Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: Will A.J. Preller be Handcuffed by Existing Contracts?


The Padres held a press conference Wednesday to introduce new General Manager A.J. Preller to the media and the San Diego community. Preller spoke long enough for us to start to get a feel for his personality. He talked about how the game of baseball is about people. He said that he looked forward to working with Bud Black over the next few months to get to know him and how he operates. He came across as both reasonable and driven to help the Padres win a World Series title. It was a good first impression.

Joining the team in the middle of the season is both good and bad for Preller. It’s good because he can take the time to get to know people in the organization before he has to start making too many decisions. It’s bad because he can’t really dive in and start making changes to the team right away.

But since the ultimate goal is to win the World Series, and that’s not going to happen this year, Preller can begin to focus on next year’s team. A number of Padres are already signed to contracts for next season. If these players don’t carry any significant trade value due to injuries or poor performance, Preller’s hands may be tied when it comes to building the team he wants to construct.

Which players are already signed for next year, and how much will that handcuff Preller?

  • Carlos Quentin – Quentin is perhaps the most obvious impediment to Preller’s reorganization of the team. The left fielder is currently in the second year of his 3-year, $27,000,000 contract. He is owed $8 million of that in 2015. Quentin just returned to the DL for the what, the sixth time? I’ve lost count, since joining the Padres three years ago. He has played in less than half of the games the team has played. When he was “healthy” this year, he could barely run around the bases. There were no trade partners for Quentin during the recent trading season, and more time on the DL is only going to further decrease his tradability. Let’s chalk this contract up as $8 million that goes on next year’s payroll.
  • Cameron Maybin – Quentin’s next-door neighbor in the outfield has missed nearly as much time as Quentin. Currently serving a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use, Maybin’s 5-year contract has been an unmitigated disaster so far. And next year, he will make $7.1 million. He is signed through 2016, when he will earn $8.1 million. Currently in his fourth year with the team, he has 17 home runs, 19 steals, 99 RBI and 174 runs to go with a .248 batting average. Defensively, he is an average center fielder. So, for these two outfielders who collectively are below average offensively and defensively, and can’t stay on the field, the team will pay $15.1 million in 2015.
  • Seth Smith – the only 2014 Padre having a good year at the plate, Smith will be a bargain for the Padres at $6 million next year. Running total: $21.1 million. One platoon outfielder. Two part-time outfielders.
  • Will Venable – Owed $4.5 million next year, Venable is another platoon outfielder. Unfortunately, he hits from the same side as Smith. Running total: $25.6 million. Two left-handed platoon outfielders, two part-time outfielders.
  • Cory Luebke – Currently recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, Luebke has pitched in five games since signing a four-year, $12 million dollar contract. He is owed $5.375 million in 2015. Running total: $30.975 million. One pitcher who might be ready to pitch by the middle of next year if all goes well, two left-handed platoon outfielders, and two part-time outfielders.
  • Jedd Gyorko – Recently back from missing nearly 8 weeks with plantar fasciitis, Gyorko signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension this year. He is signed through 2019. He is currently hitting .182. He is owed $2,000,000 next year. Running total: $32.975 million. A second baseman who is having the worst year of any major league starting player, a pitcher on his second TJ surgery, two platoon outfielders who hit from the same side, and two part-time outfielders.
  • Joaquin Benoit – The setup man/closer is owed $8 million in 2015.

Other than Luebke and Benoit, none of the Padres pitchers are signed for next year.

Of the players who are signed for next year, Benoit is likely the most tradable, and whether or not he stays on the team likely depends on the front office’s feelings about the team’s chances for postseason play in 2015. If they approach the year as a rebuilding season, Benoit is likely gone. If they plan to compete, having an established closer might be the better way to go.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume they keep Benoit. Few of the others are likely to bring much value in a trade, and Gyorko is unlikely to be traded so soon after signing a multi-year deal. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that all of these players will be owed their full salary in 2015.

That’s a total of $41 million.

In addition, the following players are eligible for arbitration: Ian Kennedy, Everth Cabrera, Eric Stults, Andrew Cashner, Troy Patton, Tyson Ross, Yonder Alonso, Dale Thayer. Assuming Preller wants to keep Cashner, Ross, and Kennedy, who are earning $10.5 million between them this year, they’ll probably run closer to $15-20 million next year. Let’s call it $17 million.

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That’s $58 million dollars for nine players, six of whom are likely to actually be beneficial to the team (3 starters, Gyorko, Smith, and Benoit). And they would still need a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, two starters, a bullpen, and I honestly can’t figure out what the outfield needs are.

With a $90 million payroll this season, it seems likely that next year’s budget wouldn’t go much over $100 million. That leaves Preller about $45 million to begin restructuring the team. Assuming he stays with Jesse Hahn, Tommy Medica, and a few of the current relievers, who would likely earn under a million next season, we’re looking to fill at least three positions, a starter, and 4-5 relievers, for somewhere in the range of $40 million. That’s not a lot, if you’re looking at the free agent market. But if Preller decides to stick with some of the players recently obtained in trades, like Taylor Lindsey and Yangervis Solarte, it may be enough for one or two solid free agent additions.

So the real problem becomes roster space, particularly in the outfield. What to do with Quentin, Maybin, and Venable might be some of the tougher challenges facing Preller.

Nobody said getting the Padres to the World Series was going to be easy.