The Winter Meetings are over. The Rule 5 Draft is finished. It's time to start nailing down arbitration contracts. The Front Office has made some interesting moves and certainly aren't done. What's the direction?
So far, we've seen Preller trade away Benoit, Kimbrel, Alonso, Rzepczynski, and Gyorko. In exchange for those contract commitments, he brought back toolsy prospects along with Jon Jay, a bounce-back candidate on a one-year deal, and Drew Pomeranz, a reclamation project under team control for a few years. He brought in a talented catcher project in Christian Bethancourt. He grabbed some high-ceiling, low-floor guys in the Rule 5 draft. He's added some minor league contract players who should add depth at a low cost. These moves all hint at a strategy for 2016.
The payroll commitments moving forward are few and reducing. Arbitration eligible players aside, there are currently six players on contract for 2016 - Kemp, Shields, Upton, Jay, Wallace, Amarista. That number drops to three for 2017, two for 2018, and Kemp's contract expires after 2019. There is a ton of payroll flexibility moving forward. This was obviously a main goal for management after the 2015 experiment failed to bear fruit. Now they have about $15-25M to spend this year after a projected current payroll of ~$99M once the arbitration process is completed.
It's apparent that the organization is looking ahead beyond 2016. Given the recent moves of San Francisco and Arizona, I'd say that's a prudent move. Another year of development should have some farm pieces ready to make a splash, and the freedom to bring in some key pieces to support the youth puts the Padres in a nice position.
First, the team needs to field a respectable team in 2016. There are some gaping holes (SS, pitching, LF) that need to be addressed. Does Ross/Shields/Cashner get traded? Shields makes sense from a financial standpoint. Ross might make sense if he's not a part of Preller's long-term plan. Cashner would be a "sell low", but he's a year away from free agency so it might make sense as well. There's a surplus at catcher, and also with 2B/3B utility types. Preller has stated that he wants to exhaust the trade market before dipping in to free agency.
I expect the 2016 team to have a fair share of players in a similar situation as Jon Jay. Young enough to have tread left on the tires, not prohibitively expensive, short deals, maybe coming off a down year. Last year, Preller was quiet at the trade deadline. I don't expect that to be the case this year. The Padres need to be respectable and entertaining through the All-Star Game, but beyond that, all eyes need to be focused on the future. If there is a market need where the Padres have assets, Preller will be open for business. Maybe Tyson Ross has a nice start leading to the next Jeff Samardzjia - Addison Russell type of trade. Perhaps Derek Norris gets flipped for a couple of talented pitchers who are blocked in a contender's system.
2015's offseason was a rollercoaster ride of exciting names. This year's trip might not be as exciting from a star power standpoint, but the organization's prospect pool is already stocked with more talent than it was when Preller took the reins. The coaching staff has finally turned over. Preller has "his guys" manning the main posts now. It's time to let his reputation for scouting and player development bear fuit.