Why didn't the San Diego Padres sell at the trade deadline?

ByJayson Stark ESPN logo
Saturday, August 1, 2015

Buying is fun. Selling is work.

Buying is an adrenaline rush. Selling makes your brain cells throb.

So when the smoke cleared Friday and one of the most action-packed trading deadlines in history had stampeded over the finish line without the San Diego Padres, it was time to ask: Did they truly understand the difference between buying and selling?

We thought this was going to be their show. We thought this was going to be their very own madcap auction of unworkable contracts and parts that didn't fit. We thought by Aug. 1, we'd see so many Padres calling the moving vans, there might not be enough trucks in Southern California to hold all their stuff.

So what the heck happened?

Whatever happened to those four deals in 24 hours other teams were predicting? Whatever happened to those monster trades with the Cubs, the Yankees, the Astros, the Red Sox, etc., that did such a spectacular job of filling the rumor vacuum all week?

Instead, this is what happened: In a pre-deadline frenzy in which 27 other teams made at least one deal, the only trade Padres general manager A.J. Preller wound up making was ...

Abraham Almonte for Marc Rzepczynski?


"Selling," said an official of one club, "is really time-consuming and really tiring. I've always said that selling at the deadline is a lot harder than buying, because you've got to talk about five or six different deals just to make one deal.

"When you're buying," the same official went on, "you've basically got to make one offer and then maybe tweak it. But if you're selling, you've got to put a bunch of lines in the water, you've got to know the pulse of every team, and it takes hours and hours of manpower. That's the reason a lot of teams that are selling will try to sell earlier, because it's easier to be sane when you're not right up against the deadline."

But that's not how the Padres played this. Is it? They told other teams they were going to take this sell-a-thon right to the deadline to try to get the max return -- and instead got no return. On Craig Kimbrel. On James Shields. On Tyson Ross. Or even on their prospective free agents -- Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit and Will Venable.


"They never knew what they really wanted," said one executive.

"Buyer's market," texted another exec. "Didn't suit A.J."

Across the industry, there was a lot more sentiment just like that. There was shock. There was incredulity. There was even a little sympathy. Because this isn't going to end well.

Preller told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he chose not to sell because "we like our team," he thinks it can still contend and he preferred to "stay pat, add a guy [Rzepczynski] and go from there." But you have to hope that's just spin, or rationalization, because the math paints a picture he might not want to hang in his living room.

The Padres have played 102 games. They're four games under .500 (49-53). Their mission now is to catch the second wild-card leader, which is currently the Giants -- a team on pace to win 90 games.

So what would it take for the Padres to win 90? Oh, only an electric little 41-19 blitz to finish the season. That's all.

And how tough is it to win 41 of 60? Here's how tough: The Padres have been around now for 47 seasons. And how many times in all those seasons have they ever won 41 of 60 at any point of any season? Exactly once -- in 1998.

But hold on. It gets worse. Want to know how many teams since 1900 have ever had a losing record at this point in a season -- and then run off a 41-19 stretch (or better) in their final 60 games? Exactly three, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: the 1921 Cardinals, 1944 Tigers and 2006 Dodgers. And that's it.

So is this a team that looks as if it's about to become the fourth team on that distinguished list? Well, it had better be -- because there's no turning back now.

"The trouble with this sport," said one of the executives quoted earlier, "is there's no medal for participation. Even if they play .550 baseball the rest of the way and make it interesting for their fans, they're still going to wake up the day after the season with no playoffs and no value for these players."

And that's the bottom line. It won't go away. Unless the Padres find a way to win, they needed to trade these players -- at least some of them.

They'll get nothing for Justin Upton except a draft pick. They'll get nothing, period, for their other free agents. And they'll be facing a payroll crisis next year in which five players -- Kimbrel, Shields, Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton Jr. and Jedd Gyorko -- could eat up at least 75 percent of their total payroll, leaving them limited dollars to fill multiple holes.

So by not pulling the plug on this season and doing what they needed to do, they've made next year's reconstruction job that much harder. But maybe they don't really mind.

Around baseball, officials of other teams tried their best to think along with the Padres, just so they could try to understand it better.

We heard one theory that, ultimately, Preller and CEO Mike Dee couldn't bring themselves to sell because "they just couldn't deal with the fact that they'd built up their team last winter and it didn't work and they couldn't wave the white flag."

We heard another theory that "they didn't really want to sell" -- so they were apparently going to do that only at their prices, not whatever prices other teams were willing to pay.

But that gets us back to the fundamental difference between buying and selling.

If you're selling, you can't set a price that's unreachable and then complain when nobody wants to reach it. If you say the value of your player is X, but the rest of the sport thinks it's Y, then guess what the value is? Here's a hint: It's not X.

The value of your player is what people are willing to pay for it, not what you say it is. That's not just baseball, that's good old-fashioned American capitalism.

And unfortunately, the San Diego Padres had a rough time this week with both of them. Even more unfortunately, they caused a lot of other teams to lose the opportunity to do stuff that would have made the Padres better -- because those teams spent so much time shopping at a superstore where it turned out nothing was really for sale.

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