Padres Keep Adding, Acquire Yu Darvish From Cubs
Less than 24 hours after acquiring Blake Snell, the Padres swung another blockbuster trade to bolster their starting rotation.
The Padres reportedly acquired Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini from the Cubs on Monday night in exchange for veteran righthander Zach Davies and prospects Reggie Preciado, Ismael Mena, Yeison Santana and Owen Caissie. Kevin Acee and Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune first reported the complete list of players involved in the trade.
Darvish, 34, finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2020 while Caratini gives the Padres an experienced backup behind Austin Nola at catcher. With Snell and Darvish, the Padres now have a pair of established front-of-the-rotation starters that should allow them to contend in 2021 even with Mike Clevinger out for the year following Tommy John surgery and Dinelson Lamet's health status uncertain after he missed the postseason with an elbow injury and received a platelet-rich plasma injection.
It is the latest deal in which the Padres have traded from their vaunted prospect depth to bolster the major league roster. Since the 2020 trade deadline, the Padres have traded 18 prospects as well as recent prospect graduates Cal Quantrill, Josh Naylor, Francisco Mejia and Ty France, among other major leaguers, in eight separate trades.
Preciado, Mena, Santana and Caissie were the Padres No. 15, 17, 18 and 20 prospects, respectively. All are age 20 or younger and only Santana has played a professional game. The quartet bolsters a Cubs farm system that ranked 21st in the midseason organizational talent rankings, but at the cost of the club's ace.
(Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the timing of Owen Caissie's elbow injury.)
Zach Davies, RHP
Davies was solid over the course of five seasons with the Brewers and flourished after a trade to the Padres in 2020, going 7-4, 2.73 in 12 starts. He finished fifth in the National League in ERA and eighth with a 1.067 WHIP while posting the highest strikeout rate (8.2 K/9) and second-lowest walk rate (2.5 BB/9) in his career. Davies' breakout came as a result of decreasing his fastball usage by about 10% and increasing his changeup by the same amount. His fastball averages 88 mph, but he's able to succeed by locating it and keeping hitters off balance with his changeup, which has developed into a dominant, swing-and-miss pitch. He also has a cutter and a curveball, but he throws his fastball and changeup more than 80% of the time combined. The prevalence of Davies' changeup made him dominant against lefthanded batters but more susceptible to righthanders in 2020. Over the course of his career, his platoon split is more even. Davies will join Kyle Hendricks as another fastball-changeup righthander at the front of the Cubs rotation. He is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the 2021 season.
Reggie Preciado, SS
Preciado trained with his father Victor, a former Yankees minor leaguer, and emerged as Panama’s top prospect in the 2019 international class. The Padres signed him for $1.3 million. He has yet to play an official professional game, but did participate in instructional league in 2020. Preciado grew an inch since signing and now stands 6-foot-5 with a skinny, projectable frame. He isn’t overly twitchy, but he has a knack for being on time at the plate. A switch-hitter, Preciado’s lefthanded swing has a bit of an elliptical path and his righthanded swing is a more compact stroke. They’re different swings, but he’s shown the ability to drive the ball from both sides and has room to grow into power as he fills out. He is still learning to control the strike zone. Preciado is a fringe-average runner, but his advanced instincts and polished defensive skills allow him to handle shortstop for now. His above-average arm strength should improve as he gets stronger. Preciado has plenty of upside, but he's only 17 and a lot hinges on how his body fills out. He will make his professional debut in 2021, likely in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Ismael Mena, OF
Mena was one of the most athletic players in the 2019 international class and signed with the Padres for $2.2 million, the largest bonus the club awarded that year. His professional debut was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but he put on 7-10 pounds of good weight and stood out during instructional league. Mena is a lean, sleek center fielder with plus-plus speed in the outfield. He’s a slashing hitter who sprays the ball around with a whippy swing from the left side, although he’s added strength and leverage and has started to drive the ball in the air. Mena’s swing can be too steep at times and he’s prone to striking out, but that may improve with experience and maturity. Mena’s routes and instincts in center field are a work in progress. He has the speed for the position but needs experience to refine his play. He has a plus arm that could get even stronger as he fills out. Mena shows hints of a potential top-of-the-order center fielder, but, like Preciado, he is a teenager yet to play a professional game and has many years of development ahead. He is likely to open 2021 in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Yeison Santana, SS
Santana is the lone prospect the Cubs acquired to have played a professional game, and what he's shown so far has been promising. Signed for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Santana quickly added strength and emerged as one of the top players in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his stateside debut in 2019, finishing fourth in batting average (.346) and sixth in on-base percentage (.429). He continued to impress at instructional league in 2020. Santana is an aggressive hitter who swings hard but has the hand-eye coordination and barrel awareness to make consistent contact. He lines the ball to all fields, especially up the middle and the opposite way, and shows a keen eye for the strike zone. He is a lithe, twitchy athlete with explosive hands and may grow into power as he gets bigger. Santana plays with energy in the field and has a good awareness for the game. He occasionally plays too fast but has the ability to stay at shortstop with his solid range, actions and arm strength. Santana was frequently asked about in trade discussions prior to the Cubs acquiring him. Evaluators see him as at least a potential utility player with a chance to be a starting middle infielder depending on how his power and defense develop.
Owen Caissie, OF
Caissie starred as the top power hitter on Canada’s junior national team and generated buzz in the spring when he hit a home run off the batter’s eye at the Blue Jays’ spring training stadium. The Padres drafted him 45th overall in June and signed him for just over $1.2 million to forgo a Michigan commitment. Caissie briefly played at the alternate training site after signing but was hit by a pitch on the right elbow early in instructional league and suffered a hairline fracture that kept him out most of the fall. Caissie is a big lefthanded hitter with plus raw power and room to add even more strength. He posts some of the top exit velocities and longest home run distances in every environment he plays. Caissie’s swing can get long and he is prone to striking out, but when he gets a fastball over the plate he crushes it. He is a hard worker who spends every free moment in the batting cage working on his swing. Caissie is much more raw defensively. He has average speed and an average arm, but he’s not comfortable with high fly balls and is still learning proper footwork in right field. Caissie's lefthanded power makes it easy to dream on 30-plus home runs, but he needs to show he can make enough contact to get to his power consistently and has a lot of work to do defensively. He has yet to play an official professional game and will likely make his debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2021.
Trading An Ace In The Offseason Can Pay Dividends
Following the Snell and Darvish trades, we examined every offseason trade since 1995 involving an ace.
Yu Darvish, RHP
Darvish made only eight starts for the Cubs in his first season after signing a six-year, $126 million contract due to an elbow injury. He struggled in the first half of 2019 after he returned, but he rounded into form and posted a 2.76 ERA in 13 starts after the all-star break and continued to excel in a dominant 2020. Darvish's fastball averaged 95.9 mph in 2020, his highest average velocity since coming to the U.S. from Japan in 2012, and his slider and cutter lead the way as the top swing-and-miss offerings in his famously wide assortment of pitches. Darvish has completed at least six innings in 21 of his last 25 starts dating back to the 2019 all-star break, giving the Padres needed durability at the front end of their rotation. He has three years and $59 million remaining on his contract.
Victor Caratini, C
Caratini made his MLB debut in 2017 and progressively settled in as Willson Contreras' backup behind the plate while also seeing time at first base. The switch-hitter has been a modest offensive contributor with a career .250/.327/.372 slash line, but he's an excellent framer and was Darvish's personal catcher in 2020, catching all 12 of his starts. He excels at pulling balls into the strike zone and ranked among the top 10 of major league catchers in most framing metrics, according to Baseball Savant. He's thrown out 24% of attempted basestealers in his career, slightly below the league average of 27% in his four seasons in the majors. Caratini is under team control through 2023. He will primarily serve as Nola's backup and continue to operate as Darvish's personal catcher.