Win Now or Build for the Future: What the Carlos Quentin Trade Means

The Padres have been making national sports headlines all off-season.  Heath Bell left to sign with the Marlins, Mat Latos was traded to the Reds, and now San Diego picks up Carlos Quentin.  The moves have been a rare combination of building toward the future (grabbing draft picks and prospects) and trying to win immediately (getting a Major League-ready first baseman, getting a complimentary back-up catcher, and filling a huge void in the outfield).  The question is, can the Padres have both? Can they have their cake and eat it too?

Of course they can.  All the good teams do it, but they usually do it with a higher payroll than San Diego’s.  However, the moves made by Josh Byrnes have not been the shoot from the hip variety.  These moves have clearly been carefully calculated in an attempt to maintain a well-stocked farm system and to improve the Major League roster in 2012.  Let’s look at the Carlos Quentin trade, what it means, the realism of him being in San Diego more than one year, and how it shapes any additional off-season moves.

I’m not going to reiterate Quentin’s numbers for the umpteenth time, I’ll simply say, that when healthy, he’s an average outfielder and an above-average force at the dish.  Even with a drop-off in production, which is entirely possible in San Diego, Quentin should boost the anemic offense the 2011 Padres put on display.  The team was shut out seven times in April alone.  That can’t go on, and Quentin should help the offense quite a bit.

Carlos Quentin is not cheap.  He is projected to earn $7.5 million in 2012, and he will likely see another raise for 2013 if all goes well.  With that in mind, the Padres have one option if they wish to keep Quentin beyond 2012.  Sign him to a contract extension.  Quentin is done with arbitration years after 2012, and if the Padres allow him to test the free agent market, there’s little chance they will see him back in 2013.  If the team we’re to lock Quentin up to a new deal, it will likely take at least three years for at least $9 million per year.  He may even see upwards of $10-11 million a year.  Can the Padres afford that?  Maybe not.

If San Diego can’t afford or doesn’t want to work out an extension for Quentin, they can still benefit in multiple ways from his presence during the 2012 season.  As we mentioned, Quentin can provide a much needed offensive boost that may help the Padres compete next year and can bide time for the team to find a long-term solution for the outfield.  On the other hand, the Padres may be able to get some draft pick compensation for Quentin if he leaves for free agency after next year, or they can use him as trade bait around the July 31st trade deadline.  The Padres certainly have many ways to benefit from the addition of Carlos Quentin, but he also affects future moves.

With the 2012 outfield all but set, the club still has one glaring issue.  The middle infield.  With Quentin now a part of the team, Byrnes can turn his focus towards finding a solution for second base and shortstop.  Both Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett are under contract for next season and neither has garnered much attention from the rest of the league.  Yet if the Padres can package one of them up in a deal with Anthony Rizzo, they may be able to improve at least one half of the middle infield.  Teams are obviously very interested in Rizzo, and with the pile-up of players available to San Diego at first base, he could become the perfect trade chip to get the team very good second baseman or shortstop.

If the season were to start tomorrow, I’d say Josh Byrnes has made a splash in his first year as Padres GM.  But something tells me Byrnes is far from done.  I would expect more trades, possibly more free agent signings, and probably some contract extensions.  The Padres are looking to start the new year off right.

Tags: Carlos Quentin Padres White Sox

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