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Padres-Royals Trade: Important Takeaways

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The Padres traded away three MLB’ers in Cahill, Buchter, and Maurer, for some players that aren’t impressive on the surface. There are some important elements to this trade that should not be overlooked.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels
Don’t sleep on Matt Strahm.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

On July 24th, the Padres traded Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, and Brandon Maurer to the Royals for Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Esteury Ruiz plus cash considerations. Many have been quick to call the Royals the winners in this deal, but it’s too soon to draw such a conclusion. The Padres traded away a significant chunk of today’s pitching staff for some moves that could have long-term implications for the organization.

Another team traded with AJ Preller’s Padres

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Diego Padres
“We’re back open for business, folks!
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After the fracas that ensued from last year’s medical records controversy and subsequent suspension of General Manager AJ Preller, it had been suggested that teams might be leery of dealing with the Padres for one reason or another. This is the first substantial trade that the Padres have made since that day. With other potential trade chips in stock such as Brad Hand and Jhoulys Chacin, it’s important that the organization has re-established a level of respectability and accountability with the rest of the league. This move may act as a statement that teams are willing to deal with the organization as usual.

The Padres didn’t really trade away all that much

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
  • Trevor Cahill was signed in the offseason to a $1.75m one-year contract. He was a pure rental who showed that he can be an effective starter due to new-found deception, but also got knocked around plenty and spent over a month and a half on the disabled list. His four starts since coming back from the DL were hardly impressive, so getting anything for him may have been a bit of a coup.
  • Ryan Buchter was signed as a minor league free agent before last season. Known as a fireballer with control issues, he found the strike zone and made a name for himself last season. While his ERA hasn’t risen much from last year, his home run rate has spiked and his FIP+ suggests that the low ERA is the result of some good fortune. The league appeared to have adjusted to his high-spin fastballs up in the zone, as is often the case after a player goes through the league once or twice. Buchter is a solid reliever, but even with his remaining years of team control he was unlikely to still be around when the Padres are targeting contention. As the arbitration clock ticks, a player loses value. This was likely his peak market value, and AJ Preller may have sold when his stock was at its maximum. Most will miss his high heat, but many have already lamented that this brings an end to “Between Two Bases,” an underappreciated element of quirk that Buchter brought to the team.
  • Brandon Maurer was acquired to Seth Smith, who had signed an extension (By AJ Hinch) but had no clear role with the team at the time. The Padres had brought Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers on board, so Smith was an extra piece with a contract not befitting a bench player. Maurer has the stuff of a closer, and was successful in the role for long stretches both this year and last. His ugly ERA hid quality peripherals that suggested that he’s been quite unlucky. He may go on to a nice career as a closer and should be a dominant setup man, but again he was unlikely to stick around long enough to see the Padres minor league system bear fruit. Like Buchter, his trade value may have been at a maximum, so consider him another potential “sell high” candidate.

The new Padres are all intriguing in their own ways

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
  • Travis Wood comes to the Padres with the Royals paying all of his salary for the remainder of this season and all of next year. The 30-year-old lefty is four years removed from an All-Star season as a starter and had a very nice season last year as a reliever. The book on him has been that he’s ineffective in a platoon disadvantage, which can be a death knell for a lefty. Tyson Ross had the same problem. So did Drew Pomeranz. You see where I’m going with this. Wood surely wants to secure one final contract as a starter, so the Darren Balsley treatment may give him the tweaks in pitch selection and location to get past the platoon blues. If all goes well, he could be a veteran swingman rental trade candidate at next year’s deadline. Sound familiar?
  • Matt Strahm was listed as the Royals’ #1 or #2 prospect by several outlets at the onset of the 2017 season. A rough start and a subsequent knee injury ended his season and took away his rookie eligibility, but he’s still a young lefty with an electric arm. He throws a fastball in the mid-90’s with late life, and he has a wipeout curveball that’s absolutely nasty. The knee is recovering, but the arm is healthy after completing his recovery from a Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2013. Some are considering him a reliever candidate, but scouts seem to still like him as a starter. With two dominant pitches in his fastball and curve, a foundation is in place for another dose of the Balsley treatment that once again seems kinda familiar to where Drew Pomeranz was when the Padres acquired him. Pencil Matt Strahm into the starter competition next spring.
  • Esteury Ruiz is a lottery ticket, but so was Fernando Tatis, Jr a year ago when he was the apparent throw-in from the James Shields deal. Ruiz is wiry but with the frame to add bulk. He has a propensity to make hard contact with all kinds of pitches, all through the zone. He hasn’t struck out a ton so far in his brief AZL experience, but he hasn’t walked a whole lot either, but then again it’s way too early to scout a stat line in Rookie ball. He’s a second baseman right now who could develop into whatever AJ Preller sees in his crystal ball, but all I know is that AJ Preller has a nose for international talent, and he’s had his eye on this kid for a while.

This means something. This is important.

The Padres traded away three players who had no long-term future with the organization and whose values were all likely on the decline. They got three players with the potential for a near-term value flip (Wood), a medium-term high-ceiling project (Strahm), and a long-term high-ceiling prospect (Ruiz). Yeah, the bullpen will be tough to watch, and we might miss Buchter and Maurer next year, but there are now two new rotation candidates in the 2018 pool and a fun prospect to follow to go along with Tatis, Almanzar, Arias, Rosario, Belen,... you get the idea. While the Royals got the immediate bullpen and back-end rotation support they needed, the Padres got long-term value that may bear fruit for years. This is a win-win that could tilt heavily in the Padres’ favor when we look back a few years from now.