Big Trade Blots Streaking Padres From National Spotlight

If not for the blockbuster trade the Dodgers and Red Sox just pulled off, the San Diego Padres would be making national news right now, as it seems that they are the hottest team in baseball. A sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks went largely unnoticed over the weekend when the Los Angeles Dodgers absorbed a whopping $260 million in Boston Red Sox salaries, taking Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto in exchange for James Loney and four prospects.

Boston also sent around $12 million in cash to Los Angeles in the deal.

Another reason that the Padres are flying under the radar at the moment is because they are in no danger of making the play-offs, thanks largely to a horrible beginning of the season and season-ending injuries to key components of the pitching staff. But the Padres are playing good ball now, and have been playing well since the All-Star break.

The Dodgers-Red Sox trade is relative to the Padres on several levels. Adrian Gonzalez, the big piece in this deal, is a former Padres first baseman and San Diego/Tijuana native.

The Padres traded Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December of 2010, for pitcher Casey Kelly (who makes his big-league debut tonight at Petco Park against the Atlanta Braves), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (now with the Chicago Cubs, traded for Andrew Cashner), and minor league center fielder Reymond Fuentes (still in the minors, likely a couple of years away from any call-up to the big club). The Red Sox also threw in outfielder Eric Patterson (released by the Padres last year, last seen playing minor league ball in the Detroit Tigers organization).

Gonzalez was drafted in 2000 out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, the first overall pick taken by the Florida Marlins. After a few years in the Marlins minor league organization, Adrian was traded to the Texas Rangers, and in 2006 came to the Padres in a deal with pitcher Chris Young (now with the New York Mets), and Terrmel Sledge (last seen playing in Japan), for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinora Otsuka (both are now out of baseball) and minor league pitcher Billy Killian (still hasn't pitched in the majors).

So, ostensibly, Adrian Gonzalez wasn't regarded highly enough by either the Marlins or the Rangers to keep him from being traded for players that didn't last long in baseball. And he comes to the Padres and becomes so good that he's coveted by big market teams that don't seem to mind paying him millions to jack the occasional home run and play first base worthy of multiple gold gloves.

Welcome to baseball, a game controlled by owners that hire front office managers who can make million-dollar mistakes with seeming impunity. Not that it's easy to figure how a prospect will turn out, but when they are wrong on either side of an opinion, the results seem ridiculous.

Another strange and Padres-relative part of this trade, possibly even more baffling? We're past the trade deadline, which means that the Red Sox had to dangle all of these players, including Adrian, out on the waiver-wire.

It means that the Padres (and any franchise with a worse record than the Dodgers) had a chance to claim Adrian. Now, claiming Gonzalez doesn't mean that the Padres are interesting in getting him or his salary, but such a claim is a weapon in order to block the Dodgers from getting their mitts on him.

Teams can keep their rivals from becoming too powerful by simply blocking a claim the rival makes in order to get better. So why didn't the Padres block the claim, knowing that if no deal would be struck that the Dodgers would go without?

It could be an interesting strategy by both the Padres and division rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks to take a flyer on Gonzalez. Small market teams are never going to be able to compete with the type of money the Dodgers can apparently afford to shell out. So, maybe you just let them drown in over-priced player contracts, sort of like how the Tampa Bay Rays have enjoyed relative success against the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox by not trying to compete with them in that way.

Adrian Gonzalez is perfect for the Dodgers, so long as they can afford that salary. Mexican-American, all-around nice guy, solid glove and excellent bat, the fans will love him. What the Dodgers took on in order to get Adrian, that's a different story. $260 million dollars is a lot of cash, regardless of your market size.

In Josh Beckett the Dodgers get a pitcher who has seen better days behind him (Beckett was also drafted by the Marlins a year earlier than Adrian Gonzalez, traded to the Red Sox in 2006), 32 years old and on the downside of his career.

In Carl Crawford the Dodgers get someone who just underwent Tommy John surgery and won't be available until sometime in 2013 at the earliest, and who really knows what he'll have left after he recovers.

In Nick Punto, they get a utility infielder they can trade next year, before he reaches free agency again. They won't get much for him, but it doesn't much matter, because they aren't paying much for him either, he's just an ancillary piece.

So, if you figure that Beckett is fading and Crawford might never be close to what he once was and Punto is mostly irrelevant, then the Dodgers grossly overpaid for Gonzalez. And giving up Loney wasn't that difficult, and the prospects weren't much, a couple of pitchers that could find their way into the bottom end of the rotation some day.

So maybe the Padres were thinking this: Stick other rivals with bills they'll struggle with justifying, and we'll take our chances with a much leaner approach. Maybe they took a page out of the Tampa Bay Rays playbook. And maybe, just maybe it will work in the long run.


Notes:

The Padres have (surprise) made another roster move today. The aforementioned Casey Kelly has been called up from AAA Tucson and will make his major league debut this evening. The corresponding roster move is two-fold: Brad Boxberger takes a flight back to Salt Lake City to join the AAA Tucson club, and catcher Nick Hundley is moved from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL to open up some room on the 40-man roster. Kelly has a good fastball, and an amazing curve ball, and his debut has been much anticipated.

Tonight's game is at 7:05 PM PDST, and Kelly will face Paul Maholm (11-8, 3.47) of the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park. XX 1090 AM on radio, Fox Sports San Diego on television, or show up at Petco, take your chances that it won't be a sell-out, Mondays are usually easy. And the weather is suddenly perfect. This is what happens.

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Comments

I'd love to see Adrian back home, and I've heard all sorts of yakking on the radio about it the last few days, but the salary just isn't justifiable if we'd been stuck with it - especially considering after the Hawpe flawpe we've got a more-than-serviceable low-budget replacement in Yonder Alonso.

If Aki is out of baseball, what's the chances Corky's can afford to hire him for some more so-terrible-they're-awesome TV commercials?

The way the Pads are playing, it reminds me of the hot end to 2010...which induced me to drop duckets on season tickets (granted, a 1/4 season plan in the cheapest seats available) for the first time since 1994...and I paid for that dearly.

The reason no other club thought about claiming Gonzales is simple: money. According to every every source I've read or heard, no one single GM thought that the Dodgers were serious about taking on Gonzales' contract, ESPECIALLY when it became apparent that any such deal was contingent upon also taking Crawford and Beckett. I don't think affording his salary will be an issue. The talk up here is the new tv contract now is probably going top be something in excess of $5 billion over 20 yrs Beckett didn't pitch badly last night. He kept the Dodgers in the game and except for his second pitch of the game, which ended up in the second deck in right field. As for Crawford, most of those familiar with the Tommy John procedure, those who have had it or those who perform it, say the recovery time should be much shorter than for a pitcher and the prospects of his return to previous throwing ability is better than that of a pitcher, for reasons which should be obvious. Will it all work out for the Dodgers? Who knows. And I guess if you're a Padres fan, who cares.

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