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Revisiting the Trade: The Craig Kimbrel Deal

Periodically, we’ll revisit some of the major trades made in the past few years by the Padres to see if we can arrive at a conclusion as to who “won” the trade, so today, we’ll look at the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston in 2015.

The Deal

San Diego receives: outfielder Manuel Margot, infielders Javier Guerra and Carlos Asuaje, and pitcher Logan Allen
Boston receives: reliever Craig Kimbrel

What they said at the time…

From Over the Monster:

Don’t let any of this let you forget that yes, the Red Sox gave up a whole lot of talent. Margot, Guerra, Allen, and Asuaje could all be key pieces on a competitive Padres team in the future. The thing is, Craig Kimbrel is going to be a major piece on a competitive Red Sox team right now, as the bullpen was a major part of what held them back in 2015.

From Keith Law:

The Padres didn’t have any need for a $12 million-a-year closer, although they’ll probably pick someone up to handle the ninth inning. But they had several holes to fill in their system and just addressed several of them, getting a lot of upside in the deal but with two of the four players close to major league value. Margot alone could be more valuable than Kimbrel by 2017, and Asuaje should be a positive asset by then, too.

From Baseball Prospectus:

[Margot is] a high-ceiling, medium-floor outfielder, and no one should be surprised if he’s hitting at the top of the Padres lineup in the coming years…If [Guerra] can make more consistent contact, this could be a first-division shortstop, but starter up the middle is a pretty nice middle ground…[Allen] should move quickly through the Padres system, and there’s No. 3 upside in his left arm…[Asuaje] profiles best as a utility player who can help all over the infield and possibly the corner outfield in a pinch, but that is a useful player, and a darn nice fourth piece of a trade.

How are they doing now? (all stats through Wednesday)

Kimbrel: 104 G, 101.2 IP, 59 SV, 2.48 ERA (2.09 FIP), 3.4 BB/9, 15.3 K/9

Margot (MLB): 90 G, 383 PA, .267/.301/.422, 20.1 K%, 4.7 BB%, 16 2B, 10 HR, 13 SB, 6 CS
Asuaje: (2017): 41 G, 157 PA, .291/.359/.401, 21.7 K%, 8.9 BB%, 8 2B, 2 HR, 0 SB, 0 CS
Guerra: (2017): 108 G, 417 AB, .223/.267/.353, 20 2B, 8 HR
Allen (2017): 20 GS, 107.1 IP, 2.68 ERA, 38 BB, 119 K

Who won?

The reactionary in us all want answers now, meaning that prognosticators from around the media are quick to judge how teams do, but judging trades is a tricky thing. When you read what Keith Law had to say above, he was very much against this move from Boston’s point of view, feeling that giving up Margot, who he saw as a top 50 prospect at the time, plus others was simply too much to pay for a closer. On the flip side, Baseball Prospectus was more approving of the trade for Boston, saying that Margot and Guerra, the two higher regarded prospects, were actually blocked by other players in the organization and were therefore expendable. It was also obvious to all that the weakness of the Red Sox was their end of game pitching. So, Boston acquired the closer and bullpen stability that they had needed following a 2015 season that saw them have a bullpen with the 5th worst ERA in the game. It was a move that they needed to make if they hoped to contend the following season.

From the Padres point of view, having a closer of Kimbrel’s ilk was a luxury that they simply didn’t need, nor could they afford. From the BP article:

Flash forward to the start of the 2015 season, where the Padres, under A.J. Preller’s trade-happy watch, suddenly had one of the most expensive bullpens in the league. The back-end of the ‘pen—Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel—earned a combined $17.25 million, nearly 16 percent of the Padres total payroll.

There was no need to cling to a player like Kimbrel, especially when building a bullpen is one of the easier things to do for a front office. Sure, A.J. Preller had yet to show an ability to do so, but regardless, the team could use the money allocated toward Kimbrel in a more responsible manner. With the condition of the farm system (BP had them ranked 16th prior to 2015), there was a prime opportunity to upgrade a system that badly needed it.

So, it’s easy to say that both teams “won” the trade. Each filled a need that they had and moved on to an offseason of filling other holes.

But is it that easy?

Sure, the Red Sox got what they needed, but Kimbrel was uncharacteristically wild last season, surrendering 5.09 walks per nine innings, by far the highest mark of his career. While it may not have directly affected the outcome of regular season games (Boston won the division), Kimbrel was acquired with the intent of his closing down games in the playoffs. Instead, he barely made a blip in the playoffs, owing to the Indians dominance over everyone in the American League. Still, they got what they paid for, with Boston improving to 8th in baseball with a 3.56 bullpen ERA. Also, he’s returned to his usual dominant self this season to boot.

For the Padres, they acquired their centerfielder of the future in Margot, who has not looked overmatched at all in this his rookie season. Asuaje has shown some very good bat-to-ball skills and a patience at the plate that helps the profile play up. While Guerra doesn’t look so hot at the plate, Allen looks like he might be a good mid-rotation starter the rest of the way. Here at Pads Prospectus, we have ranked Allen as the Padres’ 17th best prospect, ahead of Asuaje and Guerra alike. Having that kind of ammunition in their rebuild was the exact goal of Preller and company, making their side of the deal make sense as well.

Verdict

It’s pretty clear that both teams win this trade. They each had a goal in mind when they decided to consummate the deal, and 1 1/2 years later, it looks like both goals have been achieved. If Margot, Asuaje and Allen all continue in their current developmental track, the needle might move more towards Padres side of the gauge when looking back at the deal. Either way, it’s been fun to watch and will hopefully continue to be so.

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  • It’s me It’s me it’s…

    Well here hoping the Padres add more players in the future