Anthony Rizzo was a "Hoyer Guy." Jed Hoyer was part of the team that drafted him. Jed Hoyer pushed hard for his inclusion in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Josh Byrnes didn't watch Anthony Rizzo in high school. Byrnes wasn't there when Rizzo was battling Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2008. Understandably, GMs pull hard for their selections to "make it" as major leaguers, and watching a player's personal and professional development only adds to this feeling.
When Hoyer left San Diego for the GM job with the Cubs, the new Padres administration didn't have this kind of attachment to Anthony Rizzo. Instead, GM Josh Byrnes sought to leverage Hoyer's connection with Rizzo and turn it into a young, top-of-the-rotation starter - the rarest of all MLB commodities. Rightly or wrongly, Byrnes fired off a pair of transactions that would re-shape the franchise - sending away Rizzo and the talented Mat Latos in hopes of establishing a larger core of young players to propel the Padres into their next era.
Byrnes' replacement will have some serious evaluating to do, as his predecessor's fingerprints are all over this club. A new GM has the benefit of fresh perspective on the organization and the players that comprise it. There are no emotional "favorites" or lingering memories of past performance - a new set of eyes has some benefit of objectivity in evaluating the future value of existing talent.
Before we evaluate the players on the chopping block we have to realistically consider that the expiring contracts and near-expiring contracts are mostly as good as gone. There is next to no chance you see Chase Headley, Josh Johnson, or Seth Smith next year. The new GM will have decisions to make on veteran favorites Tim Stauffer and Chris Denorfia, as well as a slew of Byrnes-additions on short-term deals that could net some sort of positive return.
Tier 1 - Short-term Trade Pieces
Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Carlos Quentin, Ian Kennedy
Other than Quentin, each of these players is having an excellent season, making them obvious sell-high candidates. Kennedy at his best is a rotation anchor who can give you good innings, hang with frontline starters for short spurts and sport a legendary fire-beard. He is the kind of player most every team could use, but not one that is good enough to build around. After a rough 2013 in Arizona he has re-vamped his career under Bud Black and Darren Balsley - putting up a career high strikeout rate of 9.6 k/9. His flyball tendencies should probably keep him out of the AL East or NL Central, but he is controllable through 2015 which should net a better return than a pure-rental.
Street and Benoit are similar in terms of potential value. Both are veterans with a strong recent body of work and have decent contracts that keep them under team control through 2015 and 2016 respectively, if each of their reasonable options are exercised by the team. Further, the Padres have the option to eat some of their salaries in order to net a better return and inject nitrous into the rebuilding process. Benoit particularly could net a strong return if the Padres make him an affordable option. As a trade piece he is comparable to the less durable Mike Adams who returned two quality starting pitching prospects in Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. Durability issues surround Huston Street, but his reasonable contract offsets some of that risk for teams looking for potentially cheap bullpen help. Encouragingly, there will always be a trade market for "proven closers" and I'm sure Kevin Towers is already on his blackberry.
Carlos Quentin was a clear Byrnes favorite. After being let go by the Padres I am almost 100% certain that he called Quentin's cell phone just to hear him breathe. Byrnes spoke often about how he regretted trading away TCQ while GM of the Diamondbacks. Byrnes atoned for his sins at the Altar of Slugging Percentage and acquired Quentin on the cheap. Reasoning that his power, approach, hometown roots, and silent leadership would be an important piece to the Byrnes-era Padres, he extended Quentin through 2015 with a $10m mutual option for 2016. Quentin will earn $9m next season. Although he is clearly not an everyday outfielder his bat has mostly been as advertised through his Padres tenure. A move to an AL team where he can DH would be mutually beneficial to the Padres and Quentin. TCQ seems to understand this as he has shown an openness to waiving his hometown no-trade clause. The kicker in any Quentin trade would be the Padres' willingness to eat some of his salary. Where his 100 PA slump and recent injuries already hurt his trade value, the front office must realize that Carlos Quentin at a cost of $3-4m a year is infinitely more enticing than Carlos Quentin at $9m. Still with a year of control left, the regime may choose to wait out Quentin's down year and give him one more go in 2015 in an outfield that could suddenly be bereft of both MLB talent and great hair.
Tier 2 - Fungible Bit Players
Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Rene Rivera
Venable's inclusion here is largely academic. Its doubtful that any team would willingly trade for him (perhaps Omar Minaya has pictures of Ned Colleti's wife) The new GM's decision is probably whether or not Venable will get an invite to Spring Training next year or a polite DFA. Venable is signed for $4.2m next season, which is not an insignifcant number for a small-market team to absorb without getting any return. While Byrnes may have felt pressure to give Venable a chance to dig himself out of his most recent hole in order to save face, there is a strong likelihood that a new GM could look at him as a sunk cost. Venable is one of those players that it is difficult to be objective about. He will occasionally flash breathtaking defense, uncommon athleticism, and a bat that can get hot for long periods of time. The maddening flipside to that coin is that for months at a time he can look completely lost in the game of baseball. His abysmal 2014 is quickly erasing any lingering memories of his team-carrying play down the stretch in 2010. This phenomenon is common to multiple sports and was the subject of a critically acclaimed 1996 documentary:
Reasonable GMs can disagree about Chris Denorfia's future. On the one hand his skillset makes him an ideal bench player - strike zone management, versatile defense, bat control, hustle, and of course mullet. On the other hand his lack of patience, power, and historic weakness against right-handed pitching have kept him from being the kind of guy who could start everyday on a playoff team. His two year, $4.2m extension looked like an underpay at the time, but Norf's performance is starting to fall in line with the front office projections. Although still a useful player, Deno is weeks away from his 34th birthday and showing signs of decline. Fortunately, players whose offensive game revolves around bat control rather than bat speed tend to have gradual sunsets rather than dramatic collapses. However, Denorfia's declining defensive value is going to dramatically hurt his game. With his offensive skills, strong corner outfield defense, and ability to play center field, it wasn't long ago that Denorfia looked like the SuperSoaker 5000 of fourth outfielders. Recently, his defensive numbers have slipped and Bud Black has shown less willingness to use him in center field despite Cameron Maybin's injuries and Will Venable's Will Venableness. At the moment he can definitely help a good team win, but as time goes on it becomes harder and harder to make the case for a guy with no power, no patience, and middling defense, no matter how much grit he has. If the next GM decides to bring him back, it will likely be in a Kotsay-like clubhouse leadership role.
Rene Rivera is another clear sell-high target. He has been indispensible to the pitching staff and has shown surprisingly average production with the bat. Once a veteran minor leaguer, Rivera has greatly benefited from the new popularity of pitch-framing statistics where he is basically a member of Seal Team 6. Further he has developed a close relationship with staff ace Andrew Cashner as well as working well with up-and-comer Tyson Ross. With those two in the club's long-term plans it will be difficult to part with Rivera, but with top prospect Austin Hedges in the pipeline and a new GM who may want to "make a statement," anything is possible.
Tier 3 - Young Players at a Crossroads
Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Tyson Ross, Alex Torres
All of these guys were Byrnes acquisitions, and all of them have shown promise as well as reasons for concern. Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso are not hitting as well as they are capable of hitting. Both have battled injuries and constant second-guessing, but they have benefited from having a GM that believed in his evaluations of their talent and stood by them as they struggled. At 25 and 27 respectively they are each young enough to turn things around, but old enough that if they were struggling actresses or dancers it would already be time to start looking for a rich husband. Despite their inconsistencies, neither has looked like a lost cause yet. A new GM is going to evaluate them differently from Byrnes and will have to decide whether to be patient or afford them a change of scenery. While Alonso may see some of his playing time eroded thanks to tendinitis and the presence of Tommy Medica, it is likely that the new administration continues to give the younger and more dynamic Yasmani Grandal a chance to prove himself as a major league catcher - at least until Hedges starts threatening for the job or just starts threatening people in general.
Alex Torres a.k.a. Brainchild also flashed strong potential last season. With impressive stuff and strong peripherals it seemed that he could be a potential rotation piece one day. Addressing a win-now need, Byrnes acquired him as a combination lefty-specialist and general use bullpen arm. Although the talent is clearly there, Torres is poorly suited for the role. He hasn't shown a useful platoon split and he's been entirely too wild. Advanced metrics like Fielder Independent Pitching suggest that the season's small sample-size is inflating his perceived value with a mirage of an ERA number. I don't expect to see him in this role next season. The major possibilities are that he either gets a crack at the Padres rotation, is traded to a team that sees him as a starter, or is killed in the unstable gravity caused by his protective helmet.
Tyson Ross is one of the most successful Byrnes acquisitions. His slider alone has been worth more runs than the pieces the Padres gave up to acquire him. Though wild at times, he looks to be at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter who has potential to look untouchable when his pitches are working. He generates a huge number of strikeouts and grounders, allowing Bud Black to use more offensively-minded outfield configurations with him on the hill. Despite injury concerns, he has been fairly consistent and remains cost-controlled through 2017. However, a new administration might be willing to move him in order to expedite the re-building/re-tooling process - which brings up the next possibility:
The Elephant in the Room - Andrew Cashner
Andrew Cashner is clearly the most talented and exciting player on the team today. A top draft pick with overwhelming velocity and a lethal repertoire of pitches, he has all the pedigree of a future ace. While injuries have kept him from turning in a full season of excellence, he continues to turn in exciting starts and tastes of future brilliance. He isn't there yet, but true top-of-the-rotation starters are so rare and valuable that teams are rarely willing to part with them years ahead of free agency. When teams do move them they can net franchise-changing returns. As we saw with Byrnes' trade of Latos, moving a young, cost-controlled ace is just about the fastest way to build a core of talent. Though the results have been mixed for the Padres, the possibility of moving the top trade chip has to at least be considered by the new administration.
Talents like Cashner don't come around often. The Padres have also historically had problems generating true franchise-type players. No team wins without good frontline starters and with prospects Max Fried broken and Matt Wisler struggling, the organization would lack any pitcher who could touch Cashner's talent level until at least some time after the 2015 draft.
However, if the new GM has a pessimistic view on the futures of Grandal, Alonso, Medica, and Cabrera, then there is no way that trading the rentals and Tier 1 trade pieces would net enough to really re-build without at two seasons of tanking. If the new GM sees a future with some of those players, and future help comes from prospects like Hunter Renfroe, Rymer Liriano, and Austin Hedges, then trading away the expiring contracts and short-term deals might bring in enough talent to form the basis of a competitive team.