Dombrowski deals for now; Preller for future
Kimbrel to bolster Boston bullpen; Padres improve depth in system
You didn't have to tell Dave Dombrowski how important it was to have a reliable closer. He always knew.
Dombrowski gave Joe Nathan a fat contract just two years ago. Dombrowski just couldn't crack the code behind landing a hot hand for October while the Tigers were flirting with with a championship behind the Justin Verlander /Miguel Cabrera core.
But it's OK, Tigers fans. Go ahead and scream. You've got it coming.
Dombrowski has traded for a top-of-the-game closer, but unfortunately for Detroit fans, he's done it in his first autumn working out of a Fenway Park office.
Some are going to say that Dombrowski overpaid for Craig Kimbrel, especially given the glaring hole atop the Boston rotation, which has been there since his predecessor, Ben Cherington, was unable to lock up Jon Lester. But Koji Uehara is 40 and recovering from a broken wrist, and Dombrowski has the same memories of Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and an end-of-career Nathan as fans in Detroit, so he pulled the trigger and landed himself a four-time All-Star under control through 2018.
At 27, Kimbrel is 12 years younger than Nathan was when Nathan signed with the Tigers. So, yes, Kimbrel is a guy who would have looked very good taking the ball from Verlander and Max Scherzer. Maybe the problem was that the Padres' A.J. Preller didn't become a general manager until 2014.
So much for Preller's sophomore slump.
It's easier to make a deal than it used to be, partly because of the parity in the game, partly because of the money in the game and especially because of the aggressiveness of go-for-the-jugular GMs like Preller.
One year after driving one of the wildest Hot Stove markets seen in a decade or longer, the Padres' second-year GM is at it again. He opened business on Kimbrel at the GM Meetings earlier this week and brought it to a close Friday evening, landing outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, infielder Carlos Asuaje and 18-year-old lefty Logan Allen in the deal.
With the Reds also making closer Aroldis Chapman available, there have been a flurry of talks between teams this week on the relief front. The Padres had just traded Benoit to the Mariners for prospects on Thursday, giving a setup man a chance to return to the closer's role. Other teams in need of bullpen upgrades -- the Cubs and likely the Astros, Pirates and Tigers, among others -- explored the idea of trading for one of the top closers.
There had to be at least one other team extensively engaged with the Padres on Kimbrel. Otherwise, the Red Sox would never have spent so heavily to get him.
When Preller shocked the baseball world by getting Kimbrel from the Braves in the first week of the 2015 season, he sent right-hander Matt Wisler (who went 8-8 with a 4.71 ERA as a Braves rookie) and outfielders Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin and Jordan Paroubeck to Atlanta. The biggest part of the deal was taking on the contract of B.J. Upton, who was owed $46 million over three seasons.
While 2015 didn't turn out as Preller hoped it would, he hedged his bet by also moving a $24 million commitment to the Braves with Maybin and Quentin, and he's restocked the Padres' farm system splendidly with the return for Kimbrel.
Margot, an athletic center fielder who was ranked as the Red Sox's No. 3 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, held his own in Double-A as a 20-year-old and could push for a spot alongside Matt Kemp and Wil Myers in 2016. The other players aren't as close to being in San Diego, but Guerra is such a good two-way shortstop at age 20 that he'd likely be a top-3 pick in the Draft if he was attending Vanderbilt or TCU, and Asuaje had hit himself to Triple-A Pawtucket in his two pro seasons.
Oh, then there's Allen. He's an 18-year-old lefty whose fastball has ramped up to 94 mph, which helped him hold his own in Rookie leagues after the Red Sox drafted him from the IMG Academy last June. He's a million miles away from Petco Park, but it's like landing an extra first- or second-round Draft pick (true, the Red Sox landed him in the eighth, but that was largely because he seemed headed to the University of South Carolina).
This trade helps give the Padres some balance after Preller's blitzkrieg through the last Hot Stove season, which was designed to reignite baseball interest in San Diego. These are the kind of exciting players that fans can fall in love with, and this trade is probably a precursor of some others to come.
The Kimbrel trade frees up money that can go toward filling the Padres' hole at shortstop. There have been some reports about an interest in free-agent shortstop Ian Desmond (Nationals), but you wonder if Preller might not prefer to deal Tyson Ross for Javier Baez, if the Cubs will make their power-hitting 22-year-old available. Preller is talking to other teams about his full inventory of players, including starting pitchers Andrew Cashner (a free agent after 2016), the widely sought Ross and James Shields. The Kimbrel trade was his third in a week, including one that landed second baseman Jose Pirela from the Yankees. He's probably not going to stop now.
Neither will Dombrowski. The mandate in Boston is the same as it was for him in Detroit: Deliver a championship.
Dombrowski's biggest statement could come in the free-agent market, as the Red Sox are expected to strongly pursue David Price and Johnny Cueto, and probably Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann and Jeff Samardzija as well. But never rule out Dombrowski making sensational trades. He's done that everywhere he's been, and with the Kimbrel deal done, that includes Boston.