For some teams, it's not so obvious whether they should be buying or selling at the July 31 trade deadline. For others, though, moving players to aim towards a better future is the only good choice. While the San Diego Padres haven't quite been winners on the field in 2011, with the right players dealt, they could win big on deadline day.
They have not just one, but two closer-caliber relievers who could be dealt in Heath Bell and Mike Adams. They also have Chad Qualls, who, while not as excellent as he has been in the past, appears to be over the problems in 2010 that caused him to sign a one-year, $2.55 million deal in the first place. That's just the bullpen, too, as the lineup has a few names that could be moved in order to open up room for San Diego's youth, and to bring back future pieces.
Bell is the most obvious choice to be moved, as he has been one of baseball's top closers for nearly three years now since replacing all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, and is a free agent at season's end. There are a few problems with expecting a huge return on him, though, despite the quality he is known for: there are loads of relievers available at the deadline from teams in the same position as San Diego, and Bell would essentially be a two-month rental given his impending free agency. Whoever acquires him would also have to offer him arbitration in order to get draft picks back, and given that Bell will be 34 next year, there is a small -- but non-zero -- chance that the arbitration dollars will be more appealing than offers he gets.
Still, we're talking about a reliever who, in his last three years and 178 innings pitched, has struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings and posted an ERA of 2.37. There will be suitors lined up on July 31 for his services, and not necessarily just teams who need an upgrade at closer.
Adams may be the bigger haul for a team looking for bullpen help, though, assuming the Padres are intent on dealing him. Adams is under contract for 2012 as well, as he is just in his second season of arbitration. The righty has been ridiculous with the Padres since getting another shot at the majors in 2008, throwing 212 frames with 9.9 punch outs per nine, a 4.0 K/BB, and a 1.70 ERA in four years with San Diego. He has no lefty/righty splits either, as Adams has allowed a .189/.248/.258 line to lefties in his Padre career, and .165/.222/.276 to right-handed hitters. He isn't a product of Petco, either, as his .203/.260/.308 road line indicates. As good as Bell has been for the Padres, Adams is better, and may actually bring a decent prospect back in return were he to be moved.
Qualls doesn't have the same credentials as either of the aforementioned hurlers, but outside of 2010, he has had a solid career out of the bullpen. He is also cheap, and has a $6 million option for 2012 with a $1.05 million buyout, so, if his new club wanted him to be, he could be more than a simple rental. He was a Type B free agent this past winter as well, and, given his performance in 2011, that should remain, so were his new team to decline the option and offer him arbitration, he could bring them a supplemental pick in the 2012 draft. Shrewd clubs like the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays often acquire players like that just for the pick potential - in fact, the Rays can thank Qualls for one of their many 2011 selections for that very reason.
Moving one (or all three) of these relievers would make San Diego's pen shallower, but not empty. They still have Luke Gregerson, and second-year reliever Ernesto Frieri is the one leading the team in K/9. And, as a rebuilding club, the bullpen is the least of their present-day worries, anyway.
Ryan Ludwick is the most likely bat to be moved. While his .238/.306/.376 line doesn't exactly scream "impact bat," Petco Park and injuries have slowed him during his year in San Diego. It's likely he will be moved to a team looking for help against left-handed pitching in a platoon setup. The Red Sox, who have the left-handed J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick around for right field, make sense, and have inquired about him already as well. Ludwick, like Qualls, will likely be a Type B free agent this winter as well, so there may be some appeal to using him to stockpile picks if the price for acquiring him is right.
The same could be said about Brad Hawpe, but the first baseman/right fielder is currently on the disabled list with a finger injury, and it isn't clear when he will be returning. If San Diego gets anything for him, it would be a miracle, but with Anthony Rizzo the team's new first baseman and Will Venable hitting well since his return from a demotion, the Padres have no room for Hawpe on the 25-man roster, anyway -- just having the roster spot may be worth more to them than having Hawpe around, and someone may want to take a flyer on him out side of Petco.
The most intriguing position player -- but one not guaranteed to move -- is Chase Headley. Headley is a quality defender at third, but his bat has come along well this year. Despite Petco, he is hitting .300/.390/.401. That's good for a .295 TAv, (or 130 wRC+, if that's more your style). The switch-hitting third baseman has been much better against lefties this year, and is at .339/.413/.456 on the road in 2011.
The Padres don't need to move him their top position player, but there are multiple reasons to explore the issue: Headley is a super-two player and is already making $2.35 million this year, a fact that may become a problem for the budget-conscious Padres. He is already 27 years old, and San Diego's top offensive prospect in the upper levels is a 24-year-old third baseman that just hit .333/.434/.604 despite home games in an extreme pitcher's park at Double-A. That player, James Darnell, also already has four homers at Triple-A Tucson in just 35 plate appearances, so he is knocking on the door. In addition, Headley has the best chance of bringing back something that will significantly alter San Diego's future, given he has three more years of team control after this year.
Bringing Darnell up right away wouldn't make sense given his limited Triple-A exposure, but if the Padres are selling and waving the white flag in 2011, they don't need to replace Headley's quality right away, either. Replacing Ludwick is a different story, as the team has Kyle Blanks in Triple-A. Blanks is hitting .310/.379/.584 between Double- and Triple-A this year, with 15 homers and 28 doubles. Those numbers indicate his elbow is feeling fine after Tommy John surgery last year, and the Padres need to find out if he can be Rizzo's partner in mashing on future San Diego squads before the 24-year-old Blanks gets any older.
Given that San Diego's season has stalled, they have no real choice but to sell off these players. They looked like a .500 team at best at the onset of the season, but at this point their chances of a major turnaround may be better with players like Blanks, Rizzo and Venable in the fold rather than Ludwick and Hawpe. The future should start on July 31. At the latest.