A common criticism of San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller over the past year is his tendency to “buy high” on too many players.
In recent times, the trades for Adam Frazier, Emilio Pagan, Blake Snell, and Yu Darvish, along with the signing of Jurickson Profar, have not panned out well for the Padres with the team flat out taking a loss in their investment in Fraizer.
Some of Preller’s best moves have been when he’s bought low on undervalued players. The acquisitions of Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, and Joe Musgrove, all of which were based on underlying value instead of surface-level statistics, have all paid off well for the Padres. A myriad of relievers has followed this same path to success, such as Brad Hand, Kirby Yates, Adam Cimber, and Pierce Johnson.
A unique opportunity for the Padres to buy low on an elite power hitter has presented itself this offseason, as the Yankees have made 2020 MLB home run leader Luke Voit available for trade. Voit is currently coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, where he hit .239/.328/.437/.764 with 11 home runs and seven doubles in 241 plate appearances. Voit doesn’t play strong defense at first base either, posting -26 DRS at the position in 1,901.1 innings. With Aaron Hicks returning to play center field and Giancarlo Stanton presumably being put in the designated hitter spot regularly, it’s no surprise the Yankees would want to take the opportunity to trade Voit.
While the Yankees designated hitter spot will be filled, the Padres should have one that’s wide open when it’s inevitably made universal in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Despite coming off of one of the worst years of his career, Voit owns a very impressive career line of .267/.357/.510/.867 and a 5.8% home run percentage, the same as Nelson Cruz. With such remarkable numbers fueled by his raw power, Voit has a very high ceiling as a power hitter and will be a good bet to bounce back toward that career line in 2022. Voit has always had high strikeout numbers during his career and has posted inconsistent walk rates, so neither appear to be much of a culprit in his poor 2021. In addition, Voit’s 2021 statcast numbers didn’t deviate much from what they’ve been his whole career, so simple bad luck likely had a hand in Voit’s career lows. Voit’s 52.2% hard-hit percentage, 15.8% barrel percentage, and 90.7 MPH average exit velocity are all among the higher marks of his career.
So what kind of production could Voit provide the Padres in a bounce-back season?
Voit’s only somewhat entire season was 2019, where Voit hit .263/.378/.464/.842 with 21 home runs and 21 doubles in 510 plate appearances. This is already good production, but Voit’s 2018 and 2020 runs, both shortened mainly due to non-injury factors, both showed off Voit’s unbelievable ceiling. In 2018, Voit hit .322/.398/.671/1.069 with 15 home runs and five doubles in 161 plate appearances, and in 2020 Voit hit .277/.338/.610/.948 with 22 home runs and five doubles in 234 plate appearances. If you triple Voit’s 161 plate appearances in 2018 to 483 and double his 234 plate appearances to 468, and consider that Voit would’ve received over 600 plate appearances in an entire season, Voit could’ve hit over 50 home runs in both seasons. Even in his poor 2021 season, Voit likely would’ve come close to the 30 home run mark, giving him a very nice floor and ceiling in terms of power.
Preller’s best route to acquiring Voit may be through a three-team deal involving the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees are very interested in Athletics first baseman Matt Olson, and acquiring him in the same deal as dealing their current first baseman may lower the cost a bit, especially with Oakland being more inclined to acquire prospects than New York. Voit has three years on control left, is set to make around five million in 2022, and has good career numbers, so he won’t be that cheap. He’ll likely cost the Padres two or three of their top 30 prospects, an investment that could easily pay for itself if Voit recaptures his form of previous seasons.
A full-time move to a designated hitter would likely help cut down on Voit’s injuries, and if he were to come back up toward his impressive career line, the Padres could potentially have their cleanup hitter for the next three seasons.