The San Diego Padres window of competitive baseball starts now with Manny Machado, but in order for them to make the most of it they’ll need to add starting pitching. We’ve got two trade targets that make sense.
The San Diego Padres changed their franchise outlook with one move. And now the script has dramatically changed: The Padres have shifted from bottom-feeders in the midst of a rebuild to an up-and-coming club with a top-10 player in Manny Machado and the best farm system in baseball, which is on the cusp of producing elite players for the big-league club. But their rotation, as we covered here, is not going to be able to carry this team to a postseason berth and beyond, let alone win enough games to be in the playoff conversation.
The Padres starting rotation lacks any front-end talent, with Joey Lucchesi the team’s best option as their Opening Day starter. Lucchesi would likely be at best a 4th or 5th option on teams like Dodgers or Nationals. Currently, Fangraph’s Dan Szymborksi has started visualizing his ZiPS projections, which help show just how porous this Padres rotation is expected to be this season.
The Padres bullpen has some encouraging pieces — names like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates come to mind — but without at least one starter this staff can lean on it’s impossible to expect the Padres to truly compete. And while Dallas Keuchel should be at the top of Padres general manager A.J. Preller’s wish list, there are other options for San Diego, ones that could make less of a financial impact.
The Padres could take some of their prospects and flip them for a starter that aligns better with their new competitive window. There are two teams that come to mind with the type of front-end starters the Padres need that also happen to be listening to offers.
Are the Blues Jays willing to part with Marcus Stroman?
There were reported talks between the Blue Jays and Padres earlier this off-season, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com, but two months later and Marcus Stroman is still in Toronto (technically Dunedin, FL but you get the point). However, the Blue Jays are in such a strange position as a franchise. They currently have the top prospect in baseball, Vladimir Guerro Jr., but their division includes the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays, all of which won at least 90 games last season.
PECOTA has the Blue Jays winning 76 games this season, a three-game improvement, but this team is still best benefitted from embracing a rebuild. Toronto’s farm system was rated the ninth-best system in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, but outside of No. 90-overall prospect Nathan Pearson, the Blue Jays don’t have an elite pitching prospect projected to make the MLB roster for at least the next few seasons.
But if the Blue Jays do feel moving Stroman can net them more pitching prospects, it would be hard to find a better trade partner than the Padres. MacKenzie Gore would be who the Blue Jays would love in return, but more realistic options like Cal Quantrill, Chad Paddock, Michael Baez or Logan Allen all could draw interest. Stroman is under contract for another year via arbitration but will be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, making him a very attractive trade target for most teams.
Moving Stroman now, who will turn 28 years old this season, could help re-stock the farm system with pitching prospects but also extend the Blue Jays rebuilding phase at least another year or two. And with the AL East being as competitive as it is, the Blue Jays may as well continue to rebuild and build up prospects while waiting out the contention windows of the Red Sox and Yankees.
But, it remains to be seen whether or not the Blue Jays and general manager Ross Atkins sees his current club as that devoid of talent. It’s also a fair argument to make that when playing in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees there never really is a down year for either club. But if the Padres make a convincing argument to the Blue Jays for Stroman, it’s not hard to see Toronto parting with their ace, especially if the Padres sweeten the pot with an elite-level prospect.
Wait, why are the Indians thinking of moving Corey Kluber?
At this point, Cleveland doesn’t seem to be as interested in moving Corey Kluber, who posted an incredible 5.8 bWAR last season. And while the former two-time Cy-Young winner is going to turn 33 years old this season, it’s hard to quite understand why the Indians wanted to move him.
But according to Buster Olney in November, the Indians were willing to listen to trade offers involving veteran players, including Kluber:
This was reportedly a money-saving attempt by the Indians, as they are currently on the hook for Kuber’s $52.7 million owed for the next three seasons. Maybe they feel they should get the most value for Kluber at this point in his career? And while Kluber may be more of a risk for a team like the Padres, it’s hard to argue San Diego, or any team for that matter, are better without Kluber on their roster.
If the Indians main goal is to shed salary, the Padres could possibly get a cheaper deal if they absorb the majority of Kluber’s $52.7 million owed. If the Padres were willing to eat that much money off the Indian’s books, they could get away without having to part with their elite prospects like Gore, Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Mejia and others.
That being said, if the Padres can eat less money by giving away a high-level prospect they might have to consider it in order to afford Machado and Kluber and eventually pay some of their younger core players who will need to be signed long-term. Luckily, Kluber is a free agent after 2021 and has a $1 million buyout in 2021 as well, so if the Padres want to get out of the deal and the $18 million plus $4 million for escalators that were contingent on Kluber winning the Cy-Young, they can.
But with the Indians apparently saying there’s almost no chance in moving Kluber, it may take a deadline deal for the Padres to truly have a shot at the former two-time Cy-Young winner. If the Indians find themselves on the outside the playoff conversation, expect the Padres to be a team vying for Kluber’s service if he’s made available.
For the Padres, if they truly want to make the most of 2019 and the start of their competitive window, they should seriously consider adding a true ace to their pitching staff. And with both Stroman and Kluber reportedly being floated in the market, the Padres will have a chance to upgrade their staff if they so choose.