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2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Are the San Diego Padres going to be buyers or sellers?

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For the second straight year, national writers are projecting that the Padres will trade their best reliever. We’ll see if it actually happens this time.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at San Diego Padres Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.

San Diego Padres: 36-47, 5th in the NL West

After making a surprising splash over the winter and giving Eric Hosmer the largest free-agent contract of the offseason in the midst of a rebuild, the Padres got off to a relatively encouraging start this year. They posted a winning 15-13 record in May, won five straight series from late May into mid-June, and as recently as June 6 were just six games under .500 and 4.5 games out of the NL West lead, sparking whispers that they might be surprise buyers at the deadline. They’ve gone into a free fall in recent weeks, though, losing 11 of their last 14 games since winning a series in St. Louis from June 11-13. It’s now quite clear that they won’t be buyers this July — it’s just a matter of figuring out how much selling they want to do. Judging by the addition of Hosmer, Padres management seems to think the team is a bit closer to competing than most of the general public does. But even with the team still lacking a proven, needle-moving star, it is realistic to think they could be competitive within two years, as the Giants are getting older and Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Clayton Kershaw could all potentially be out of the division by 2020. Thus, they probably shouldn’t go crazy selling off valuable contributors if they think those players can help a good Padres team several years down the road.

What moves have they made so far?

The Padres haven’t been too active in terms of transactions this offseason, but they’ve made the type of low-profile, low-risk moves that you’d expect a rebuilding team to make. They acquired Brett Nicholas, who had seen big-league action as the Rangers’ backup catcher over each of the past two seasons, from Texas on May 6. He’s spent the duration of the season to date at Triple-A. They claimed lefty reliever Tyler Webb off waivers from the Brewers on May 14, though they ended up losing him on waivers to the Cardinals on June 29 after they tried to outright him following four big-league appearances and 19 outings at Triple-A El Paso. They lost lefty reliever Buddy Baumann on waivers to the Mets on April 27. In a deal that was more notable for its potential long-term benefits than its immediate consequences, the Padres acquired veteran right-hander Phil Hughes (and picked up $6.6 million of the $26.4 million remaining on his contract) from the Twins on May 27, sending minor-league catcher Janigson Villalobos to Minnesota in return. In that deal, the Padres also acquired the 74th overall pick in the 2018 draft, a selection they used to take Texas Tech outfielder Grant Little.

Who could they trade?

The most talked-about Padres trade candidate among national writers has been closer Brad Hand, who now likely tops Zach Britton as the top available left-handed reliever if San Diego decides to make him available. But while he could certainly bring back a solid return, there are plenty of reasons for the Padres to consider keeping Hand as well; he’s 28 years old and is under contract through 2020 with a club option for 2021, meaning he could likely still be an effective, affordable member of their bullpen during the timeframe in which the front office expects to be competitive again.

31-year-old right-hander Kirby Yates, who has broken out to the tune of a 0.82 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over 33 innings this season, would probably be a more logical trade candidate. He’s into his arbitration years, and though he’s been tremendous this year, he still seems like a guy that’s a bit fluky and isn’t exceptionally likely to sustain his success long-term (even with his dominance this year, he still has a 4.08 career ERA over 193 big-league appearances). There will be lots of talented middle relievers on the trade market, but if the Padres get a decent offer for Yates it’d make sense for them to seriously consider it.

34-year-old righty reliever Craig Stammen, who is enjoying his second straight very good year in San Diego, might also be a deadline trade candidate. He doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his success since he joined the Padres — a 2.98 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 94 appearances — is hard to ignore, and if San Diego is willing to part with him for a low-level lottery-ticket prospect or two, perhaps he could end up with a contender.

For potential playoff teams that are looking to add rotation reinforcements, Padres starter Tyson Ross could be an option to consider. Ross, who is in his second stint with San Diego, is enjoying a bounce-back season and is one of the rare pitchers who has found success after having thoracic outlet surgery. He’s likely been helped quite a bit by pitching at Petco Park, and it’s quite possible that he’ll flame out if he ends up on a new team — just like Trevor Cahill did with the Royals last summer — but since the 31-year-old Ross has posted a strong 3.32 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and is making just $1.75 million plus incentives this year, he seems like a guy that teams should be willing to take a risk on.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis, who is headed for free agency this winter, could be a solid rental bench piece for a contending club. Per Baseball-Reference WAR, he’s been the Padres’ most valuable position player this year, and while that might not mean a whole lot considering San Diego’s struggles, he’d undoubtedly be a solid defensive replacement and pinch-runner for any playoff-bound team. He’d be a great fit with a team like the Nationals or Mariners that could use stronger middle-infield depth.

Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported that the Padres are shopping 28-year-old outfielder/second baseman Jose Pirela, who has struggled to a .259/.306/.346 slash line in 2018 after posting a career-best and team-leading .288/.347/.490 line last season. But with so many good players on the market this summer, it’s difficult to understand why a good team would want Pirela right now unless he could be had for virtually nothing — or why San Diego would move a player who looked like a legitimate offensive difference-maker last year with his value at its absolute minimum right now.

Heyman also mentioned relievers Matt Strahm and Adam Cimber as potential trade candidates, but with those guys affordable (both are still several years away from arbitration), potentially able to contribute to the next competitive Padres club, and unlikely to fetch much value right now since they’re both relatively unproven, it’s puzzling as to why San Diego would shop them. Strahm has been dominant against lefties this year, while Cimber’s submarine delivery has given fits to right-handed hitters, so it’s easy to see how they could contribute to a winning club’s bullpen if the Padres decide to move them for some reason.

One more darkhorse trade candidate could be 37-year-old backup catcher A.J. Ellis, who has experienced a resurgence this year, posting a .319/.422/.407 slash line over 111 plate appearances. Regardless of his offensive performance, Ellis would likely have some trade value because he’s a highly-regarded clubhouse leader and calls a good game behind the plate, but considering his success at the plate, he could be a real upgrade as a backup catcher for likely playoff-bound teams such as the Cubs and Mariners.

Predictions

It feels more likely than not that the Padres will hold onto Hand, hoping that he’ll be the closer on their next competitive club while leaving open the possibility that they could move him later on if the perfect offer comes along. On the other hand (no pun intended), they’d be well-served to move Yates, who will get more expensive after this season and is likely in the midst of a career year. They’ll presumably be able to fetch a mid-level prospect or two for him, much like the Angels did for David Hernandez and the White Sox did for Anthony Swarzak last year.

There are a lot of above-average utility-infielder types that could end up getting moved this summer, so it’s not a certainty that Galvis will be traded, but there’s no reason for San Diego to not move him to a contender if an acceptable offer comes along. And an offer for Ellis may not materialize, but if one does, they should take it — both to recoup whatever value they can for an aging backup catcher, and to give Ellis another chance at winning a World Series ring before his playing days are done.