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Trading Aces

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Should the Padres really start selling the farm for a top-flight pitcher?

Miami Marlins v Tampa Bay Rays
Is Chris Archer worth the Padres top prospects?
Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

Some of the latest entrees coming off the hot stove the past couple days involve the Padres looking into more than just stocking the pantry with prospects: the team has been linked to doing diligence on several top pitchers from teams on the selling end. Such names as Chris Archer and Noah Syndergaard have been linked to the Padres front office doing some pricing on obtaining their services.

The departure from the current modus operandi of “sell what you got on the big league roster for hot prospects” caught most of the Padres fanbase off guard. Could this signal a beginning to the eruption of talent? Is there a lack of faith in some of the arms down on the farm making it to top of the rotation status? Could this be a boneheaded move to try to bring relevance to a team toiling at the bottom of the MLB rungs?

What’s most troubling about such a move is that pitchers such as Chris Archer or Noah Syndergaard are signed to long-term deals and thus would require prospect capital in order to be pried away from their respective teams.

Chris Archer is in the middle of a 6 year/$25.5 million contract that includes team options keeping him under contract until 2020. The 7-year veteran righty has been a durable staff leader for the Tampa Bay Rays, pitching over 200 innings in his last 3 seasons with a career 3.69 ERA. Though this year’s ERA (4.30) is inflated when compared to other top pitchers the figure is usually written off as the “AL East” effect where ERAs floating around 3 or 4 are still considered successful. The other stats for Chris aren’t quite as exemplary this year as in years prior but they’re still good: 3.50 FIP, 9.9 strikeouts per 9, 1.4 WAR accumulated so far (via Fangraphs, B-R is harsher at 0.5). The two-time All Star is expected to demand a solid return in trade talks, and fans of the Rays over at sister blog DRaysBay dug into what they expected to see as a return for Archer:

Get Gore or Morejon, one of Urias or Mejia, and some extra good pieces, like 1-2 of Hedges/Renfroe/Logan Allen/Chris Paddack and I could deal with this.

Oh...yikes.

Meija, Morejon, Renfroe, and a lottery ticket lower level arm

And I’m game.

Yeesh.

Two fringe top 100 prospects and some depth is not going to get it done for Archer. No one is going to trade a top 30 starter with all that control on a team-friendly contract unless they’re getting multiple impact pieces back.

If a prospect is the headliner in a deal, it’s going to take one of the Pads top position player prospects, plus some more, to get it done. If it’s a prospect-heavy deal, then a proposal that the Rays might actually consider is something like …

Urias/Mejia + Renfroe/Paddack/Allen/Quantrill + Naylor/Cordero/another 45 FV prospect

Basically, the packages that you’re talking about plus a top position player prospect. The trades you’re proposing only get you about half the way there. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts, though.

Whatever you trade for Archer is going to hurt. You aren’t going to make a deal for him with a 3/4 starter prospect and a right fielder with a league-average bat as the main pieces going back to the Rays.

What is apparent in the conversations is that perhaps both sides have overvalued their pieces of the trade, and that’s fine. That’s to be expected of fans of either side and the opines of trade pieces may be completely off-course of what either team has really placed on the bargaining table.

What is most worrisome on the Padres end is exactly what names have been lobbed up in speculation for a trade: Luis Urias, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Francisco Mejia...essentially anyone and everyone within the Padres top 10. As a refresher here’s what it took to land top pitchers in recent previous trades:

  • Jose Quintana - Traded to the Cubs from the White Sox - White Sox got Eloy Jimenez (Cubs #1), Dylan Cease (Cubs #2), Matt Rose & Bryant Flete (outside top 30).
  • Chris Sale - Traded to the Red Sox from the White Sox - White Sox got Yoan Moncada (Boston #1 and former #1 top prospect overall), Michael Kopech (Boston #5), Luis Basabe (Boston #8), & Victor Diaz (outside top 10).
  • Shelby Miller - Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Atlanta Braves with Gabe Speier - Braves got Dansby Swanson (Arizona #8 and former #1 overall draft pick), Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte

While it’s been a long time since Shelby Miller has been anything resembling a decent pitcher, it's obvious that price tags for a #1 starter include up to 2-3 top 10 prospects.

This means Urias, Mejia, Morejon, Baez, Paddack, Allen, Allen again, Quantrill...all in consideration. Given their seasons so far and the hope they provide for the future, do you really think seeing them develop into future major league contributors on another team is worth a pitcher (albeit, a good one) that takes the field once every 5 games?

Noah Syndergaard of the Mets is a more tantalizing option as Padres ace only because of how electric his stuff is. The 6’6” 240 pound pitcher aptly nicknamed Thor can throw north of 100 mph so often that his changeup sits at 90-93 mph. His stats are more impressive than Archer’s are as well: 2.89 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 10.00 K/9, 2.3 WAR all pop off the page before you turn to look at the scores on the TV and look back to realize Syndergaard is back on the disabled list. Noah hasn’t thrown north of 180 innings since 2016. He missed most of 2017 with a lat injury. Despite the injury history, Syndergaard is still a viable option thanks to his contract with team control until 2022.

While Noah hasn’t garnered as much trade interest as his teammate Jacob deGrom, a package to gain the righty’s services would still cost the Padres a pretty prospect or two given the depletion of the Mets’ farm system.

Let’s check in with what the folks over at sister blog Amazin Avenue think:

I have two packages in mind

Package A: Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and Logan Allen

Package B: Francisco Mejia, Luis Urias, Logan Allen and Luis Patino

Both those are light.

Any package we get needs to include both Gore and Tatis Jr, and should also include Baez.

Just about the same amount of pain as a proposed Archer trade. Though the Mets got relative peanuts for Jeurys Familia, you probably shouldn’t bank on a LOLMets move for either Syndergaard or deGrom.

The Padres took a similar shot to land a staff ace back in 2015, though it only cost the team money to land James Shields. The stats and pedigree were there: 3.21 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 7.21 K/9, lead the 2014 Royals to the World Series. Though Shields would have a serviceable 2015, the righty fell off a cliff in 2016 by allowing a league-leading amount of home runs (and a memorable one to Bartolo Colon). One Ron Fowler rant and clubhouse sign later found Shields traded to the White Sox for then-unknown Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Erik Johnson. Echoes of what may happen should the Padres move pieces for an Archer or Syndergaard reasonably have fans up in arms especially since it’ll take more than just whatever Uncle Ron has in his wallet, but AJ Preller’s sweat equity in finding prized prospects who will hopefully turn into controllable long-term Padres.

The most common refrain (other than NOOOOOO) regarding the Padres’ quest for a controllable top pitcher is that it’s simply too soon to be looking for such a player. Given the volatility of pitching as a whole profession, is it really worthwhile to consider giving up top pieces of the farm for a starting pitcher that by himself won’t push the 2019 Padres into contention? By and large the consensus play is for the team should be to see what they have in the players coming up from the farm. Because the Padres aren’t lined up for a playoff run (yet), it would serve the team well to see what shakes out from prospects graduating into the big league roster in 2019 and 2020. Perhaps the Padres future #1 will be in one of those groups? Just maybe a starter could be signed as a free agent? While I highly doubt that the Padres would ever be able to pry away Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers, Drew Pomeranz is due to hit the market...though he is also a shade of his former 2016 All Star self. It might just be more prudent to back up the Brinks truck for Manny Machado.

Perhaps this search is a power play by AJ Preller in order to gauge pricing on pitching. Maybe it’s just the team doing their due diligence. In any case, it would be foolhardy to believe one pitcher (even an ace) could push the Padres into contention next year given the talent currently on the roster this season. A pitcher acquisition would be a better question for the 2021 Padres to address after many of the top prospects have made their way onto the roster and our Friars need to tool up for a World Series run.