While the San Diego Padres have yet to make any of the big moves that have been rumored, the three deals they have made so far this winter signal the team’s pivot away from stockpiling prospects and toward building a big league roster ready to compete. Through a trio of trades, the club has remade the major league outfield, added balance to the starting rotation, and filled several holes on the 26-man roster.
Luis Urías, a former top prospect for the Padres, joined Eric Lauer, the odd man out in a roster crunch of young, left-handed starters, heading to Milwaukee. In return, the Padres landed Zach Davies, who profiles somewhat similarly to Lauer, but brings a righty arm to the rotation, and Trent Grisham. Like Urías, the former first-rounder struggled a bit to incorporate swing adjustments, but, unlike Urías, seems to have found solutions.
Giving up the 22-year-old Urías is a bitter pill to swallow for many who have followed the Padres farm system, as he was one of the club’s most promising prospects of the decade. In the end, he is traded, not for a top-of-the-rotation starter or star player, but to balance out the Padres’ roster. Davies, 26, is two years older than Lauer, and has had more success honing his control and locating his pitches than Lauer has. Grisham gives the Padres another left-handed bat in the outfield who seems to have unlocked his abilities in the last year.
Padres GM A.J. Preller has admired Jurickson Profar since their days together in the Texas Rangers organization. While Profar never became the player his top prospect billing predicted, he is a versatile player with power. Without other additions, the 26-year-old will be the club’s first option at second base when spring training opens, looking to put a case of the yips behind him.
In trading Austin Allen, the Padres move a former prospect who lacked a clear place in the organization. With Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejía occupying the roster spots in San Diego, Luis Torrens on the 40-man, and Luis Campusano developing into a blue chip prospect, Allen, 25, was an odd man out. The left-handed slugger will look for a fresh start hitting his way onto the Oakland roster.
Buddy Reed, added as a PTBNL after he went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft, was the Padres’ second round pick in 2016. A switch-hitting outfielder with outstanding athleticism and high marks for his defense, his development at the plate stalled significantly.
The Padres’ third trade in this series sent Hunter Renfroe and infield prospect Xavier Edwards to the Tampa Bay Rays for Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth. The Padres still owe the Rays a player to be named later.
Renfroe had been one of just 10 remaining players acquired by San Diego before A.J. Preller took over baseball operations. Renfroe was a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, and has brilliant raw power, but remains prone to chasing sliders. Edwards, the 38th selection of the 2018 draft, is the big score for Tampa Bay.
In return, the Padres secure Pham, one of just three outfielders to average 20 homers and 20 stolen bases over the last three seasons and a passionate clubhouse leader. Cronenworth, a true shortstop, put up big offensive numbers in Triple-A added relief pitcher to his pro résumé last year.
Impact on the Organization
These trades signal a change in approach for the Padres organization. As the Padres move into their competitive window, Preller and the rest of the front office are under pressure to show results from what has been rated the top farm system in baseball. While most of Preller’s post-2015 moves aimed to acquire the best talent regardless of big-league readiness, Preller now faces the demands of roster construction and needing to create a contender.
In dealing away Renfroe, the Padres continued their purge of right-handed bats with low OBP. While Pham’s injury history is a concern headed into his age 32 season, the club acquired a player who hits the ball extremely hard at an extremely high rate, and has leadership intangibles on top a good plate approach. As the Padres exit their rebuild, they find themselves giving up players with more controllable years, to add more proven veterans.
Grisham continues the outfield reconstruction, giving the club a young, powerful left-handed bat to complement Pham and the existing pieces. He brings the sort of young outfielder the Padres have yet to develop. The Padres lacked an impact outfielder in the upper minors until trading for Taylor Trammell, who remains at least a half-season away from roaming the outfield at Petco Park.
By trading away Urías and Edwards, the Padres deal from a position of great strength. With young phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. likely to man shortstop for many years to come and Manny Machado in town for at least four more years before he can opt out, the only clear path to San Diego’s lineup for a middle infielder is second base.
While Urías and Edwards both have strong pedigrees, 2019 first-rounder CJ Abrams offers a ceiling far superior to Edwards’, and Urias’s struggles to adjust his swing for higher velocity concerned the Padres.
The moves clear a path for several prospects in addition to Abrams. Esteban Quiroz, 27, put up solid numbers in El Paso in his first season with the organization and second since coming to the US following a strong seven-year run in the Mexican League. He and Owen Miller could both get longer looks as non-roster invites in spring training. Miller, headed into his age 23 season, slashed .290/.355/.430 in 560 plate appearances for Double-A Amarillo. While his OPS away from the Sod Poodles’ offense-inflating home park was just .669, he still impressed in his first full professional season. Though Miller has played some shortstop, he profiles better at second base.
The club also has other interesting infield options Gabriel Arias, Tucupita Marcano, Eguy Rosario and Justin Lopez, who all spent the year in Single-A.And then there is Cronenworth, who could be just what the doctor ordered in the new reality of MLB’s 26-man rosters. Cronenworth, primarily a shortstop since being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2015, began pitching again and made seven appearances (six as an opener) for Triple-A Durham. In an extremely small sample size, Cronenworth did not allow a run, although a 1.13 K/BB and 1.64 WHIP are concerning.
Cronenworth is going on 26 and was never seen as a top prospect. However he started the Triple-A All-Star Game en route to a .334/.429/.520 line for the Bulls. As the only true backup shortstop on the 40-man roster, he will get a long look from Padres brass this spring. But the real win could come from his versatility. With 26 players on the roster, and new rules for relievers requiring them to pitch a full inning in most circumstances, Cronenworth could find himself in a utility role, playing multiple infield spots, pinch hitting, and pitching in a mop-up role to help preserve arms.
The Padres’ trades this offseason reflect the team’s goal to compete in 2020 and the shift in organizational philosophy this goal requires. As the Padres try to construct a winning roster, significant prospects find themselves dealt for players who fill needs. Needs like infield depth, balanced lineups, and deep bullpens. As the Padres deal from their surplus of minor league prospects to fine-tune the Major League product, AJ Preller seeks to find balance between stockpiling the best players, and putting a winning product on the field.