While a General Manager is actually judged by the outcome of the product on the field, before the season started A.J. Preller received raving reviews by many within the industry. He lit up the GM Winter Meetings held in his hometown and early reports of him working all night certainly seemed accurate as he buzzed out trade after trade. Poor Ryan Hanigan was a Padre and gone within hours. However, by leaving many of those high and back-loaded contracts on the books to end the season, he starts the 2015-16 off-season with at least one of his hands tied behind his back.
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See here is the problem: The Padres will have over $100M committed to just 14 players to start the season as reported by Jeff Sanders. Ownership has indicated they will re-up their payroll limits once again to another new Padres record, but AJ will have some tougher decisions on how to spend that money to fix some glaring holes.
According to Sanders, here is what the Padres already have committed for next season:
Financial commitments for 2016
"$21.00 M | RHP James Shields$18.25 M | OF Matt Kemp (Dodgers paying $3.5 million of $21.75 million salary)$16.05 M | OF Melvin Upton Jr.$11.25 M | RHP Craig Kimbrel$4.000 M | INF Jedd Gyorko$1.750 M | LHP Cory Luebke (buyout)$1.500 M | RHP Joaquin Benoit (buyout)$1.350 M | UT Alexi Amarista$0.200 M | SS Clint Barmes (buyout)"
2016 projections for arbitration-eligible Padres
"$10.0 M | RHP Tyson Ross (4.126 service time)$7.00 M | RHP Andrew Cashner (5.126)$5.25 M | LHP Cory Luebke (5.033; has $7.5 million club option, $1.75 m buyout)$3.40 M | C Derek Norris (3.102)$3.00 M | LHP Marc Rzepczynski (5.132)$2.50 M | 1B Yonder Alonso (4.116)$1.50 M | 3B Will Middlebrooks (3.057)$1.10 M | 1B Brett Wallace (3.003)"
Those numbers take into account the idea that the Padres will pay the buyouts on several contracts, including 2-time Tommy John surgery recipient Cory Luebke, Joaquin Benoit and Clint Barmes. Benoit had another good season in the bullpen and the only option there might be if the Padres do trade Craig Kimbrel and his $11.25 salary for a team that may want more mileage out of $11 Million Dollars.
They do have some pretty interesting arbitration case, especially Andrew Cashner who is still struggling to find himself as a Major League Starter while trade counterpart Anthony Rizzo helped lead the Cubs into the playoffs this year with another huge season. Would the Padres try and trade Cashner despite lowering value or hope for better results next season?
A.J. Preller does seem to be a master of the deal and even able to dump some salary when need be. Though the Padres never imagined that trading Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin with his salary away for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr.wouldn’t be an easy win for them, at least the money they are paying for Upton gets more return than they were getting out of Quentin. With Will Venable off to Texas, Upton Jr is now a veteran 4th outfielder that might compete with Travis Jankowski for the center field starting job depending on if they shift Will Myers to left field or move Alonso and make room for Myers at first base.
In most contexts, $16M seems like an incredible amount of money. Yet when you are trying to replace a Justin Upton caliber player, get a shortstop, at least one starting pitcher to replace Ian Kennedy and shore up the ever-moving pieces of a major league bullpen, it doesn’t seem to go that far. Just what direction Preller takes this year’s version of the Padres will go a long way in getting the Padres getting back to the post-season. After all, while the Blue Jays are in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, some worry that after last years spending spree and prospect purge, the Padres might be 9 years into at least a 20 year drought of their own.