Image credit: Padres GM A.J. Preller traded six of his top 10 prospects in his first offseason, seeing mixed returns. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Taken at a quick glance, it’s easy to think that Padres GM A.J. Preller has decided that this is the year to cash him all his trade chips.
With a young, exciting and winning team that gives San Diego a very good chance to make its first playoff appearance since 2006, Preller has taken his bountiful farm system and turned it into immediate help. He’s added a playoff starter (Mike Clevinger), a fix for a hole at DH (Mitch Moreland) and acquired needed help for the bullpen (Trevor Rosenthal) and at catcher (Jason Castro and Austin Nola).
This isn’t a team going all-in on a win-or-bust gamble. As the dust clears, San Diego still has eight of the Top 10 prospects it had on its Baseball America midseason 2020 list including its top three prospects (LHP MacKenzie Gore, RHP Luis Patino and SS CJ Abrams) and six Top 100 Prospects.
When you dig a little deeper, it’s pretty easy to see these moves make a lot of sense for San Diego, both in the short and the longer-term. The Padres generally improved the club by trading prospects who would have been part of a future roster crunch.
Below the surface-level evaluations of the trade deadline prospect market every year is a significant amount of roster manipulation. Players who have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason (to protect them from the Rule 5 draft) carry less value than a prospect that is a year or two away from that decision point. Prospects already on the 40-man roster have more value if they have two or three options remaining, while those who will be out of options next season carry the least value.
RHP Andres Munoz (has used zero options), RHP Gerardo Reyes (has used two options), C Luis Torrens (has used three options), OF Edward Olivares, 1B Josh Naylor (has used one option), C Austin Hedges (has used one option), OF Franchy Cordero (has used one option), RHP Ronald Bolanos (has used one option) and RHP Cal Quantrill (has used one option) are already on the 40-man roster.
With the exception of LHP Joey Cantillo and SS Owen Miller (neither of whom will be Rule 5 eligible until the 2021 offseason) every prospect the Padres traded would require a spot on this offseason’s 40-man roster or risk being left exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
This offseason, the remainder of prospects from the Padres’ massive 2016 international spending spree will reach a 40-man roster decision-point. Some of them (Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, Luis Patino and Jorge Ona) have already had to be added to the 40-man roster. Others will be easy calls to leave unprotected. But Tucupita Marcano and Tirso Ornelas will have a case to be added. The Padres also likely need to add Reggie Lawson (2016 high school draftee) to their 40-man this offseason.
So by trading Arias, Bolanos and Rosario, the Padres turned soon-to-be 40-man roster additions into immediate help. And by doing so they also cleared useful, still-valuable young players (Quantrill and Naylor) who didn’t have a significant role on their current roster.
With 38 players on their current 40-man roster (coming into Monday before the Clevinger trade) who are under team control for 2021, San Diego knew it could not come close to protecting everyone. Instead, San Diego turned a potential roster crunch into big league help.