.J. Preller can still make this right, though, and that starts with tearing down the Legos.
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond The Box Score.