Earlier today, the Padres finalized a one-year contract for former White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which further signaled that San Diego won't be trying to contend in 2016. Between their subpar roster, and the additions that the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Dodgers have made, there's no reason to expect that the Padres will be anything but a bottom-feeder this season.
As San Diego works towards a rebuild, A.J. Preller will need to restock the farm system that he depleted in 2015; a task which he's already started. In one of the first major moves of the 2015-2016 offseason, Preller traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox for a haul of Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen.
However since that trade, the Padres have been relatively quiet on the trade front. Tyson Ross' name surfaced every so often, but neither he nor Andrew Cashner featured prominently in rumors this offseason. While this could be seen as Preller failing to capitalize on two valuable assets, instead it seems as though he's just waiting out the market.
Heading into this offseason, there were over 40 free agent starting pitchers up for grabs, many of whom were considered aces. Up until yesterday, Wei-Yin Chen was still available, which illustrates just how saturated the market was with starting pitchers.
While Ross and Cashner were likely on the radar of more than a few teams, it's hard to rationalize giving up a major prospect package when it's possible to simply dip into free agency; with the worst case scenario being the loss of a first round pick. However once the season starts, and teams run into injury problems and declining production from players, Preller has the opportunity to take advantage.
Cashner is a free agent at the end of 2016, and while that limits the quantity and quality of the prospects Preller can ask for, he'll still likely be able to pry away at least one impact player (assuming Cashner remains healthy and valuable). As for Ross, he's under team control through the end of 2017, and barring any sudden change in his skill set, he'll once again be one of the most coveted trade targets available.
Many of us were expecting Preller to unload nearly every valuable player on the Padres' roster before the July trade deadline in 2015, but with 20/20 hindsight, that wouldn't have made much sense. While prospect packages are 'ooed and awed' over the second trades are completed, the sad reality is that most of them don't ever reach their potential, and flame out almost as quickly as we learned their names.
If Preller had completed trades for Kimbrel, Cashner, Ross, Derek Norris, James Shields, and possibly more all before the trade deadline, he would have inundated his farm system with new players, without knowing what his future needs might be. By spacing out his trades, and letting prospects settle in to their new environments, Preller is giving himself time to figure out which of them are likely to succeed at the major league level, and which of them are nothing more than organizational depth.
When it comes time to trade away Cashner, Ross, and others, he'll have a better idea of which prospects to target. Preller's lack of activity shouldn't be seen as a failure, but rather as a calculated move to insure that he can extract the best possible prospect packages that fit San Diego's most pressing needs. Preller has had an up-and-down tenure as the Padres GM thus far, but don't lose faith in him just yet.