Preller at Deadline? Expect the unexpected

July 26th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- Late last August, A.J. Preller became something of an unstoppable force at the Trade Deadline, his moves seemingly growing in importance as they built toward a dramatic conclusion. A frantic weekend culminated with a seven-player deal centered around Austin Nola on the eve of the Trade Deadline, then a nine-player Mike Clevinger blockbuster with mere hours to go.

This year, the Padres are buyers for a second consecutive summer, and Preller, again, is one of the sport's most active general managers. But this time, he struck early, ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. PT Deadline -- and this time, the first domino to fall was a big one.

The Padres landed Adam Frazier, the Major League hits leader, in a deal that was finalized Monday, sending three prospects to Pittsburgh in return. It was Preller's first move of the 2021 trade season, and it feels very unlikely that it will be his last.

If anything, Frazier's arrival prompts as many questions as answers. Here's a look at a few of those questions:

1. What is Frazier's fit, exactly?

It'll be impossible to answer this question until the dust has settled from what's sure to be a wild week. But for now, let's work under the assumption that the Padres' offense remains intact.

“We didn't make this deal with another deal in our pocket,” Preller said Monday. “We made this deal, acknowledging there's probably a pretty good chance this is our group going forward from an offensive standpoint, and we like it. But, again, it's Trade Deadline week.”

In Pittsburgh this season, Frazier played second base and left field, but Jake Cronenworth and Tommy Pham have solidified those two positions for the Padres.

The simplest answer, then, is that Frazier would replace either first baseman Eric Hosmer or right fielder Wil Myers in the lineup. Frazier has played plenty of right field in the past. Meanwhile, Cronenworth could slide to first base, where he's excellent defensively, allowing Frazier to slot in at second.

Both center fielder Trent Grisham and left fielder Pham were banged up at times during the first half, so Frazier's presence could alleviate some of their burden as well. With versatile players like Frazier, Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar, San Diego has all the positional flexibility it could ask for -- and an impact bat or two coming off the bench every day.

“Exactly how the playing time will be divvied up, that will be up to [manager Jayce Tingler] and the coaches -- in terms of the feel for the pitcher on the mound, who's hot, possible injuries, matchups we want to play and how we think the game will unfold,” Preller said.

2. What happens to Hosmer and Myers?

That's potentially a very expensive platoon for one place in the lineup, if that's how things shake out moving forward.

According to sources, the Padres are open to a deal that includes either Myers or Hosmer, potentially one that brings back a pitcher. Because of the pricey nature of those contracts -- particularly Hosmer's -- the Padres would need to include a solid prospect haul in that type of trade.

There are two noteworthy effects of dealing one of those two. First, the Padres could take on a pitcher with significant salary by offloading one of those contracts. Second, they would potentially be able to stay under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold this season. (They're currently flirting with a first-time penalty, and that penalty would increase if they were to repeat it in the future.)

“In the next four or five days, you're going to be presented with moves that take you just north of the line, keep you right at the line or take you south of the line,” Preller said. “We're going to do what makes sense baseball-wise and also maintain some flexibility. I think that's important to have your eye on both short- and long-term.”

To that extent, it's fair to include Profar -- a useful utility player making $7 million this season and each of the next two -- as a trade option. Then again, it remains entirely possible, perhaps likely, that the Deadline comes and goes with Hosmer, Myers and Profar all still in San Diego.

In that case, the Padres would have a ridiculously deep group of hitters with two of those three presumably on the bench most nights.

“We're trying to do something that, as an organization, we've never done before -- win a World Series,” Preller said. “It's going to take a little bit of sacrificing. But we have a lot of guys in that clubhouse that are looking to win.”

3. So what's the status of the pitching search?

Ahh, yes, pitching -- the Padres' biggest priority ahead of this week's Deadline.

They're unlikely to leave any stone unturned, and sources said they're actively looking to upgrade both their rotation and bullpen prior to the Deadline.

In the rotation, the Padres appear to be open to anything -- whether a frontline starter to lead their rotation, or an innings eater who falls into place at the back end.

Pay close attention over the next two days. Chris Paddack and Blake Snell have struggled this season, but they've shown signs of life lately. They'll face a playoff-caliber Oakland offense this week -- a useful litmus test for where the Padres' presumed playoff rotation currently stands behind Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.

“We have a lot of confidence in the guys that are on the roster,” Preller said. “We'll obviously be listening and open to what's out there, here over the next four or five days, but it's got to make sense.”

Preller can play coy all he wants, but the Padres would clearly benefit from adding one more starter. In the bullpen, the need is less urgent, but lockdown arms and even specialists are as good as gold in the postseason -- and especially in a potential winner-take-all Wild Card Game. Per sources, the Padres are exploring those options as well.

4. Will Preller match his 2020 frenzy?

In short, probably not. The Padres pulled off six trades in the three days leading up to the Deadline last year. Twenty-six players were exchanged in the process. That was unprecedented.

But Preller could, in theory, be half as busy this Deadline and still qualify as the sport's most active GM. For now, he's downplaying his need for a starting pitcher.

Sure, maybe Snell and Paddack continue trending upward, and the Padres are comfortable with their progress. That still doesn't eliminate the need for one more innings-eating arm. There's also the possibility of a bullpen shakeup and a bench shakeup, too.

A year ago, Preller offered the same platitudes about his roster. Then made six deals.

Let's set the over/under for 2021 at half of that -- three.

Not quite 2020. But it still portends a busy week.