During his tenure as GM for the San Diego Padres, Kevin Towers developed a well-deserved reputation as a shrewd trader. The average fan is probably most familiar with his January 2006 deal that sent Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian to Texas for Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young and Terrmel Sledge, but there were many others.
Several are of the variety that cause much head scratching well after the fact: Andy Sheets and Gus Kennedy for Phil Nevin and Keith Volkman; Wally Joyner, Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras for Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko and Jason Shiell; Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson for Heath Bell and Royce Ring; and of course, last summer’s trade of Jake Peavy to the White Sox for four arms while Peavy was on the disabled list and with Chicago taking on all of his remaining contract.
Towers’ final trade might be the one that defines him best: He found something that was of more value to another party than it was to himself; then he figured out a way to make the other party pay top dollar without making it seem like that’s what was happening. There is genius in that. And maybe a hint of evil.
New GM Jed Hoyer appears to have a different style. He’s been on the job less than a year and made three trades (four if you count the epic PTBNL for Kyle Phillips deal). It’s too early to say how those will turn out, but by examining each of his trades, maybe we can learn a little something about his approach.
Eric Sogard and Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland A’s for Aaron Cunningham and Scott Hairston
|The Padres hope Scott Hairston’s second stint in San Diego goes as well as his first. (Icon/SMI)|
Hoyer’s first trade came in January 2010 and resolved a decision that had been waiting to be made for some time, namely, what to do about third base. Kouzmanoff had been the incumbent since coming to San Diego after the 2006 season (in another of Towers’ laughable trades that sent Josh Barfield to Cleveland), establishing himself as a useful enough everyday player and a fan favorite.
The trouble was, the Padres’ best position prospect, Chase Headley, also played third base. While Kouzmanoff was enjoying a fine rookie campaign (.275/.329/.457), Headley was wrecking the Texas League (.330/.437/.580). The following season, the club made room for Headley on the big-league roster by sticking him in left field. He never looked comfortable out there but he did his best and contributed a little on offense.
Although Headley more or less held his own, it had become clear to anyone watching that his future in San Diego or anywhere else did not lie in the outfield. Kouzmanoff, meanwhile, was strictly a third baseman. Something had to give.
Hoyer found a partner in the A’s, who had parts that could be useful to the Padres. Hairston had enjoyed success in San Diego from 2007 to 2009 and nearly saved the ’07 season with his homer in the top of the 13th in that fateful Game 163 at Coors Field. He had demonstrated the ability to hit at Petco Park (owning a career line of .285/.346/.535 there coming into the 2010 season), and fans remembered him well. Hairston also seemed pleased to be returning, expressing regret at having had to leave in the first place.
As for the kids, Sogard is a second baseman who gets on base, but who is a tad old for his level and who has defensive shortcomings. Cunningham once was a highly regarded young corner outfield prospect who now found himself with his fourth organization in as many years. One or both of those players could be something… or nothing.
On a pure talent level, Hoyer hadn’t done much in terms of upgrading his roster. However, he redistributed it in such a way that strengthened a weakness (adding Cunningham and Hairston to the outfield mix) while giving Headley a chance to return to his original position.
Headley hasn’t exactly shined at the hot corner, but he’s been no worse than Kouzmanoff. Headley is also younger and cheaper, and thus more likely to provide a better return on investment going forward—especially for a team that was presumed to be reloading for the future this year.
Cunningham, for his part, has played well in limited opportunities with the big club. Thanks to the next trade on our list, he’s back at Triple-A Portland for now, but he made enough of an impression in San Diego that he’ll get some looks when rosters expand and again next spring. Cunningham will have a better shot to contribute to the Padres than Sogard ever would have.
Overall, this wasn’t a brilliant trade but it was a solid first effort. At the very least, Hoyer demonstrated the ability to recognize strengths and weaknesses within his organization, and acted swiftly and firmly to balance the composition of his roster without taking a loss in talent.
Wynn Pelzer to Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada
|Does Miguel Tejada have anything left to offer the Padres beyond name recognition? (Icon/SMI)|
Conventional wisdom holds that Tejada doesn’t have much left to offer. Conventional wisdom may well be right, but the Padres, finding themselves in the unexpected position of owning the best record in the National League at the end of July, had to do something. They owed it to their fans and to the players who had gotten them to that point.
There has been a lot of talk, for a fairly long time, about it being a matter of when, not if, Adrian Gonzalez will be traded and/or leave San Diego via free agency. Gonzalez, who is a local kid, has made it known that he wants to play for a contender. Well, the Padres suddenly fit that description—as they have for five of their seven seasons at Petco Park.
Tejada is a name brand. Fans will know him and so will his new teammates (among them, Gonzalez). Even if Tejada can’t hit or play shortstop anymore, there is symbolic value in holding up a shiny former MVP for all to see. Maybe he helps the Padres reach the playoffs, maybe not. But the fact that management went out and got him when they had the chance won’t soon be forgotten when it comes time to talk deal with the franchise player.
None of this means that Gonzalez will stay, of course, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t at least appreciate the gesture. How will that translate into dollars at the negotiating table? I have no idea. Still, I expect it will help more than just sitting around doing nothing would have.
As for the price Hoyer paid to get Tejada, it was negligible. Pelzer has a live arm and is the kind of guy Baltimore should be targeting—there is upside here. However, he projects as a reliever, and the Padres have a relative surplus of bullpen arms at the big-league level as well as in the minors. Pelzer was far down the depth chart and didn’t figure to crack next year’s staff. He might get a shot in Baltimore sooner. Better still, he might succeed.
As with Hoyer’s first trade, he made a move here that appears to help both clubs. Again, the net on-field gains may not call to mind some of Towers’ heists, but Hoyer did a nice job of redistributing talent. Although Tejada may not be very good anymore, “not very good” represents an improvement over Everth Cabrera, who has been disastrous enough to lose his job to Jerry Hairston Jr.—a man better suited to a utility role.
Maybe Tejada provides lightning in a bottle. Or maybe he just plants a seed in the mind of Gonzalez that the front office has his back and is prepared to do what is necessary (within the constraints of one of MLB’s tiniest budgets) to put the team in position to win. Either way, the Padres benefit.
Corey Kluber to Cleveland Indians and Nick Greenwood to St. Louis Cardinals for Ryan Ludwick
|Ryan Ludwick produced for the Cardinals; can he do the same in San Diego? (Icon/SMI)|
This is closer to a Towers-type deal. Kluber’s upside is that of a No. 4 starter, while Greenwood is probably no more than roster fill.
Where Tejada gives the Padres a name brand for fans and players to latch onto, Ludwick gives the club a significant upgrade on the outfield corners. With the Padres fighting for a playoff spot and their left fielders hitting like some combination of Mark Belanger and Ed Brinkman, getting another bat was—if not a necessity—not a bad idea. The acquisition of Ludwick both sends a message and provides the Padres with help where they needed it.
Meanwhile, Hoyer gave the Indians a decent short- to medium-term option for their rotation. Kluber may not have huge upside, but he’s close to being ready and could step into the spot vacated by Jake Westbrook (who went to St. Louis in the deal) later this year or early next.
The interesting part of this trade is that it required the cooperation of three teams. I’ve never been a part of these sorts of negotiations, but I imagine it’s hard enough to swing a deal with just two parties involved. The fact that Hoyer was able to fill a need for the Padres (and one for the Indians) while working with two different GMs under deadline pressure speaks well both to his ability to think outside the box and to his people skills.
It’s too early to make firm judgments about any of Hoyer’s trades. However, in looking at his process, we can see that he has exhibited an attentiveness to his partners’ needs, as well as creativity and flexibility.
That last point is crucial. Bear in mind that when Hoyer took the job, the world at large assumed the Padres would be sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline. The big question confronting Hoyer wasn’t who he would acquire for the stretch run, but when would he move Gonzalez and would he get enough in return to justify departing with his team’s most productive and most visible player. As it happened, the Padres found themselves in the thick of a pennant race and in need of reinforcements—all the while operating with a payroll topped by every team in MLB save the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As Hoyer’s predecessor demonstrated on many occasions, creativity and flexibility are excellent traits to possess when operating a small- or mid-market ballclub. What Hoyer may lack in Towers’ ability to wave a hand and make other GMs do things they later regret, he makes up for in an apparent understanding of the importance of giving up surplus talent to shore up holes—and that big moves with broad strokes may sell copy, but smaller moves made with less fanfare and more subtlety can be just as important in piecing together a winner.