Our SB Nation colleague Grant Brisbee wrote a piece about the 2016-2017 free agent market that’s 10% brutal, 20% cheeky, and 100% accurate. This is a dismal class for teams searching for quality players. Outside of the top handful of names, there are question marks, limited skill sets, and some reaches just to fill out lists. Here’s MLBTR’s list with predictions just for good measure. They went so far as to put Derek Holland at #50, and to suggest that the Padres might sign him off the scrap heap as a refurb project. FYI, he was just bought out of the last year of his contract after missing most of the season with shoulder issues and hasn’t been good for at least three years. That’s how far they’re reaching to fill a list that’s usually two or three times this deep.
This isn’t a bad thing, for the Padres at least. If you take a look around our roster, the pieces are there to field a young and interesting lineup with some decent depth at most spots. The bullpen looks like an area of strength, thanks to some adept scouting and found value in Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand. The rotation is a mess, but that’s okay. With a roster full of kids who are quite wet behind the ears, 2017 should be a season where success isn’t measured by winning percentage as much as the individual progressions of prospects like Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, Carlos Asuaje, and Manuel Margot. While management may be looking at the free agent classifieds for rehab projects, they’re not shopping for the kinds of players that will be vastly overpaid by teams stretching to cover holes with flawed players.
This actually puts the Padres in a position of leverage. Let’s take a look at catchers just for fun. Derek Norris is coming off a dreadful season but he still has perceived value in his defense and his ability to hit the ball hard (regardless of the fact that he hits it hard right at everyone). The catchers on these lists are Wilson Ramos (knee injury, might not catch again), Matt Wieters (good but not great), Jason Castro (a platoon mirror image of Norris at this point), and our old friend Nick Hundley. If they’re all demanding two or more years at $10-20M+, don’t you think teams will consider two years of arbitration-eligible Norris to be worth a quality prospect or two? Eric Thames’s name is getting brought up, and he hasn’t played in the MLB since 2012 (he’s been in Korea). Alex Dickerson or Ryan Schimpf could be a more attractive option for teams looking for a lefty bat, and they’re both movable due to young depth behind them. Even the relievers on these lists run well below Buchter and Hand, should the Padres decide to sell high on their new-found bullpen stalwarts.
Beyond the trade market, the Padres have positioned themselves quite conveniently. The spending spree in the international market has been well-documented, and we got to see some of that haul on display in the Padres Futures Game at Petco recently. With tens of millions of dollars going toward penalties and fully expecting a two-year restriction on future international amateur signing bonuses, one would think that the organization is hamstrung for the next couple of years. Well, MLB has decided to discuss an international draft, which has angered the buscones who represent the players to the point that access to those players is becoming increasingly limited, so the whole league might be hamstrung. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires this offseason, and the landscape of international signings is likely to change drastically. AJ Preller may have swept the board right before the wild and free days of international acquisitions become much less wild and free.
Finally, there’s the draft. The Padres have the third overall pick in next year’s strong draft and should have another big pool to spend. With 2017 already looking like a “lost year”, the organization is following the mold of the Cubs, Indians, Astros, and Phillies by using high draft pools to stock the shelves with young, controllable, athletic talent, thereby building a foundation for a franchise that can compete year in and year out.
This offseason, we get to relax a little. Yeah, we need help with the rotation and you can nitpick where positions could be improved, but we’re not looking for that big piece to push us over the edge. We’re not likely to see a blockbuster trade or a big-name signing. But if you look closely, you might see some crafty moves that will build value this year or add future value that should appreciate for years to come. So sit back and keep your eyes peeled for some under-the-radar moves. Hopefully we can look back at this winter and reminisce about those key moves that snowballed into something special.