Trades, Prospects and Reality

Kevin Towers will mind his prospects

"We need to win now," says the guy in the cubicle next to you.                                                                                

"We can't gamble on what some idiot at Madfriars writes about a player we've never heard of at the expense of getting a proven vet that is going to be a difference maker."

Now the idiot part may be correct, but trades involve much more than simply trying to find a better player. Trades are as much about money, team budgets, multi-year contracts, and major league service time as they are about talent.

The biggest delineation in baseball is between the players that are eligible for free agency after six years of service and those that are not. The first three years the salaries are fixed, while the second three-year period a player is able to take a team to binding arbitration if they are unable to work out a deal. In both cases the player is paid significantly less than they could earn in the open market. It is the team's option if it wants to enter into a multi-year pact.

The difference can drive the cost from paying less than half a million for a few years for a good young player to paying millions of dollars in a multi-year deal to an underperforming former superstar.

We can all argue about how much money Padres owner John Moores may or may not have made on the new stadium and surrounding area, how much he may have lost at the "Q", various business deals, revenue sharing, but a few facts are tough to dispute.

The main driver of revenue in baseball is the local media market, and San Diego, with two teams in Los Angeles to the north, the D-Backs to the east, and the potential for a team in Las Vegas, is never going to have the type of regional networks, and revenue drivers, of the Yankees, Red Sox or Mariners.

The Padres are in the bottom third of media market size and with a payroll that is 17th out of 30 teams, it is actually slightly higher than it should be. Like it or not, this will always be a medium to small market club, with corresponding medium to small market resources. The only way San Diego will effectively compete is by having a majority of its major league team either the products of its farm system or within the six-year MLB service agreement.

This year the right side of the Padres infield, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and second baseman Josh Barfield, cost the team $654,000. Next year its going to be around the same since both players will be in their second year, as it will be in their third year.

So think about this, for the next two years after this the Padres will pay both Gonzalez and Barfield combined a little more than they do utility man Mark Bellhorn.

Include shortstop Khalil Greene into the mix, who is making $405,000, and the team is paying three significant contributors to a NL West first place team less than half of what they are paying Vinny Castilla – the released Vinny Castilla.

Not a bad deal.

So the point that I am attempting to bash into everyone's skull is if you have a minor league player whom you believe will be a starter on your team, it better be one hell of a trade to give him up. Good, young players are the most desired commodities in baseball.

The Padres control the rights to somewhere around 150 minor leaguers, between their six minor league teams and their team in the Dominican Summer League. Right now, there are probably three players, out of the one hundred and fifty, that have the potential to significantly contribute to next year's team, outfielder Ben Johnson, starting pitcher Cesar Carrillo and catcher George Kottaras.

While the team has been getting good production from its outfield, the combination of Johnson's five-tool talents and with the current outfielders all in their mid-30's has nearly everyone in the organization, which was confirmed in an interview by Portland Beavers broadcaster Rich Burk with Kevin Towers this weekend, convinced that Johnson will be next years left fielder. There is no one even close to Johnson's all-around ability in the system right now.

Carrillo had a very strong April in Mobile, before lingering forearm/elbow problems shelved him. If he can come back for some limited starts this year and with a good performances in the Arizona Fall League and spring training, he should have a decent chance to replace either Woody Williams or Chan Ho Park in the starting rotation in 2007.

Barring more injuries, his stuff is simply too electric to stay in the minors for any prolonged period of time and he is significantly ahead of any other starter in the San Diego system.

Kottaras, one of the top hitters in the Southern League (Double-A) and who was recently promoted to Portland (Triple-A), has gotten significantly better each year, both behind the plate and with his power production.

A few months ago ,the thought of trading Kottaras would have been unthinkable, but with the surprising emergence of Josh Bard and Rob Bowen, both of whom are within the six-year window, and the possibility that Mike Piazza may be willing to return next year for significantly less than what his option calls for, it could happen.

Throw in the fact that the Padres have a very talented catcher in Nick Hundley below him in Lake Elsinore and Kottaras becomes much more replaceable than either Johnson or Carrillo.

Should the Padres trade Kottaras? No, not unless they get an equivalent player, which would be a young major league ready player, preferably a third baseman. Kottaras has compiled too impressive a track record for the team to accept anything less and will probably have even more value next year, both within the team and as a possible trade piece.

Now the natural question is should you ever trade prospects? Of course, but there is a difference between trading a minor league player who is either blocked or isn't one of the top players and trading the next Khalil Greene or Josh Barfield.

I'm all for getting a good young third baseman who is within the six-year window, even if it means trading someone like a George Kottaras, but I‘m just not willing to throw him away for the next Joe Randa.

Contact senior writer John Conniff at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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