In hindsight, the signals were apparent on Thursday, when the Padres were mostly quiet, barely engaging with prospective trade partners. Even before that, some Padres officials indicated that the team might hold at the deadline, insisting that they liked their players, claiming they would be fine with getting a draft pick for Justin Upton, saying they did not need to cut payroll.
I thought it was a bluff. Most in the industry did, too, believing the Padres' impetuous ownership and aggressive general manager, A.J. Preller, could not sit still. But then came Friday, deadline day, a day that had been building for weeks, as the Padres told teams they were open to trading virtually everyone on the roster. And . . . nothing. Well, Marc Rzepzcynski, a left-handed reliever. But other than that, nothing.
Shortly after the deadline passed, I tweeted that the Pads largely stood pat because Preller believed that the team could reach the postseason, citing a source. That idea drew immediate scorn, considering that the odds of the Pads making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, were 4 percent. Then Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart revealed on a radio show that the Pads had asked for Paul Goldschmidt in exchange for Craig Kimbrel. More scorn.
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Do the Pads deserve it? Yes.
First of all, even accounting for the crazy spit-balling nature of the deadline, it's absurd to ask for a franchise player such as Goldschmidt in his prime. A Padres source told the Arizona Republic that the mention of Goldschmidt was not serious, but really, that's the least of it, anyway. If the Padres truly are going for it, they should have added more than Rzepzcynski. They should have acquired a shortstop such as the Cubs' Starlin Castro, and taken their best shot.
The strategy still would have appeared incoherent -- somewhat like the Pads' offseason buildup -- but at least it would have been a strategy. Instead, the Padres are stuck, barring, of course, an improbable postseason run. Stranger things have happened, I guess. The Pads have won 11 of their last 15 games. Their August schedule is forgiving. But they still are 6Â½ games back in the race for the second wild card, with three teams ahead of them. Good luck.
The deadline, then, amounted to a lost opportunity. The Pads probably could have gotten a similar package for Upton that the Mets gave the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes; the two teams were talking late Friday, sources say. But even then, Preller failed to seize the moment. He kept Upton , three other potential free agents (righty Ian Kennedy, outfielder Will Venable and reliever Shawn Kelly), and a reliever with an $8 million option, Joaquin Benoit. Unless the Pads re-sign one or more of those players -- and none of them, in fairness, had immense appeal -- they will receive nothing.
The bigger problem is that all of the Padres' controllable assets -- righties Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, closer Craig Kimbrel -- diminished in value the second the deadline passed. All were available for the 2015 pennant race, but unless the Pads abruptly shift course during the waiver period, that no longer is the case. Meanwhile, the Padres' farm system remains in a stripped-down state, thanks to Preller's offseason frenzy.
What is the endgame? Even if the Padres rebound, Preller will need to replace his top hitter and find a shortstop and center fielder this offseason, repair a team that still is currently three games under .500. And he'll still be sitting on four players -- Kimbrel, right fielder Matt Kemp, right-hander James Shields and center fielder Melvin Upton Jr. -- earning a combined $68.95 million in 2016.
Trades will be absolutely necessary then, but Shields' back-loaded contract will remain a turn-off. Cashner, entering his walk year, could be largely an after-thought as teams sift through a crowded free-agent market. And Melvin Upton will be nearly impossible to trade unless Preller significantly pays down the player's remaining obligation.
Oh, Preller had his chances before the deadline. The Yankees relented on Class A shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo and were willing to include him in a package for Kimbrel, sources say. The Yankees also were willing to swallow a healthy portion of second baseman Jedd Gyorko's $33 million obligation from 2016 to '19 in a deal if they could have landed Ross.
Those were just two scenarios; surely, there were dozens of others. But Preller essentially stood pat, telling reporters, "Ultimately, we didn't get the value we wanted to get to." Well, the values just disappeared on his potential free agents who will not merit qualifying offers, and dropped on his players who are under control. The Padres barely are better in the present, no better in the future. A team without a plan, a team without a solution.