The San Diego Padres finally got a bat for reliever Luke Gregerson. Whether they can actually put their acquisition to use, however …
Even though Gregerson’s departure was more or less an inevitability since prior to the trade deadline in the 2013 season, it’s probably fair to say there will be more than a few confused Friar fans over the trade that brought Seth Smith to San Diego. That’s no knock on the outfielder himself, as he’s actually a decent hitter with a little bit of pop in the outfield, but it’s not as though the Padres were crying out for help in that area either.
Is the current group of outfielders injury-prone? Sure. But considering that Smith is not as good of a player as the fourth outfielder in a group of Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Cameron Maybin and Chris Denorfia, there would have to be a couple of injuries for the newcomer to be of any true use.
Yes, Smith has power and he can mash righties from the left side (.845 OPS vs. RHP over 1893 career PA), which would make him something of an ideal platoon partner. However, none of the Padres’ starting outfielders have a significant enough split outside of Venable, and the problem there is that he has problems with lefties (.653 OPS over 413 career PA), who Smith also can’t hit (.582 OPS over 406 career PA).
In those circumstances, San Diego could simply plug backup OF Denorfia in (.833 OPS vs. LHP) to face southpaws, which is to say that the team already had a solution to that problem.
By adding Smith, they’ve essentially taken on the situation that the Oakland Athletics dealt with in 2013, except they have no DH spot to flex the at-bats between the outfielders. At best, Smith would get a regular platoon role with Denorfia if either of the starting three outfielders were to be hurt, but as injury-prone as they may be, it severely limits the value that the newcomer brings to the table.
If all goes well with Quentin, Venable and Maybin all season long, there essentially won’t be much of a role for the 31-year old at all. He’s not a great defender so he’s not going to come in as a defensive replacement, nor does he have much speed on the basepaths. His only niche is that he’s a lefty who can hit righties, and while that’s a useful skill set to have for certain teams with that need, are the Padres really a better team paying him more than the $3.675 million he made in 2013 going into his final arbitration-eligible season … after which he’s likely to head right back into free agency?
All of this is to say that it looks as though there could be a follow-up move coming.
It is worth noting that Denorfia was the Padres most valuable position player in 2013 at 3.9 fWAR due in part to his above-average defense (12.8 defensive runs above average), which might make 20-20 man Venable a potential trade chip as his power/speed combo belies his underwhelming hitting/on-base skills (.257/.322 AVG/OBP over career).
He’s had two seasons over the last three years with a OBP lower than .315, and with the power breakout coming in 2013, there might not be a better time to dangle him in a trade as he’s likely to get fairly expensive in his final two arbitration years at age 31 and 32. If he can land the Padres a young arm (which Gregerson would not have), it would allow them to play a Denorfia/Smith platoon in the corner, while big man Kyle Blanks backs them up.
Whether the Padres will be able to complete such a deal is yet to be seen, but they’re certainly set up for it now with their glut of outfielders. If that’s not the plan … well, let’s just say that the outfield is going to have issues in 2014.