After kicking off the 2016 trade deadline with the early June trade of James Shields to the Chicago White Sox, followed by the late June move of Fernando Rodney to the Miami Marlins, it was clear where the Padres stood going into July. With little to no hope of making a playoff push, and with a farm system still reeling after the pre-2015 purge, it was clear that the Padres needed more young, controllable talent to fill their farm. The trades of Shields and Rodney brought back the likes of Erik Johnson, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Chris Paddack, all of whom, to varying degrees, could be important parts in the next great Padres team.
However, despite the success of both those trades in theory, in terms of shedding salary in the first case and potentially acquiring an impact arm in the second, both those trades pale in comparison to AJ Preller’s most recent move.
By now, everyone in the baseball world knows that last Thursday July 14th, the San Diego Padres traded their best starter this season, and more importantly their best trade chip, to the pitching starved Boston Red Sox in return for top prospect Anderson Espinoza. Prior to the trade, Espinoza was a top five prospect in a loaded Red Sox system, as well as a top 20 or 30 prospect in all of baseball depending on who you asked.
Now I know what Padre fans are thinking. Once again are beloved San Diego Padres traded away a young, dominant player for a prospect who could amount to nothing. At this point it seems like a broken record, as the story is always the same as a Padre fan. Padres draft or trade for Player A, Player A gets good while playing for the Padres, Player A ends up getting traded because the Padres and their small market budget have no hopes of retaining him. Rinse, wash, repeat.
For the better part of the last two decades, and really even longer, this has been the same story for Padre fans, with universally mediocre results. Padre fans can name the failed deals off the top of their heads.
Jake Peavy traded to the Chicago White Sox in return for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell. While Clayton Richard had some success, that trade looks like a complete failure in hindsight.
Adrian Gonzalez traded to the Boston Red Sox for Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, and Eric Patterson. None of those players ended up having any success on the Padres, and the only good prospect ended up being good for another team when Rizzo was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Andrew Cashner. Kelly did net the Padres Christian Bethancourt, but all in all, the Gonzalez trade was yet another failure.
Mat Latos traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, and Edinson Volquez. While all three players did make varying degrees of impact for the Padres, this is yet another failed trade. Grandal was good for the Padres before being traded away for Matt Kemp (another disaster) and Alonso was traded away in the same trade that brought Drew Pomeranz to town. That brings us full circle on the recent history of failed Padres trades.
So if the Padres got Drew Pomeranz, an all-star and potential ace of the staff, for Yonder Alonso, what is AJ Preller doing trading him away so soon? It’s understandable that some Padre fans are left scratching their heads, but this trade might be the one that finally breaks the chain. The trade that finally gives the Padres a prospect that will work out. That guy is Anderson Espinoza.
As wary as fans like to be about prospects, especially those acquired in this type of trade, Espinoza is no ordinary prospect. Originally signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela at the age of 16 in 2014, Espinoza has shot up the prospect ranks over the last year, becoming the #34 overall prospect by MLB.com. At only 18 years old, Espinoza is still facing players two to four years older than him in Single-A ball.
Despite being known for his fastball, which sits mid-90s but has known to reach the upper 90s and even 100, Espinoza also potentially has two plus or perhaps plus-plus pitches behind his fastball in his curveball and changeup. Both have been said to be much more developed than those of similar players of his age. Beyond that, Espinoza has some troubles with control, but a solid, repeatable delivery and strong mechanics make him very advanced for his age.
There’s obviously a lot of risk and volatility in an 18-year-old prospect, but Espinoza could be the real deal, top of the rotation starter the Padres do desperately need. Comparisons to Pedro Martinez should obviously be taken with a grain of salt, but Espinoza has a similar build and similar repertoire to the former Red Sox great. Only time will tell what kind of player Espinoza can be, but the Padres may have found their ace of the future, and perhaps even more.