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How the San Diego Padres should attack the trade deadline

Baseball's most disappointing team can have a huge fire sale and start over. Should they?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

For years, Giants fans were obnoxiously loud in San Diego. They were audible over the radio and visible on television whenever the Giants did good things. There's nothing worse than a large contingent of visiting fans, yelling and jumping around in the stands, taking extra pleasure in the knowledge that they shouldn't be there. They're like a toddlers jumping up and down on the kitchen counter and staring you down the whole time. You have thoughts. It is a very, very good thing that you don't act on those thoughts.

In the first Padres home series of the year, though, it wasn't the usual dynamic. Opening Day was filled with raucous Padres fans, sure, but the next two games were just as wild. When the Padres won the series finale 10-2, it was a wild, three-hour celebration. The Padres knocked Madison Bumgarner out of the game early, and they pounded out 20 hits. It was just the third game of the year, but the crowd was delirious after every one of them. If the Giants fans were there, they didn't make themselves known.

Get used to this, I thought. Get used to this.

That was the offseason plan, living and breathing for the world to inspect. For a game, it was working beautifully. Matt Kemp had two doubles and looked great. The insanity of the Padres' offseason, the incredible reshaping of a boring team into a thrilling, power-filled juggernaut, was going to be something to watch.

Let's check in with the Padres' records after 87 games in the last two seasons.

2014: 39-48
2015: 39-48

It feels impossible. The Padres dumped their Scrabble tiles and they still can't make a word. Now it's almost deadline time, and the Padres are almost certainly going to sell. The grand experiment failed. It turns out that catching the ball really does matter, but it's too glib to blame the disappointing season entirely on the clompy defense. Matt Kemp disintegrated into one of baseball's worst hitters, not just one of the worst fielders. Wil Myers had a promising start, but he's been ransacked by injuries. The pitching that was supposed justify the farm-gutting that rebuilt the lineup? An adjusted ERA of 90. The rebuilt lineup that was supposed to let the pitching shine? An adjusted OPS of 87.

They're just ... bad. It's not the defense or the pitching or the lineup. It's everything. Everything and anything. The offseason was a present, placed in a huge box and wrapped with a beautiful bow and lace. There was a dead possum in box. That's the gift of the offseason, a dead possum. Who wraps up a dead possum?

A.J. Preller: Well, it was alive when it went in the box, so ...

Okay, but a live possum isn't the best gift either. Whatever, it's not time to assign blame. The job of the team at the deadline, then, is two-fold:

  1. Figure out which members of the bad team could be members of a good team.

  2. Avoid blowing the new team up after three months, setting fire to the goodwill built over the offseason.

The anecdote at the beginning wasn't just to show you that the Padres had hope. It was also to remind you that the offseason riled up the fans in the best possible way. For more than a decade, Padres fans were waiting for an offseason like that. Going full 2011 Astros, even if it leads to success in four years, is the perfect way to set that goodwill on fire. But they have to get something back at the deadline. It's a chainsaw-juggling act I wouldn't want to try.

So let's count up the members of the bad team who don't deserve this. Not only the good players, but the players who have skills or play a position that's hard to find on the open market.

Derek Norris
Justin Upton
Wil Myers
James Shields
Andrew Cashner
Tyson Ross

The short list is kind of disconcerting. Norris is cheap and productive for his position, so he stays. Same goes for Myers. Cashner and Ross would both be extreme sell-low pitchers who might -- might -- bring back pitching prospects with a 30- or 40-percent chance to become Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross. None of those guys should be jettisoned just because that's what bad teams do at the deadline.

That leaves Justin Upton, who looked like a Petco-proof slugger in the beginning of the season, but has slumped miserably since June 1 (.183/.293/.258, with 43 strikeouts in 140 plate appearances). He's a free agent, but also someone the Padres would want to lock up. If he comes at a discount because of this slump, all the better.

Upton is probably the most valuable trade chip the Padres would consider trading, but they're not going to get six prospects from the top of Baseball America's top-100 list. The exclusive negotiating window, plus the fallback of a supplemental pick might be worth more than whatever another team would deal for Upton at this point.

The answer is in the middle, then. Anyone who isn't on that list up there can go. Good-if-limited players, like Yonder Alonso and Will Venable, should be dealt. The bullpen should be melted down entirely, Craig Kimbrel included, under the assumption that the Padres can always and forever build a good bullpen out of spare parts.

Or, if TL;DR: Have a fire sale, but keep the good stuff in the back. And get a damned shortstop.

Then, before the grumbling can start next season, have another nutty offseason, possibly with a long-term extension for Upton included. There's nothing the Padres can do with Kemp and Melvin Upton now, so they'll be limited, but they'll have five or six positions they can upgrade and a couple rotation spots, too. The limited fire sale will help. The willingness to try new things in the offseason will help, too. There's a way to salvage this without dynamite.

Ownership has the right idea:

"This was a franchise that was stuck in neutral for the last 10 years," said Dee, "so I give A.J. a lot of credit for rolling to the dice to see if we could add to this year’s team to compete ...

... We're ecstatic with the collaborative environment, the creativity, the will to win, the competitive nature. Some of the things we've done to this point haven't worked out, but we'll jump right back on it and keep swinging."

Reassess and reshuffle. Acknowledge that fielding is important. Keep the players who have skills that don't grow like mushrooms on the floor of free agency. Try again.

It's not what the Padres were hoping for, but it's still a more exciting situation than "collect all the prospects, hope some of them pan out," which was the default for the last decade or so.