There are a couple of trades that probably spring to mind for most Padres fans this morning:
- Summer 1993: Fred McGriff — making an outrageous $4 million a year– was sent to the Braves in exchange for Melvin Nieves, Vince Moore and Donnie Elliott. It was one of the most notorious fire sales in baseball history and absolutely none of the players the Padres got in return did a thing to help them;
- Winter 2006: The Padres send Billy Killian, Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka to the Rangers for Terrmel Sledge, Chris Young and … Adrian Gonzalez.
One trade was disastrous, the other a windfall. One represents the outrageous risk of sending a superstar away in a trade for prospects. The other represents the potential goldmine that a deal for prospects can be.
Obviously, in structure, this is the McGriff trade, inasmuch as the Padres are giving up the superstar. And, as most people who follow such things will tell you, if you’re giving up the best player in the deal, you probably lost the deal.
But that shouldn’t cause Padres fans to despair, because (a) that 2006 deal put the Padres way ahead to begin with; and (b) the folks making this trade are a much smarter bunch of folks than those who sent Fred McGriff to Atlanta.
The Padres gave up virtually nothing for Adrian Gonzalez, and paid him less than $10 million for five years of elite production. Indeed, there likely was not a better dollar-per-dollar value in all of baseball during that time. No, that won’t make them feel better if all of the prospects coming from the Red Sox tank, but you can’t tell the story of Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego without acknowledging it.
Likewise, if you have to give up your star for prospects, having Jed Hoyer doing it in a trade with the Red Sox is the best possible situation. When people talk about risk with prospects, they’re really talking about two things: (1) the risk that comes from the prospect being an unknown quantity; and (2) the risk that the prospect won’t ultimately turn into a productive major leaguer. With Hoyer’s history of working in Red Sox player development, a big component of the risk is gone.
And let’s be clear about something: keeping Adrian Gonzalez was not a realistic option for the Padres. He is on record as saying that he would not be giving the Padres a hometown discount. He was a mortal lock to leave after the 2011 season for a nine-figure deal. Unlike some stars in that position — say, Prince Fielder — Gonzalez’s low salary gave him legitimate trade value. If even one of the prospects coming back in this deal turns into something good, the Padres are ahead of where they would have been had they let him walk. And really, it’s not like any team out there was offering a better deal for Gonzalez. The Padres have done about as good as they could have done.
Is this deflating for Padres fans? Absolutely. You never want to lose your superstar, especially one with the sort of connection to the community that Gonzalez has. But it was necessary. As the very deal that brought him to San Diego showed, it could end up being beneficial. Given the competence, knowledge and experience of Jed Hoyer, the risks of this being a Fred McGriff deal part deux are as low as they could possibly be. It’s the best that could be made of a bad situation.
And it might turn out to be fantastic.