We all owe the Padres a thank you.
Whether you’re a fan of San Diego or not -- the team, that is, it’s impossible to not like the city -- the Padres have taken what has been an infuriatingly slow offseason and provided some excitement, at least for a few days.
It all started late Sunday night, when multiple outlets reported that San Diego and Tampa Bay had agreed to trade Blake Snell to the Padres.
Then, on Monday morning, Dennis Lin of The Athletic -- who also was the first to report the Snell trade and is probably quite tired -- that San Diego had come to an agreement with Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim.
And if that weren’t enough, Lin along with Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney of the Athletic reported that the Padres were “deep in talks” to acquire Yu Darvish from the Cubs, with Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune reporting that the deal was close to done.
Rather than bunch them all together, it makes sense to break these down deal-by-deal, and look at the impact of each transaction in order.
In return for Snell, the Padres will send out Francisco Mejia, pitching prospects Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, and catching prospect Blake Hunt. The deal is pending medical reviews and a physical.
This is obviously a significant boost to the San Diego rotation -- which we’ll talk more about in a second, obviously -- as Snell has shown exceptional ability over the last two years. He won a Cy Young Award in 2018 after posting a sensational 1.89 ERA with 221 strikeouts in 180 2/3 innings, and he was solid again in 2020 with a 3.24 ERA, 63/18 K/BB ratio over 50 innings with a 3.03 mark and 37 strikeouts over six starts. That includes a brilliant start in Game 6 of the World Series that infamously ended in the sixth despite allowing only two hits.
Snell’s ability to miss bats is unquestioned, but there are some reasons for concern, at least in terms of calling him an elite option. He hasn’t worked deep into games, and while that’s partially due to Tampa Bay’s infatuation with not allowing a start work a third time through the order, it’s also because he isn’t efficient, and walks have been a problem for the left-hander. Still, he’s going to play behind an excellent lineup and it looks like he won’t have to face a DH in 2021. He has a chance to be among the best starters in the National League, but just be aware of the limitations.
As for the Rays return, there’s a lot to like, even if most of it won’t help in 2021. Mejia is a former top prospect who just hasn’t hit so far, but keep in mind he’ll be 25-years-old for the entirety of the next season, and the switch-hitting backstop showed tremendous offensive potential in the minors.
The best player in the deal is Patino; one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He can miss bats with three pitches, repeats his delivery well, and despite some command issues in a limited sample should throw enough strikes to be a starter. The Rays could use him as a bulk reliever, but his long-term potential suggests he can be an ace. Wilcox has an elite fastball and shows a quality curve, and Hunt really impressed in instructional leagues with his power potential along with quality defense. All four are players who offer long-term value, but it’d be hard to recommend any of them as a draft selection for the coming year outside of Mejia.
As of publication, there’s no word on financial terms, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post had previously mentioned that he’s expected to land a four- or five-year deal in the high $20 million range. Kim has until New Year’s Day to sign because of the posting rules, so this one should be announced shortly.
If you’re unfamiliar with Kim -- and you’d be forgiven if you are -- he was one of the stars of the KBO in 2020; hitting .306/.397/.523 with 30 homers and 23 steals for the Kiwoom Heroes. The previous year he was nearly as good with an .880 OPS, 19 homers and 33 steals; so this was far from an out-of-nowhere campaign. He doesn’t strike out much -- he hasn’t put up more than 81 in his last five seasons in the KBO -- and the right-handed hitter has a swing path that suggests he can hit for both average and power at the next level; with the speed to put up a solid number of steals for good measure.
The question with Kim, who doesn’t turn 26 until October, is where the Padres are going to play him. The two positions he’s primarily played as a professional are shortstop and third base. San Diego has Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado at those spots. You might have heard of them. That makes second base the most likely landing spot, which obviously diminishes the value of Jake Cronenworth; the projected starter at the keystone. Both players offer the potential for versatility with their wheels, and it seems likely the Padres will try and get both in the lineup.
Kim may need an adjustment period, but the talent is here for him to be a fantasy-relevant player immediately.
With all due respect to Snell and Kim, this is saving the best for last. The reported deal -- again, nothing done at the time of publication -- sees the Padres acquiring Darvish along with catcher Victor Caratini in return for Zach Davies and prospects Reginald Preciado, Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena and Yeison Santana. There are also reports that cash will be sent from the Cubs to the Padres, as Darvish is about to enter the fourth year of a six-year, $126 million contract with $59 million still unpaid.
It’d be hard to overstate how good Darvish was in 2020, even in a shortened year. He registered a 2.01 ERA, posted a 93/14 K/BB rate in 76 innings, and his FIP of 2.23 -- best in baseball -- suggests that it wasn’t good luck. He finished second in Cy Young voting behind Trevor Bauer, but it’s worth pointing out that Darvish was also exceptional in the second half of the 2020 season, and no pitcher in baseball has a higher K/9 rate than his 11.1 among starters. There have been durability issues and the occasional clunker, and it’s worth pointing out he turns 35 in August -- but for all the reasons to be excited about Snell, there’s even more reason to be excited about Darvish.
It’s worth mentioning Caratini as well. The 27-year-old backstop showed some offensive potential in the minors, and in 95 games with the Cubs in 2019, he slashed a respectable .266/.348/.447 with 11 homers in 279 plate appearances. Austin Nola seems like a lock to be the starting backstop after the Padres gave up a good deal to acquire him from Seattle near the deadline, but Caratini offers some protection in case things go wrong, and essentially becomes the new Mejia for San Diego.
The Cubs return is mostly about financial flexibility (sorry for having to use that term), but Davies was excellent in 2020 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his 12 starts. He’ll certainly be a part of the Cubs’ rotation, but he’s more of a mid-rotation starter than someone who is likely to put up those numbers again.
All of the prospects acquired in the deal are projects, but are worth considering in keeper formats. Caissie is the most “famous” because he was their second-round pick this June, but Preciado might be the best as a shortstop with above-average tools across the board and doesn’t turn 18 until May. Santana is a solid defender who offers a bit of offensive upside, and Mena is a plus-plus runner who shows some potential from the bat with his left-handed swing, as well. None of these players are expected to reach the majors until the middle of the decade, and offer just as much risk as reward.
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Quick Hits: According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, re-signing J.T. Realmuto "remains a/the priority" for the Phillies … Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that the Blue Jays, Padres, Giants, Mets and Red Sox "remain in pursuit" of Tomoyuki Sugano. Sugano has until January 7 to sign after being posted by the Yomiuri Giants ... Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com reports that the Red Sox have expressed "strong interest" in free-agent utilityman Enrique Hernandez … Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that more teams have shown interest in Tyler Naquin recently … Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is "next on the trade block" for the Rays … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove is "drawing keen trade interest … Rangers signed OF Elier Hernandez, RHP Tim Dillard and INF/OF Charlie Culberson to minor league contracts. Only Culberson’s contract offers an invitation to spring training. Daniel Kim of ESPN reports that right-hander Gabriel Ynoa is close to signing with the CTBC Brothers of the Chinese Professional Baseball League.