With it all but official that Jed Hoyer will make the move to San Diego, the question immediately arises: Will the Padres' new general manager use his best trading chip to restock what Baseball America ranked as the second-worst collection of talent in the major leagues -- and will the farm system he used to supervise be the farm system he targets?
Yes, he will. It makes too much sense for him not to.
The Red Sox and Padres already were a natural fit for an Adrian Gonzalez trade this winter. Gonzalez is under contract through 2011 -- assuming his team exercises a bargain-basement $5.6 million option -- and ranked 10th in the major leagues in Wins Above Replacement, a Baseball Prospectus statistic that takes into consideration both hitting and fielding. Albert Pujols is the only first baseman in the game with a signficantly better WAR number than Gonzalez.
Bill Smith -- a New Hampshire native, by the way -- had to trade Johan Santana immediately upon taking over the job of general manager with the Minnesota Twins two years ago. Hoyer, in much the same way, will have to make trading Gonzalez his first order of business.
No, trading your best player doesn't seem like the best way for a struggling team to get back into contention -- and it certainly doesn't seem like the best way for a new general manager to ingratiate himself with his new fan base.
But the Padres aren't exactly close to competing. Jake Peavy has been traded away. Kevin Correia might be the team's Opening Day starting pitcher. Kevin Kouzmanoff's 18 home runs were second-best on the team behind Gonzalez. Chase Headley was the only other hitter with an OPS+ better than 100 -- in other words, he was the only other above-average hitter to get to the plate more than 350 times this season.
Funny thing: The team's top prospect, 23-year-old slugger Kyle Blanks, posted the following numbers on his climb up the ladder:
Single-A (adv.): .301 batting/.380 on-base/.540 slugging
Double-A: .325 batting/.404 on-base/.514 slugging
Triple-A: .283 batting/.393 on-base/.485 slugging
Oh, and he's a first baseman.
You'd better believe that if it wasn't part of the conversation during the farewell lunch, Hoyer left behind a note for Theo Epstein describing exactly the type of package it would take to pry Gonzalez away from him.
Epstein, tangentially, has a couple of choices this offseason:
1. He can stand pat and hope his team still is good enough to compete with the Rays and Yankees, essentially punting a season but conserving his resources until after he's out from under the contracts of Mike Lowell and David Ortiz.
2. He can reload and go for it again.
A move for Gonzalez, particularly if it didn't cost the Red Sox prized starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, would match last winter's Mark Teixeira signing by the Yankees and, particularly if Jason Bay was persuaded to re-sign, give the Red Sox a lineup every bit as ferocious as the lineup in the Bronx -- with OPS+ numbers from 2009:
1. Ellsbury, CF (L) -- 96
2. Pedroia, 2B (R) -- 108
3. Martinez, C (S) -- 121
4. Youkilis, 3B (R) -- 143
5. Ad. Gonzalez, 1B (L) -- 163
6. Bay, LF (R) -- 132
7. Drew, RF (L) -- 131
8. Ortiz/Lowell, DH (L/R) -- 100/104
9. Al. Gonzalez/Lowrie, SS (R/S) -- Who cares?
Gonzalez even is a full two years younger than Teixeira and thus would be a better bet for the type of lucrative long-term deal he'll command when he hits the open market after the 2011 season.
He'd immediately make the Red Sox lineup both younger and, well, better -- both at Fenway Park and on the road. He'd allow Epstein to check off pretty much the only item on his offseason to-do list other than maybe sign a veteran starting pitcher on the cheap to provide insurance for Tim Wakefield.
All it would cost would be the jewels of the Red Sox farm system.
Casey Kelly would have to be included. Ryan Westmoreland would have to be included. Josh Reddick would have to be included. Ryan Kalish would have to be included. Daniel Bard might even have to be included -- something you'd think the Red Sox would do if they don't see him as a starting pitcher in the future.
That's a deal both the Padres and the Red Sox would make.
1. The Red Sox would make that deal because their resources allow them to focus perpetually on the short term. Neither Kelly nor Westmoreland, easily the team's two top prospects, are going to be factors in the major leagues until 2012 even if they started next season at Double-A and spent just one season at each level of the minor-league ladder. Rather than waiting for Kelly, for example, the Red Sox could trade him away and throw truckloads of money at Felix Hernandez when he hits the free-agent market after the 2011 season at the ripe old age of 25.
(And because of the resources they devote to the draft, the Red Sox can focus on ready-for-prime-time talent next June, no matter how expensive, in an effort to restock the shelves in time for 2012 or 2013.)
2. The Padres would make that deal because they're not going to compete without restocking their farm system -- and they're far enough away that they don't need prospects who are almost ready for the major leagues.
Consider the Bartolo Colon trade from back in 2002. The Indians, whose run of dominance in the American League Central seemed to have come to an end, traded Colon to the Montreal Expos, a team in danger of imminent contraction and thus a team with a desperation to win right away, sent back a package that included journeyman major leaguer Lee Stevens and three prospects:
* 23-year-old pitcher Cliff Lee had spent most of the season at Double-A and had just made his major-league debut. He wouldn't make 30 starts in the major leagues for the first time until 2004 but would win a Cy Young Award in 2008.
* 21-year-old infielder Brandon Phillips had just been promoted to Triple-A and actually would spend the next three seasons in Triple-A before the Indians tired of him and shipped him off to Cincinnati -- where he hit 30 home runs in 2007.
* 19-year-old outfielder Grady Sizemore split his season between Single-A Brevard County and Single-A Kinston, and he didn't even make an appearance in Double-A until the following season. He made his first All-Star team in 2006 -- four years after the trade.
Bad teams, as we've again learned with the news that Steve Phillips once offered a 19-year-old David Wright to Toronto for Jose Cruz Jr., can improve themselves by swapping established players for teenagers. The Indians lost 94 games in 2003 but won 93 games in 2005 and came within one win of the World Series in 2007 -- and every single one of their fans would do the Colon trade all over again if given a chance.
Hoyer isn't going to go all out to win next season or even the season after that -- and, by then, Gonzalez likely will be gone. Hoyer has a massive rebuilding project on his hands, and it's not a rebuilding project in which Gonzalez can assist.
If Hoyer could trade for a pitcher in his early 20s with an electric arm (Bard) and an outfielder in his teens with breathtaking athleticism (Westmoreland) and add Kalish or Kelly or Reddick to the package, he'd be doing himself a favor.
And if the Red Sox could trade for a lefthanded power hitter who's still three years shy of his 30th birthday, they'd be setting themselves up for another run at the World Series both next season and the season after that.
A team with their resources doesn't need to think too much farther down the road than that.