In analyzing this trade, first of all, let’s talk about what the team is losing before anything else.
The Padres have traded their closer, along with one of their more valuable relievers. Hand was set to be under team control through 2021 on a $19.75 million extension beginning this season — Which is pretty reasonable money for a closer of his caliber. Cimber surprised this spring by making the opening day team as a non-roster invitee to spring training, and ended up being a strong option out of the bullpen with his funky sidearm pitching motion. San Diego has lost a couple really valuable relievers, but they have also acquired a prospect who figures to be worth much more than the relievers are going to be for Cleveland.
They’ve added one of the best prospects in all of baseball to their system, in Francisco Mejia. He’s ranked as the fifteenth-best in baseball by MLB Pipeline. For some context, MacKenzie Gore is ranked as the 13th prospect by the same rankings, so this is a really talented player being acquired by A.J. Preller.
Mejia has spent almost the entire season at Triple-A Columbus, where he hit .279/.328/.426 with seven home runs and 45 RBI in 79 games. Fangraphs prospect writer Eric Longenhagen’s report on Mejia seems to sum him up as a prospect pretty well: “we’re in wait-and-see mode on the defense — but there’s special offensive talent here.”
The 22 year-old Mejia played in eleven games last season for the Indians, and played in one game on July 14 for them just before the all-star break this year. So what is known thus far is that he is a really good hitter, who has been developing as a catcher, but also played third base as well as the outfield during his time in Cleveland’s system. His recent start on July 14th for the Indians was at DH, by the way. Reports are that the Padres will give Mejia a chance as a catcher, but one would think that he’ll see time in the outfield and third base, too. His defense at catcher has been rated as below-average, though his arm is 80-grade. At the very least, Mejia will present as a very intriguing defensive experiment for the Padres to work with.
The question now becomes, how do the Padres manage the playing time between Mejia and Hedges, if both are to play catcher? It all remains to be seen in due time, but it’s looking like maybe the team has admitted they aren’t so keen on Hedges’ hitting abilities. For what it’s worth, Hedges is hitting .382/.432/.618 in the month of July — So maybe he’s starting to turn the corner as a hitter. The most likely outcome of this situation may involve Hedges and Mejia splitting time, with Mejia playing third base or left field on some days.
If the team were to utilize a playing time split like this, they could keep both catchers fresh and healthy. Late in games the team could put in Hedges as a defensive replacement for Mejia. By doing this, they could fully maximize Hedges’ defensive abilities whilst not suffering as much from having his bat in the lineup every day. What’s most exciting about this trade in general though, is the Padres getting a potential middle of the order bat to pencil into the lineup.
Fans have watched this Padres team really struggle to score runs, and the games have been tough to watch as the pitchers often haven’t gotten enough run support after making a solid start. Mejia is a big step in the right direction, as far as beefing up the offense is concerned. This is a player who had a 50-game hit streak during the 2016 season, so he definitely has legitimate hitting talent. A future lineup with Mejia, Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and others is starting to look a lot better than the lineups the Padres have been putting out this season.
With a system that is heavy on pitching talent, it’s a nice change to see the team acquire a talented position player. The team badly needs to improve their lineup so they can produce some runs for the pitching staff. Adding Mejia is exactly what the Padres needed, and is something many fans likely can appreciate after watching the team’s offense during the first half of the season. The loss of Hand and Cimber will hurt slightly, but the team was never really going to challenge for a playoff spot this season. Furthermore, there are so many talented arms in the system to take the places of Hand and Cimber. Think about nineteen year-old Andres Munoz hitting 102 MPH for San Antonio, or many of the starting arms who could be moved to the bullpen if they don’t pan out as starters.
This is still a bullpen for the Padres that has really good relievers, like Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen. According to Fangraphs’ WAR, Stammen has been worth 1.4 WAR, and Yates 1.2 — While Cimber has put up 1.1, and Hand 0.7 WAR each. By some measurements, the Padres still kept their better relievers, while acquiring a potential impact hitter to improve the lineup. In a lot of senses, Yates has been more impressive this season than Hand was, so having him step up and take the closers role shouldn’t be concerning to Padres fans. Considering how well he’s pitched, fans can rest easy knowing Yates can step right up and fill the void. For the time being, this is looking like a nice trade for the Padres, as they really needed to add some thump to the lineup. At least in the future, it looks like they have done just that.
A sophomore at Willamette University in Oregon, Conrad is majoring in Spanish but is also a writing center assistant for other students at Willamette. He has been a Padres die-hard his whole life and hopes to bring comprehensible statistical analysis to the site.