I like what A.J. Preller has done to alter the Padres roster, but I do agree with his critics in one area. One year ago pitching depth in the upper minor leagues was an area of strength for the Padres, and now it is completely lacking top prospect talent.
That’s not a good thing. Matt Wisler, Joe Ross, Jesse Hahn, Max Fried, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly have all been traded away and the Padres top pitching prospects now are guys like Enyel De Los Santos, Logan Allen, Luis Perdomo and recent draft picks Austin Smith and Jacob Nix.
While nobody that Preller traded away looks like a future ace, they are all in the majors or close right now, and could have provided stability for the Padres rotation in 2016 and beyond.
After Shields, Cashner, and Ross, who will the Padres turn to while the recent acquisitions are developing in the minors? Can the Padres even afford to trade Tyson Ross to the Cubs for a hitting prospect? Colin Rea looks like an adequate 4th or 5th starter, but he probably won’t ever be more than that. And Robbie Erlin might not be any better either.
Of course it’s important to remember that A.J. Preller used all of those young arms to help acquire Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, and one year of Justin Upton. While the year of Upton wasn’t a success for the club, the compensation for losing him to free agency will be another draft pick in a draft class that is full of pitching.
The Padres also probably never should have acquired Kimbrel. Getting an elite closer is the definition of a “win now” move, and as we saw, the Padres weren’t ready to “win now” in 2015. BUT, Preller flipped Kimbrel for Margot, Allen and Javier Guerra. So in the end, acquiring Kimbrel turned out to have long-term value. And that’s the overarching theme with the roster moves Preller has orchestrated.
2015 didn’t pan out, but it wasn’t a year of lost value either. Instead it was a year of reallocating value. The outfield is now a position of depth with Wil Myers, Matt Kemp and Jon Jay on the big league roster and Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot and Rymer Liriano in the minors. The downside is that the rotation does not have that depth. In that context, it is fair to criticize Preller for moving the Padres into a limbo of trying to “win now” and rebuild at the same time. By the time Guerra, Renfroe and Margot are in their primes, James Shields, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross will be past theirs. Drew Pomeranz, Robbie Erlin, Brandon Maurer and Colin Rea give the Padres depth, but it’s a stretch to imagine any of them becoming top of the rotation guys.
So therein lies the Padres pitching problem and the biggest area that I am critical of A.J. Preller. The rebuild centered around Margot and company needs a frontline starting pitcher of the future, and the Padres don’t currently have one of those. Instead the Padres will be hoping for Brandon Morrow to somehow not spend most of the season on the DL (don’t hold your breath) for short-term depth, and hoping for one of the recently acquired young arms to exceed expectations.
Not likely, but it can happen. If this year pans out like many expect, and it’s just a rebuilding year for the Padres, number one on my wish list will be for the Padres to find a way to deal Shields, Ross or Kemp and get a top pitching prospect back in return. The Padres future is bright with guys like Margot and Guerra in the farm system, and would be even brighter with a future top of the rotation pitcher in farm as well.