The San Diego Padres are at least a year away from legitimately contending but we have seen examples of teams arriving ahead of schedule and facing off for a playoff spot.
Just last year, the Atlanta Braves shocked the baseball world and won the NL East while the Philadelphia Phillies were in the race for the division crown until faltering at the end. And the Oakland Athletics, another rebuilding team, was probably the biggest surprise, winning an astounding 97 games and clinching a playoff spot.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Padres are destined to repeat this so they should go out and be aggressive and try to win now, like their 2015 failure.
But these teams have shown that you can be a competitive team when you have a boatload of young talent. And the Padres have just that, possessing the top farm system in the league, according to many around the game.
If their young core takes the next step in development as the front office thinks they will, there is a responsible way of streamlining the rebuild without messing it up, and the Padres are in an excellent position to do so.
They are reportedly in talks with the New York Yankees revolving around the pitcher, Sonny Gray. Gray has been a shell of himself since being traded from Oakland to New York, posting an unsightly 4.51 ERA and 1.416 WHIP across 195.2 innings.
2018, in particular, was an absolute mess for the 29-year-old former All-Star. He threw 130.1 innings while putting up a 4.90 ERA and getting demoted to bullpen duty at one point.
But Gray is the perfect type of veteran buy-low candidate the Padres should be looking at. His value is at an all-time low and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has made it no secret that he is discussing trades surrounding his pitcher.
“I’ve had a lot of interesting dialogue, whether it’s for prospects, whether it’s for major league, our need for their need,” Cashman said, per Ken Davidson of The New York Post. “Whether it’s part of a complicated, larger situation that involves prospects and major leaguers going both ways. So I think we’ve had a little bit of experience with all aspects of it.”
Pinning Gray’s struggle to one exact thing is hard. His velocity was fine but pitch usages were extremely different from his time on the West Coast. But beyond that, it’s fair to assume that he could not handle wearing Pinstripes.
It’s nearly impossible to quantify how much pressure from the big stage can affect a player and playing in The Bronx is as huge as it gets in baseball. It’s also a hitter-friendly ballpark and his numbers echoed both these sentiments.
His 3.42 career ERA and 1.20 WHIP with Oakland are a far cry from his numbers since changing into Pinstripes. And as well-documented as Gray’s struggles were this year, one thing that flies under-the-radar is his home/road splits.
When pitching in New York, the righty had a 6.98 ERA, .932 OPS against, 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 12.2% walk rate in 59.1 innings. Compare that to his road numbers of 3.17 ERA, .614 OPS against, 26.4% strikeout rate, and 7.4% walk rate and you have the case of a guy who simply needs a change of scenery. He pitches like an All-Star away from home but undeserving of a starting spot on a Major League roster at home.
And how quick we are to forget that Sonny Gray was once one of the top young pitchers in the game with the A’s. He made his debut in 2013, posting a 2.67 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, and 67 strikeouts in 64 innings. And during the 2013 postseason, he limited the high-powered Detroit Tigers offense to three runs in 13 innings (2.08 ERA).
And in the next two seasons, he made tremendous strides, owning a 2.91 ERA and 1.14 WHIP across 427 innings between 2014 and 2015, along with his lone All-Star appearance and a third-place finish in Cy Young voting.
The veteran can pitch and would be the perfect buy-low option for someone like the Padres to take a flier on. Gray would be a one-year rental for San Diego which, combined with his 2018 performance, means he would not require San Diego to part with any of their elite prospects, let alone their two best, Fernando Tatis Jr. and MacKenzie Gore.
The farm system is deep enough to part with a quality prospect or two and still have a plethora of others. However, it also depends on the Yankees’ asking price, which appears to be extremely high at the moment.
#Yankees shooting high with Sonny Gray, asked #Reds about 1 of top prospects, OF Taylor Trammell, which was a no go. Sign NYY can get something good for Gray or that they simply or asking high before settling low, Could also always partner with a prospect to get more.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 10, 2018
This may be the simple case of going high just to try, and when rejected, you have established an anchor price to negotiate around. However, the Yankees expecting a lot in return for a struggling veteran is unrealistic. But the Padres do have ten prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects, and two other young pitchers (#11 and #12 in their organization) with exceptional talent in Cal Quantrill and Anderson Espinoza.
They seemingly have the pieces to get a deal done which would both satisfy the Yankees, while not giving up too much from their perspective. And in doing so, the Padres will get a tremendous bounce-back candidate.
Petco Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks across Major League Baseball, one reason why San Diego always has a pedestrian offense (at best) each year. Additionally, Gray would also be making a handful of starts in both the Dodgers and Giants Stadiums— two other pitcher-friendly parks.
The 29-year-old could get the change of scenery he needs and go to a team where he would be pitching with no pressure. Moreover, San Diego is a beautiful city with a beautiful ballpark that assists pitchers.
And for San Diego, they would get a guy who is in the middle of his prime who has once pitched like an All-Star and legitimate Cy Young candidate. If he re-establishes his value, they can flip him for more prospects or attempt to keep him longer to help lead a young staff. And if he doesn’t pan out, they can let him walk after 2019.
It’s a move that would have been more flashy just a few years ago but now is anything but. However, there is nothing to lose, and if it goes as planned, the deal could help the Padres get closer to contending faster.
Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison