August 26, 2003

Let's make a deal! Done Deal!

Earlier this month, I devoted an entry to the ongoing trade discussions between the San Diego Padres and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the potential trade would have sent Brian Giles and Jason Kendall to the Padres, in exchange for several young players.

I expressed my surprise at the lack of media attention this potential blockbuster trade was receiving and then went on to give my opinion of whether or not the deal was a good one for the Padres. Here is a little of what I said back on August 19th:

"I really think that if the Padres can get Brian Giles and Jason Kendall without giving up too many members of their future core, they should jump at the opportunity. It isn't often that a team gets a chance to add someone like Giles without having to fork over a huge part of their future. And, with the team moving into the new ballpark, the ownership seems willing to add some payroll, which makes adding Jason Kendall and his contract even easier to handle."

Well, the Padres and Pirates finally completed their long rumored trade yesterday afternoon, but it wasn't quite the deal everyone thought they were working on. Instead of having to take on Jason Kendall and his huge contract in order to get Brian Giles, the Padres were able to swing a deal with Pittsburgh that did not involve Jason Kendall at all.

Here is the trade...

San Diego receives:

Brian Giles

Pittsburgh receives:

Oliver Perez

Jason Bay


If you were like me and thought that the Padres giving up a similar package for Giles and Kendall was a good move to make, then you must also be like me and think that giving up that package for Giles, without having to take on the burden of Kendall's contract, is a brilliant move for San Diego.

I really like Oliver Perez. He is young, he is left-handed, he has tremendous "stuff" and his major league strikeout rate has been extraordinary. In 103.2 innings with the Padres this season, Perez has 117 strikeouts, or 10.2 per 9 innings. For his major league career, he has 211 Ks in 193.2 innings pitched, which works out to rate of 9.81/9 IP.

That's awesome for any left-handed starting pitcher, but for a 22 year old lefty it is extraordinary. Of course, he has a ton of problems with his control (113 walks in those 193.2 innings) and he has had a problem giving up too many homers so far, but those are both things that are not unexpected from such a young pitcher.

I would have no problem placing Oliver Perez among the most promising young pitchers in all of baseball right now and I think he has a chance to be a #1 starter for a lot of years. That said, he is still just 22 years old and he is still a pitcher, which means there is an awful lot of stuff that can happen between now and the time he becomes a dominant pitcher that would keep him from ever reaching that level.

There aren't a lot of guys in baseball right now that I would be willing to include Oliver Perez in a deal for, but Brian Giles is certainly one of them. Jason Bay is the other player that we know the Pirates are getting. Bay has really increased his prospect status this season, with an excellent season in Triple-A. He was called up to San Diego earlier in the year and may have been given a shot at sticking in the big leagues, but he got injured almost immediately, breaking his wrist.

At 24 years old, I don't think Bay is an upper-level prospect, but he is certainly a nice one. He is potentially a leadoff hitting centerfielder, with good on-base skills, nice speed and solid defense. He is hitting .303/.410/.541 in 93 Triple-A games this year, with 20 homers, 23 steals and a very solid 55/71 walk/strikeout ratio.

Bay can definitely step into the Pittsburgh lineup immediately as their starting centerfielder and leadoff man. I have not heard anything about who the "Player to be Named Later" might be. One name that has been talked about as being involved in this trade the entire time is outfielder Xavier Nady. If he is the PTBNL, the Pirates get themselves another good, major league-ready prospect.

Basically, a package of Oliver Perez, Jason Bay and a PTBNL (Nady or someone else) is not a horrible one for Brian Giles. If I were the Pirates, I certainly would not have accepted it, but then again, I wouldn't be actively looking to trade someone like Brian Giles in the first place. As I said earlier this month:

"Brian Giles is and has been one of the best players in all of baseball and, at the same time, one of the most underrated players in all of baseball. Maybe I'm crazy, but if you get a player like that, you don't trade him away. You stick in the middle of your lineup and do the best you can to build a team around him."

Depending on who the PTBNL turns out to be, I think I would probably give the Pirates a "C-minus" grade on this deal, and I would definitely give the Padres an "A." Not only were they able to acquire one of the top 5-10 hitters in all of baseball, they were able to do so without having to take on Jason Kendall and his contract, and they were able to do so without completely wiping out their stock of good, young players. Trading a similar package of players for both Giles and Kendall would have been a great move, trading a larger and more valuable package of players for just Giles would have been a great move. Trading this package of players for just Brian Giles...well, I think it's brilliant.

So, the big question now is what does this mean for the Padres? Obviously, it is too late for them to do anything at all this season, as they are currently 51-81, 28.5 games back in the NL West, and owners of the worst record in the National League. It may seem as though next season is even too early for a team with the worst record in the league to do any serious damage and normally I would agree with that, but I think this case may be a little different.

First of all, the Padres have been hurt by injuries to several very key players this season. Trevor Hoffman has yet to pitch a single inning in 2003, Phil Nevin has played in just 29 of the team's 132 games, and guys like Mark Kotsay and Ramon Vazquez have missed significant chunks of time as well.

I know this is a cliche and I hate those as much as the next guy, but this Padres team is really not as bad as its record this season. Or at least this Padres team, completely healthy. So really, not only are they adding Brian Giles to the team for next season, they are also adding Trevor Hoffman and Phil Nevin. Of course, whether or not those last two guys will be healthy next season or not is an entirely different issue.

As it stands right now, this is what San Diego's lineup will most likely look like next season:

1B   Ryan Klesko

2B Mark Loretta
SS Ramon Vazquez
3B Sean Burroughs
LF Brian Giles
CF Mark Kotsay
RF Phil Nevin
C Gary Bennett/Miguel Ojeda

That is a very good lineup. The only real "hole" is the catcher spot, where the only real options San Diego has right now are a couple of light-hitting journeymen. I suspect that the catcher position will be addressed in the off-season and a quality player will be added, making that lineup solid, from top to bottom.

Another possibility is that Khalil Greene, their first-round pick a couple years ago and a guy whom I rated as the #28 prospect in baseball prior to the season, steps in and plays SS in place of Vazquez. Greene has hit .291/.349/.440 between Double-A and Triple-A this season, with 13 homers and 34 doubles in 128 total games. I suspect Vazquez is safe for at least most of next season, but Greene is going to play somewhere eventually and SS is the most likely and most upgradable spot right now.

What I particularly like about that potential lineup is that there are several good options for the leadoff and #2 spots, so that there will be no problem finding guys to get on base and set the table for that extremely dangerous 3-4-5 of Giles, Nevin and Klesko.

Mark Loretta, Ramon Vazquez, Sean Burroughs and Mark Kotsay could all be mixed and match into the top two spots in the lineup and they would all do a very nice job there, getting on base in front of the big boys. I think I would probably go with Loretta leading off and Kotsay batting second, but you really can't go wrong with any combination.

Just how good could that middle of the order be? Well, it's tough to say, especially after what they have all done this year. All 3 of them are having poor seasons by their standards, and Nevin and Giles have each missed time with injuries, with Nevin missing over 100 games.

Here is what they are doing this year:

           AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

Giles .299 .430 .521 .322
Nevin .259 .308 .375 .246
Klesko .248 .355 .451 .284

First of all, Nevin's numbers should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt, because he is coming back from a very serious shoulder injury and has barely over 100 plate appearances under his belt. With Giles and Klesko, all I can say is that you know you're a very good player when a "down year" means a .322 EqA or even a .284 EqA.

Giles' slugging percentage is down about 70-90 points from his established level since going to Pittsburgh in 1999, yet he still ranks 8th in the National League in Equivalent Average. Klesko's on-base percentage (.355) would be his worst since 1997 and his slugging percentage (.451) would be the worst of his entire major league career, which began in 1992. Yet, he still has a .284 EqA and his 17.0 Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP) rank him 7th among NL first basemen.

If you set aside what they've done this season and instead look at what they did over the previous 3 seasons, I think you get a better picture of why this lineup could be extremely good:


Giles .308 .428 .601 .335
Nevin .299 .371 .524 .307
Klesko .290 .388 .531 .318

That's pretty nasty and it gets even better when you consider Nevin and Klesko have been putting up those numbers in a severe pitcher's park. All of them hit for good batting averages, all of them take walks and get on base and all of them have huge power.

The only teams that have 3 guys with .305+ EqAs in the lineup this year are Atlanta, Boston and St. Louis. Those three teams rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd in team Equivalent Average, which means, adjusted for their home ballpark, they have the three best offenses in all of baseball. That's not saying having three .305+ EqA guys in the lineup guarantees a team one of the top offenses in baseball, but it's a damn good start.

You throw in solid offensive contributors like Mark Loretta (.292 EqA this season), Mark Kotsay (.289 EqA last year, .288 in 2001) and Sean Burroughs (.277 EqA this season as a 22 year old), and I think this is potentially one of the top 2-3 offenses in the NL for next season. Of course, if they fill the catcher spot with a free agent like Ivan Rodriguez (.312 EqA), that bumps them up to a whole different level and things could get really interesting.

Of course, offense is only half the story. The Padres pitching-staff does not look nearly as promising for next year, but it is also not a disaster by any means. If the team's management is really going to open up the purse-strings a little bit this off-season to sign some free agents, I would think a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher would be the #1 priority. If they could sign someone like Kevin Millwood or Sidney Ponson or Bartolo Colon, the rest of the rotation would fall into place quite nicely...

#1   Free Agent

#2 Brian Lawrence
#3 Jake Peavy
#4 Adam Eaton

Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton are not having great seasons this year, but they are all having reasonably good ones and they are all young enough to make significant improvements.

Lawrence is the oldest and most experienced of the bunch. He is 27 and in his third major league season. After posting a 3.45 ERA in 114.2 innings his first year, he won 12 games with a 3.69 ERA in 210 innings last season. He has regressed this year (4.54 ERA), but there is no reason why he can't be a solid #2 guy that is able to eat tons of innings.

Peavy is a guy I really like. At just 22 years old, he already has 257 major league innings under his belt and he hasn't embarrassed himself either. He has a 4.41 career ERA, including 4.35 in 159.1 innings pitched this year. He has struggled with his control and with giving up too many homers, but he has a very nice strikeout rate for such a young pitcher (7.49/9 IP in his career) and he has had stretches of dominance, both this season and last.

At 25, Adam Eaton is the middle-child. He missed part of the 2001 season and almost all of the 2002 season with an injury, and is just now rounding back into form. Eaton has a 4.19 ERA in 144 innings this season, with a very nice K rate (7.44/9 IP) and solid control.

After those three and whatever free agent the Padres can find, all they need to do is stumble across one other guy who can give them some innings in the #5 spot in the rotation. Whether that is a veteran like Kevin Jarvis or a prospect like Dennis Tankersley, who knows.

Of course, another option is that, instead of signing a free agent starter to anchor the rotation next year, they could go out and trade for one. Assuming Nady isn't part of the Giles deal, he would seem like the odd man out in the outfield/first base mix. I would guess Nady could fetch a pretty nice veteran starter, and if they really want to get serious, they could sign a veteran starter as a free agent and trade Nady for another starter.

I realize this season hasn't even ended yet and the Padres are almost assuredly going to make several more major moves before the start of next year, but I am officially jumping on the "Padres in 2004" bandwagon. I'm not saying they are going to make the playoffs or that they'll win 90 games, but the addition of a player the quality of Brian Giles, along with the nucleus of players they already have and their potential for off-season acquisitions, make next year's Padres team a very intriguing one and one that could definitely contend for a post-season spot.

And for those of you who are thinking that isn't saying all that much, it is. The Padres haven't won as many as 80 games in a season since they last made the playoffs (and the World Series) in 1998. For the first time in quite a few years, it looks like it's a good time to be a Padres fan.

Link of the Day:

Batter's Box interview with J.P. Ricciardi

My good buddies over at the Batter's Box, the best place for Toronto Blue Jays information and discussion you will ever find, recently were granted an interview with Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi. The interview is very interesting and it got me extremely jealous that not only would the GM of the team they love and write about be willing to sit down with them for an extended chat, but that he would be so publicly supportive of their website. I highly recommend you all check it out and, Terry Ryan, if you are out there, drop me an email sometime and maybe we'll chat!

Today's picks:

San Diego (Lawrence) +205 over Arizona (Schilling)

Chicago (Colon) +130 over New York (Wells)

Baltimore (Hentgen) +190 over Oakland (Zito)

Total to date: + 2,315

W/L record: 216-216 (2-2 yesterday for +135.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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