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Padres fans wonder: Is this the Fred McGriff trade all over again?

Dec 4, 2010, 10:35 AM EDT

Adrian Gonzalez

There are a couple of trades that probably spring to mind for most Padres fans this morning:

  • Summer 1993: Fred McGriff — making an outrageous $4 million a year– was sent to the Braves in exchange for Melvin Nieves, Vince Moore and Donnie Elliott.  It was one of the most notorious fire sales in baseball history and absolutely none of the players the Padres got in return did a thing to help them;
  • Winter 2006: The Padres send Billy Killian, Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka to the Rangers for Terrmel Sledge, Chris Young and … Adrian Gonzalez.

One trade was disastrous, the other a windfall. One represents the outrageous risk of sending a superstar away in a trade for prospects. The other represents the potential goldmine that a deal for prospects can be.

Obviously, in structure, this is the McGriff trade, inasmuch as the Padres are giving up the superstar. And, as most people who follow such things will tell you, if you’re giving up the best player in the deal, you probably lost the deal.

But that shouldn’t cause Padres fans to despair, because (a) that 2006 deal put the Padres way ahead to begin with; and (b) the folks making this trade are a much smarter bunch of folks than those who sent Fred McGriff to Atlanta.

The Padres gave up virtually nothing for Adrian Gonzalez, and paid him less than $10 million for five years of elite production. Indeed, there likely was not a better dollar-per-dollar value in all of baseball during that time. No, that won’t make them feel better if all of the prospects coming from the Red Sox tank, but you can’t tell the story of Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego without acknowledging it.

Likewise, if you have to give up your star for prospects, having Jed Hoyer doing it in a trade with the Red Sox is the best possible situation.  When people talk about risk with prospects, they’re really talking about two things: (1) the risk that comes from the prospect being an unknown quantity; and (2) the risk that the prospect won’t ultimately turn into a productive major leaguer.  With Hoyer’s history of working in Red Sox player development, a big component of the risk is gone.

And let’s be clear about something: keeping Adrian Gonzalez was not a realistic option for the Padres.  He is on record as saying that he would not be giving the Padres a hometown discount.  He was a mortal lock to leave after the 2011 season for a nine-figure deal.  Unlike some stars in that position — say, Prince Fielder — Gonzalez’s low salary gave him legitimate trade value.  If even one of the prospects coming back in this deal turns into something good, the Padres are ahead of where they would have been had they let him walk.  And really, it’s not like any team out there was offering a better deal for Gonzalez.  The Padres have done about as good as they could have done.

Is this deflating for Padres fans? Absolutely.  You never want to lose your superstar, especially one with the sort of connection to the community that Gonzalez has.  But it was necessary.  As the very deal that brought him to San Diego showed, it could end up being beneficial.  Given the competence, knowledge and experience of Jed Hoyer, the risks of this being a Fred McGriff deal part deux are as low as they could possibly be.  It’s the best that could be made of a bad situation.

And it might turn out to be fantastic.

  1. Larry Smith Jr. - Dec 4, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    While it is true that MOST of the time when you give up the best player in the deal you lose, San Diego doesn’t have to look very far for a deal that runs afoul of that common axiom. The Jake Peavy deal to Chicago. The jury is still out on that one, but it increasingly looks to be the case that San Diego was a big big winner.

  2. JBerardi - Dec 4, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    No, it is not the Fred McGriff trade.

    Casey Kelly is an extremely advanced pitcher for his age with three potentially plus pitches. He did struggle somewhat at Portland this year, but he was very young for AA and on top of that, it was his first full season as a starter (he’d been a two-way player in years past, playing shortstop half the time). He’ll do just fine in PETCO.

    Anthony Rizzo was also in Portland this year at a very young age (20), and after an initial adjustment period, he really raked for them down the stretch. This is all after missing nearly the entire 2008 season with lymphoma. Kid has tremendous strength/power, and plays a mean first base. His approach at the plate needs some refinement, but again, he tore the cover off the ball at a level he really had no business even playing at last year. He’s a potential 30-35 HR guy with good defense at first– remind you of anyone?

    Fuentes didn’t blow anyone out of the water with his full-season debut this year, but he held his own, which is all your really looking for in a teenager in pro ball anyway. He’s very, very fast with a line-drive swing and some power potential. Ideally he ends up as a base-stealing, doubles-hitting rangy CF for the Padres, the exact kind of player they want for that park.

    This was a very respectable haul for a player that San Diego only controlled for one more year. If you want to learn more about these prospects, I HIGHLY recommend checking out SoxProspects.com:

    http://news.soxprospects.com/2010/06/book-anthony-rizzo.html
    http://news.soxprospects.com/2010/04/book-casey-kelly.html
    http://news.soxprospects.com/2010/02/2010-prospect-previews-reymond-fuentes.html (written prior to the 2010 season)

  3. JBerardi - Dec 4, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    Posted in the other AG thread, but as long as I took the time to look it up, it might as well go here too:

    Adrian Gonzalez, age 20, Portland Sea Dogs: 138 games, batted .266/.344/.437
    Anthony Rizzo, age 20, Portland Sea Dogs: 107 games, batted .263/.334/.481

    Again, Rizzo lost nearly an entire season to lymphoma. Given that, he is moving very, very quickly through the minors.

    • schlom - Dec 4, 2010 at 6:17 PM

      The problem with Rizzo and Kelly is that haven’t performed particularly well in the minors yet. Granted they were extremely young for their leagues but they haven’t yet produced. Obviously they are no sure things so this has the potential to be a McGriff deal all over again. Then again, all three might pan out and this could be a total steal for the Padres.

      I think you undersold on exactly how bad that Gonzalez trade was for the Rangers. To get Adam Eaton (who I assume was the key piece) they gave up a younger, cheaper and better starter in Chris Young. So to get a worse pitcher they were the ones throwing in the better prospects! Not smart by Daniels but evidently he learned his lesson.

      • marthalama - Dec 4, 2010 at 8:02 PM

        The key word is “might.” They “might” have the goods. They “might” reach the majors. They “might” be productive once they get there. All a bit of a stretch in exchange for a proven superstar. I personally think the Pads got heavily fleeced. I know the AGon was a goner, but to give him up for some “might be’s” and a bucket of balls is criminal…no Ellsbury, no Lowrie included.

        The Pads might have lucked into a magical season last year, but I don’t see them winning more than 75 games for many years to come.

      • JBerardi - Dec 5, 2010 at 12:20 AM

        Rizzo performed like crazy at Portland. His overall line is depressed because he struggled for about a month after his promotion, but he tore the place up after that. Kelly is more debatable, but while his numbers declined this year, most scouting reports indicated that he actually improved his stuff versus previous seasons (including adding a couple mph to his fastball). That’ll happen when a 20 year old with very limited experience is pushed to AA.

        Also, remember that Padres GM Jed Hoyer was the AGM in Boston as recently as October 2009. He’s very familiar with these players, hell, he may have been partially responsible for scouting and drafting them. He’s got an inside track when it comes to evaluate them.

        @marthalama — If the Padres “lucked into a magical season last year”, isn’t selling on Gonzalez the right move? They’re just going to lose him in a year anyway, and it doesn’t sound like you think they’ve got a chance in that year anyway, so trading him for prospects should be a natural move.

      • marthalama - Dec 5, 2010 at 1:45 AM

        @JBerardi: I had already come to terms that Gonzales was going to be traded…I just thought Hoyer and his brain trust would get more in return than a bucket of balls and an expired Kmart coupon. People can go all gooey about how wonderful the prospects Pads got in return, but none of them have ever seen a big league curveball or faced down a big league pitcher….promise plus a dime, still only nets you a dime; should have gotten at least one big league or major league ready player.

  4. rockymoulton - Dec 5, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    @marthalama – The risk to the Padres is no doubt greater with prospects, but the reward could also be greater. With the team being by your own assessment more than a year away from being highly competitive, they probably prefer the chance to get a group of players with a very high ceiling over major league ready players with limited upside. It’s hard to sell patience to a fan base, but then again, it’s not like they were selling out the park every night anyway.

  5. marthalama - Dec 5, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    @rocky…yes the team will be at least a year or two before it is competitive unless they continue to follow recent trends and turn themselves into the Pittsburgh Pirates West; a feeder team for the rest of the league. But if I pay big league prices to get into the park I expect a big league team.

    However, I will be the first to eat my words if any of these major league wannabes surpass the glorious expectations of sure things like Ruben Rivera, Matt Bush and Mike Antonelli.

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