Clevinger deal caps Padres' astounding haul

August 31st, 2020

On the eve of the 2020 season, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. sat in front of a Petco Park podium and laid out some lofty expectations.

"We're aiming for the big cake," Tatis said. "And why not? Let's go win the World Series."

By now, it should be clear that general manager A.J. Preller shares the same view as his star shortstop:

"Why not? Let's go win the World Series." How else to sum up a momentous Trade Deadline weekend in which Preller swung six deals involving 26 players, capped by a nine-player blockbuster involving right-hander Mike Clevinger?

The four trades this weekend? Those were merely part of the opening act. On Monday morning, the Padres sent a package of six players -- a mix of prospects and big league contributors -- to Cleveland to acquire the front-line starting pitcher they've been seeking.

Padres get: RHP , OF , Player to be named
Indians get: C , 1B/OF , RHP , SS Gabriel Arias (No. 7 Padres prospect), INF Owen Miller (No. 11), LHP Joey Cantillo (No. 9)

The Padres entered play Monday sitting 21-15 with the third-best record in the National League. They are serious contenders for the first time in a decade, and their front office has responded in kind.

“There’s a real collective focus to get this team to the playoffs and hopefully do damage,” Preller said.

When the dust settled on a frenzied weekend, the Padres felt they had a roster worthy of "the big cake."

“Before the trades, this was a World Series-caliber roster,” said Clevinger, who will join the team Wednesday in Anaheim. “Now, it’s just getting even better. … This is a team to make a serious, serious run.”

What they got
Minutes before the Deadline, Preller swung one final deal for righty reliever Taylor Williams, sending a player to be named to Seattle in return. Here's the full list of players Preller acquired during his six-trade spree:

RHP Mike Clevinger, from Cleveland
OF Greg Allen, from Cleveland
C Austin Nola, from Seattle
RHP Austin Adams, from Seattle
RHP Dan Altavilla, from Seattle
RHP Taylor Williams, from Seattle
DH Mitch Moreland, from Boston
RHP Trevor Rosenthal, from Kanas City
C Jason Castro, from Angels
Player to be named, from Cleveland
(Note: Players not listed on teams’ 60-man player pools could not be formally dealt at the Deadline, but they could be traded as “players to be named.”)

Clevinger, of course, is the headliner of that group. The 29-year-old right-hander is under team control through 2022 and should slot in at the front of a rotation that has already gotten strong performances from Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies. Chris Paddack is showing signs of bouncing back as well.

Of course, Clevinger's arrival comes following a bit of controversy. He was placed on the restricted list along with right-hander Zach Plesac for violating COVID-19 health and safety protocols. As such, he's been limited to four starts this season, in which he's posted a 3.18 ERA -- roughly in line with his 3.20 career mark.

“There was some self-reflecting that needed to be done,” Clevinger said, who will make his Padres debut either Thursday or Friday. “It was done. I never want to put any other organization, let alone the Indians, in some predicament like that again. I never was a distraction before. I don’t plan on ever being a distraction.”

The Padres, who are comfortably in the postseason picture, believe they've found their Game 1 starter. And his batterymate, too.

Nola was the second-biggest upgrade for the Padres this weekend. One of the best offenses in baseball had gotten very little production from behind the plate. But San Diego found a solid defender who posted a .306/.373/.531 slash line for Seattle this season.

On top of that, the Padres’ beleaguered bullpen got a huge boost this weekend with the addition of Rosenthal. Adams -- who owns a 3.79 career ERA with a Kirby Yates-esque 14.9 K/9 rate -- is still recovering from October knee surgery. But he could join the San Diego bullpen next month, and team evaluators think he'll be a difference-maker. Williams could be, too.

“We definitely haven’t figured it out yet 100 percent on the ‘pen,” Preller said. “But I believe a lot in the guys that are down there and the guys we’ve acquired. Think we’re going to need all of these guys in the next few weeks.”

What they gave up
It's worth noting that despite all the movement leading up to Monday’s Deadline, the Padres hung onto their consensus top four prospects -- MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Luis Patiño and Luis Campusano.

They still gave up a lot. Here's the full list:

C Austin Hedges, to Cleveland
OF Josh Naylor, to Cleveland
RHP Cal Quantrill, to Cleveland
INF prospect Owen Miller, to Cleveland
SS prospect Gabriel Arias, to Cleveland
LHP prospect Joey Cantillo, to Cleveland
OF prospect Edward Olivares, to Kansas City
INF prospect Hudson Potts, to Boston
OF prospect Jeisson Rosario, to Boston
OF prospect Taylor Trammell, to Seattle
INF Ty France, to Seattle
RHP Andres Muñoz, to Seattle
C Luis Torrens, to Seattle
RHP Gerardo Reyes, to Angels
A player to be named (a low-level pitching prospect, according to a source), to Kansas City
A player to be named, to Seattle

In the past 48 hours, the Padres have traded 16 players, including at least 11 who are younger than 25. They know what happens next: Several of those players could have long and successful Major League careers.

The Padres think they've built enough organizational depth to withstand those losses, and it's hard to argue. Even after they traded away 16 (sixteen!) players in a three-day span, their farm system is strong at the top.

Several of the prospects they traded would've been lost to a 40-man roster crunch this winter anyway. Others, like Arias and Trammell, the two highest-ranked prospects in these trades, had no clear big league position. Tatis has steadied himself defensively at short, and Trent Grisham has locked down center field.

“I don’t believe in the narrative that we’re all-in and this is our only shot,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Not only do we have a chance to be a better team for this year … I also believe we’re going to be set up for the future stronger as well.”

The Padres remain high on a number of the prospects they traded away. But their thinking was simple: Preller has spent years hoarding prospects and building arguably the sport's top farm system.

Now, he's cashing in on some of its depth, without putting too huge a dent in its overall quality.

How it all fits
The Padres entered the weekend with a checklist. They needed bullpen help, an impact bat and an upgrade at catcher. They got all three.

It wasn't quite as mandatory, but if the price was right, they wanted an impact starting pitcher, too. Preller got his man.

The Padres have an off-day Tuesday and expect to have their full contingent available in Anaheim on Wednesday night. Tommy Pham is still on the mend from surgery to address a broken hamate bone in his left hand, but if he returns next month, as expected, here's what the lineup could look like:

  1. Trent Grisham, CF
  2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
  3. Manny Machado, 3B
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Tommy Pham, LF
  6. Mitch Moreland, DH
  7. Wil Myers, RF
  8. Jake Cronenworth, 2B
  9. Austin Nola, C

There's a strong case to be made that the Padres have built themselves the best offense in baseball. They've got the National League Rookie of the Year Award favorite in the No. 8 spot. Myers, who looks like an All-Star again, might be hitting seventh.

Entering play Monday, the Padres already led the Major Leagues in runs and wRC+ -- an all-encompassing hitting metric. Now, they have significant upgrades coming at DH and catcher.

On the pitching side of things, here's what their rotation might look like:

  1. Mike Clevinger, RHP
  2. Dinelson Lamet, RHP
  3. Chris Paddack, RHP
  4. Zach Davies, RHP
  5. Garrett Richards, RHP

Perhaps scarier for other teams, consider what that rotation might look like in 2021 if Patiño and Gore can establish themselves. Only Richards is set to depart.

On offense, Moreland is the only hitter who can become a free agent this winter. But the Padres hold a $3 million team option on him. Their foundation of Tatis, Machado, Hosmer, Grisham, Cronenworth and Nola is locked up through 2024, at least.

“This is the most exciting team in baseball by far right now,” Clevinger said. “It’s definitely the place to be.”

The Padres are, indeed, aiming for the big cake this year -- in 2020 and beyond.