Exploring Adrian Gonzalez Trade Returns

For all the talk of Adrian Gonzalez being dealt sometime this year, he doesn’t make sense for very many teams.

Think about it.

The team that acquires will have to meet several requirements.

First, they have to be in contention for the stretch run. That eliminates a good half of the league.

Second, they have to be at least somewhat financially flexible. I doubt the Rays or Marlins will be getting Gonzalez, for example. Most teams would also want to give Gonzalez the Matt Holliday treatment and sign him to an extension, or else they wouldn’t give up too much for two months of him.

Third, the Padres’ trade partner would need to somehow meet those first two requirements while still needing an upgrade at first base or DH. Those two positions are the two easiest to fill, because just about anyone in baseball can play them.

So that means that teams like the Phillies and Cardinals, who would ordinarily be in on most top deadline targets, would be non-factors in a Gonzalez deal–they have nowhere for him to play.

It’s important, therefore, to understand the rather limited number of suitors when considering potential trade targets.

The Padres can take two strategies when trading Gonzalez. The first is to simply get the greatest combination of quality and quantity of young talent they can. The second is to attempt to address needs in their bank of young players.

Let’s briefly explore the depth in the organization, young players only.

Outfield–This is pretty well covered. Will Venable is a solid player, and Aaron Cunningham should be a solid player as well. In a worst-case scenario, the two are an effective right field platoon. Tony Gwynn is a decent player, as is Scott Hairston (although neither are all that young). The team’s top prospect, Jaff Decker, is an outfielder, and they spent the #3 overall pick last year on Donavan Tate, another outfielder. Other young players such as Everett Williams and Rymer Liriano show promise, and Triple-A’s Mike Baxter should have some major league value.

With Tate projecting as a star in center, Decker projecting as a very good left field, and Venable, Cunningham, Williams, and Liriano in the mix (not to mention guys like Edinson Rincon and James Darnell, who may move from 3B to the outfield) this is an area of strength.

Infield–First base is covered with Kyle Blanks. If you don’t believe in Blanks long-term, it’s okay–first basemen are pretty easy to find. There are plenty of low-cost Quad-A types who can provide solid production there. The middle infield looks solid, with Everth Cabrera, Lance Zawadzki, Logan Forsythe, Drew Cumberland, and Vince Belnome all projecting as major leaguers. Darnell and Rincon are good third-base prospects; Forsythe could play there too, and, oh, yeah, there’s a guy named Headley.

Again, no reason to bend over backwards to get a top infield prospect.

Catcher–Hmm. There are some surprises at the catcher position in the minors this year, but I think it’s safe to say none of them becomes a superstar. Nick Hundley and Dusty Ryan are also solid guys, but again, we’re looking at probably average production from the starter in any scenario. If there’s a chance to get a top catching prospect in the deal, I’d say go for it.

Starting Pitcher–A must. The biggest need in the organization is projectable pitchers. I think a Gonzalez deal has to be centered around two pitchers: one proven prospect who has a strong track record at least through High-A, with scouting reports to match, and another lightning-in-a-bottle sort of projectable guy. The Padres can’t depend on Simon Castro and Mat Latos to get 100% of the way to their upside, and the only other pitcher in the system who looks to be possibly more than a #3 is Adys Portillo, who is light years away and was far from dominant last year. The Padres need another guy like Castro and another guy like Portillo.

Relief Pitcher–Like first base, relief pitcher is a position that can easily be filled with low-cost, smart pickups–see the Padres’ current bullpen. Plus, there’s a ton of good relievers in the system. No need.

So, the ideal deal would probably involve two starting pitchers: one upper-level guy and one lower-level, high-upside guy (although two strong upper-level guys would be even better; I’m just trying to be realistic). In addition, the Padres should look to get a catcher, and maybe snag another B-level prospect.

Let’s say, for example, the Red Sox are desperate for Gonzalez come July if David Ortiz can’t break out of his slump. You start the discussion with Casey Kelly, the Red Sox’s top prospect. If Kelly’s not in the deal, you don’t do the deal.

Beyond Kelly, you’d look to someone like Madison Younginer, a 19-year-old righty with a 97-mph fastball who hasn’t even pitched in pro ball yet. A seventh-rounder of the Red Sox last year, Younginer got just shy of a million dollars to sign. He’s got a big curve to go with the fastball. There are some concerns about his arm action, and he was a high school reliever, so nobody knows how durable he’d be, but he’s exactly the sort of high-risk, high-reward pitching prospect the Padres need more of.

Then you’d look to Ryan Lavarnway, a C+ prospect catcher with a .957 OPS in High-A who has some defensive concerns. Best-case scenario, he’s an above-average offensive catcher, worst-case, you have another depth guy.

Then you just find another solid prospect, whatever the position, and negotiate him as the final player in the deal.

The key, though, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is that the Padres have to get another pitcher with high upside and over a year of statistical dominance. If you trade with the Braves, you get two of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and J.J. Hoover. Yankees? Manny Banuelos. Rays? Jeremy Hellickson. Nationals? Stephen Strasb…okay, that’s not happening.

Anyway, I think that drives the point home. Hopefully the Padres’ front office is smart enough to address their needs if and when it comes time to trade away their star first baseman.

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