The Padres just didn’t need Craig Kimbrel

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The 2014 Padres were 63-1 when leading after eight innings.

That’s not the amazing stat, though. The truly incredible one is that they were 60-1 when leading after six innings. The 2014 Padres obviously had difficulties generating leads, but once they got them, they were untouchable.

Still, this was hardly a unique feature of the 2014 Padres. In 2013, the team was 63-3 when leading after eight innings. In 2012, it was 68-2. In 2011, it was 62-3.

It’s hardly any kind of secret that Padres usually feature great pens. Last year, they were second in MLB in bullpen ERA at 2.73. The since departed Huston Street helped them along for four months, but they still had the following returning for 2015:

Joaquin Benoit: 1.49 ERA in 54 1/3 IP in 2014
Dale Thayer: 2.34 ERA in 65 1/3 IP
Kevin Quackenbush: 2.48 ERA in 54 1/3 IP
Nick Vincent: 3.60 ERA in 55 IP

Plus, they had added two fine arms in Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley. Maurer, picked up from the Mariners for Seth Smith, showed a high-90s fastball to go along with an excellent slider after shifting to the pen last year, amassing a 2.17 ERA and a 38/5 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings. I projected him as one of the NL’s very best relievers for 2015. Kelley had a 4.53 ERA for the Yankees, but it came with 67 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. An extreme flyball pitcher, he’s well suited for Petco and should be an asset in a setup role.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Padres had no need at all to trade for a closer, even if that closer was Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is awesome. He’s quite possibly the best in baseball at what he does, and since he’s 26 and on a reasonable contract for the next three years, he’s no rental. He was a major trade asset. And the Padres should have left him alone.

Because to get Kimbrel, the Padres had to take on the $46.35 million that Melvin Upton Jr. is due the next three years. They also had to give up their top pitching prospect in Matthew Wisler, the No. 41 pick in the 2015 draft (which was tradeable because it was a competitive balance pick) and a decent outfield prospect in Jordan Paroubeck (the team’s second-round pick in 2013). And now that they have Kimbrel, they’ve sent two perfectly fine setup man, Maurer and Quackenbush, to Triple-A to twiddle their thumbs until there’s a need in the pen.

The Padres did get to dump the $16 million owed to Cameron Maybin and $8 million due to Carlos Quentin. But factoring in Kimbrel’s $34 million commitment, they took on $56 million to get someone who isn’t truly going to be a difference maker, at least not from April until September. Maybe it’ll pay off during a postseason run at some point within these next three years, but there had to be ways to use that money that would have better increased their chances of going to the postseason.

For all of new GM A.J. Preller’s maneuvering, the Padres still have perhaps the NL’s worst defensive outfield and its worst offensive infield. Meanwhile, they’ve subtracted their No. 1 (Wisler), No. 2 (Trea Turner), No. 4 (Joe Ross), No. 6 (Max Fried), No. 9 (Zach Eflin), No. 10 (Jace Peterson) and No. 11 (R.J. Alvarez) prospects, according to Baseball America’s rankings. That list doesn’t include Jesse Hahn, the quality young starter sent to the A’s in the Derek Norris trade.

Preller has remade the Padres as an extremely interesting team, and he’s certainly gained the attention of the fanbase, which should pay off in increased revenues. But it’s still a flawed group, one with a couple of very questionable long-term commitments, and the farm system has been decimated along the way. Even so, Preller’s grand experiment seemed worthwhile for the most part. He merely needed to know when to stop.

Watch: Christian Yelich continues to make a case for NL MVP repeat

Christian Yelich
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Christian Yelich simply can’t be stopped. The Brewers outfielder (and defending NL MVP) entered Saturday’s game with a league-leading 11 home runs after swatting two against the Dodgers on Friday night, then clubbed another two homers in the first six innings of Saturday’s game.

The first came on a 2-1 pitch from the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who lobbed a changeup toward the bottom of the strike zone before it was lifted up and out to center field for a solo home run in the third inning.

While Chase Anderson and Alex Claudio held down the fort against the Dodgers’ lineup, Yelich prepared for his second blast in the sixth inning — this one a 421-foot double-decker on a first-pitch curveball from Ryu.

Yelich’s 13 home runs not only gave him a stronger grip on the league’s leaderboard, but helped him tie yet another franchise record, too. Per MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, he’s tied with Prince Fielder for the most home runs hit by a Brewers player in a single month, and sits just one home run shy of tying Álex Rodríguez’s 2007 record for most home runs hit within any club’s first 22 games of the season.

It may be far too early to predict which players will finish first in the MVP races this fall, but there’s no denying Yelich has already set himself apart from the competition. Through Saturday’s performance, he’s batting .361/.459/.880 with a 1.329 OPS and MLB-best 31 RBI across 98 PA so far.