Reports: Padres to name A.J. Preller, not Billy Eppler, new GM

According to both Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin, the Padres will name Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller their new general manager. An official announcement is expected later today. Preller beat out Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler for the job, as well as MLB executive Kim Ng and Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen.

Eppler, a San Diego native, was said to be the front-runner for the job just yesterday. If yesterday’s report is to be believed, this is the second time he will have finished second in the running for a GM job. He was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels’ gig a few years ago. Eppler has been with the Yankees since 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. As I’ve been saying, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a GM, either as Brian Cashman‘s successor or with some other team.

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Heyman: Padres focusing on Billy Eppler for GM vacancy

Via Jon Heyman: The Padres now appear to be focusing on Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler for their vacant GM position. Eppler is considered the front-runner with Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller, MLB executive Kim Ng, and Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen further back in the race. Heyman says the Padres could announce their new hire as soon as tomorrow.

Eppler, a San Diego native, was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels’ GM job a few years ago, so this isn’t the first time he’s been close to a GM job. He joined the Yankees in 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. It’s clear Eppler will be a GM at some point in relatively soon, either as Brian Cashman‘s eventual successor or with another team. If he gets the job in San Diego, I think it would all but guarantee Cashman will remain GM and get a new contract once his expires after the season.

Miller: Billy Eppler among four finalists for Padres’ GM job

Via Scott Miller: Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler is among four finalists for the Padres’ GM job. Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller, and MLB executive Kim Ng are the other finalists. The Padres passed on more experienced candidates and prefer to hire a young up and comer. A second round of interviews will be conducted in the coming week.

Eppler, a San Diego native, was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels’ GM job a few years ago, so this isn’t the first time he’s been among a round of finalists and called back for a second interview. He joined the Yankees in 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. It’s clear that Eppler will be a GM at some point in relatively soon, either as Brian Cashman‘s eventual successor or with another team.

Scouting The Trade Market: Padres’ Position Players

The Yankees came into the All-Star break five games back of the Orioles in the AL East but only 3.5 games back of the Mariners for the second wildcard spot. The problem: they have to jump four teams to get that wildcard spot. Going for the division title figures to be a little easier thanks to all the head-to-head games remaining.

The team’s focus will likely be on pitching at the trade deadline in the wake of Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow injury, but they can’t forget about the offense either. They average only 3.99 runs per game, one-third of a run below the AL average. They’re getting below-average production from every position other than left field, center field, and first base, but they are unable to make changes at some spots due to contract status, iconic status, etc.

Right field and third base are the easiest positions for the Yankees to upgrade. They’re shaken things up a bit by cutting ties with Alfonso Soriano and giving Zelous Wheeler a chance, but that has had negligible impact. The Yankees will need to make a trade (or two) to improve their run-scoring, and one of the teams that will be a seller at the deadline is the Padres, who are currently between GMs. That complicates things. Last week we looked at their pitchers, now let’s look at their position players.

Headley. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Headley. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

3B Chase Headley
Over the last three weeks or so we’ve heard the Yankees are both “regularly” scouting Headley and not strongly pursing him. Both are probably true. The Padres are terrible and Headley is an obvious trade candidate, so the Bombers have to do their due diligence and get some eyes on him. They don’t have to be knocking down the door trying to trade for him at the same time either.

Headley, 30, is having a miserable season, hitting .226/.296/.350 (87 wRC+) with seven homers and a career-low 7.5% walk rate in 74 games. He has been better of late, going 21-for-63 (.333) with a 109 wRC+ in his last 18 games, which coincidences with his return from four games on the shelf with inflammation near a disc in his lower back. (He received an epidural.) Headley had a monster 2012 season, putting up a .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) line with 31 homers, and even last year he hit a solid .250/.347/.400 (113 wRC+) with 13 homers. This season has been a disaster though, and Headley doesn’t believe a simple change of scenery will do the trick.

“Even when things are going full-on crappy, like now, I’m confident that sometime in the near future, I’m going to get healthy, stay healthy and start playing the way I know I’m capable of,” he said to Chris Jenkins recently. “I don’t look at it like, ‘Man, I gotta get out of here to be me again.’ I’m going to be me again, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

Petco Park is a notorious pitcher’s park, even after the walls were brought in last season. Headley is a career .286/.360/.444 (118 wRC+) hitter on the road (.243/.331/.371 (107 wRC+) at home), including a 154 wRC+ away from Petco Park in 2012 (97 wRC+ on the road from 2013-14). If the Yankees were to acquire Headley, he would be moving from one of the worst hitting parks in the game to one of the best. It would be damn near impossible for his numbers not to improve.

Headley’s struggles this year are not all ballpark related, however. Obviously his back was acting up at some point and that likely hurt his performance. How could it not? He is hitting fewer ground balls this season — 40.3% compared to 46.1% last year and 45.1% career — and the average distance of his batted balls in the air is down a bit from recent years. From Baseball Heat Maps:

Chase Headley Batted Ball Distance

That seems like something that could be explained by the back issues. Headley’s plate discipline numbers are right in line with his career norms and his numbers from both sides of the plate are down as well, so it’s not like he’s been fine as a lefty and brutal as a righty or something like that. Headley isn’t hitting the ball as far (and thus as hard) as he did the last few seasons, which could be attributed to the back injury or something else entirely, like a swing or mechanical problem. It could be both.

On the surface, Headley is a great fit for the Yankees as a switch-hitter with some power and a lot of patience from both side of the plate. He has also consistently graded out as an above-average defender at the hot corner, so he’s a true two-way player. That’s not who Headley is right now though, at least not at the plate. He hasn’t hit this year at all, and while the last few weeks have gone better, that’s not enough to erase three pretty terrible months.

The Padres missed their best opportunity to trade Headley following that huge 2012 campaign. He is due to become a free agent after the season and has about $5M still coming to him in the second half. I can’t imagine the Padres will give him a qualifying offer after the season — the qualifying offer is expected to be north of $15M this winter, and after what happened with Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, I think Headley would accept it in a heartbeat — so it won’t require a ton to get him in a trade. Nothing as valuable as a first round pick, obviously.

The list of rental hitters traded in recent years includes Kevin Youkilis and Shane Victorino, both of whom were once productive players going through disappointing seasons mired with injury concerns. Youkilis netted the Red Sox two fringe big leaguers (Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge) and salary relief while Victorino brought the Phillies a fringe big leaguer (Josh Lindblom), a middling prospect (Ethan Martin), a non-factor player to be named later, and salary relief. Seems like decent framework for a Headley trade, no? He is very much available and I don’t think the Yankees would have much trouble actually acquiring him. The question is whether he will produce in the second half.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

OF Carlos Quentin
One of the many reasons the Padres can’t seem to get out of the gutter are their failed contract extensions. Guys like Cameron Maybin, Cory Luebke, Nick Hundley, and Jeff Gyorko simply haven’t lived up to expectations either due to poor performance or injury. Quentin belongs in that botched extensions group as well, though he was already a veteran and established when San Diego gave him four years and $37M three years ago.

The 31-year-old Quentin is hitting a weak .182/.287/.322 (78 wRC+) this season, though he has only appeared in 45 games due to lingering knee problems. He has played in only 331 of 581 possible games (57%) since 2011 due to ongoing problems with both knees, including four surgeries. Quentin hit .262/.356/.498 (137 wRC+) with 53 homers from 2011-13, so up until this season he had always hit when healthy. He was just never healthy.

The Yankees have zero right-handed power on the roster right now — their right-handed hitters have hit 16 (!) homers all season — and Quentin would provide that, at least in theory. He has always been a patient hitter who draws a healthy amount of walks (10.2% from 2012-14) and gets on base, which is something the Yankees lack in general as well. Quentin has zero base-running value and he’s more or less a DH who can play the outfield, so if he doesn’t hit, he’s useless.

Unlikely Headley, Quentin would not be a rental. He is owed roughly $4.5M through the end of the season plus another $8M next season. Unless the Padres eat a bunch of money like the Cubs did with Alfonso Soriano last year, I’m not sure Quentin is someone the Yankees want on their roster despite their need for righty pop. He should come cheap as a salary dump player, but there is no room for a defensively challenged, injury prone player on the roster.

Venable and Denorfia. (Presswire)
Venable and Denorfia. (Presswire)

OF Chris Denorfia & OF Will Venable
These two don’t have the name value of Headley and Quentin, but they have been quality platoon bats who also provide some value in the field and on the bases. Denorfia, 34, is hitting only .244/.295/.329 (79 wRC+) overall this year, but he has mashed lefties at a .296/.357/.458 (131 wRC+) rate since 2012. It won’t exactly solve the team’s right-handed power problem, but it would help. Denorfia is a rental. He’ll be a free agent after the season.

Like so many of his teammates, the 31-year-old Venable is having an awful year, hitting .201/.258/.277 (54 wRC+) overall. Just last season he managed a .268/.312/.484 (122 wRC+) line, and since 2012 he’s hit .252/.311/.417 (104 wRC+) against righties. Introduce him to Yankee Stadium and the short porch and his power output should tick up. Venable is arbitration-eligible for the fourth time as a Super Two next season, though his salary won’t be anything crazy. He’s making $4.25M this year. A year ago, both Denorfia and Venable would have been solid additions. This year, they aren’t worth much thought because they’ve stunk.

* * *

Outfielder Seth Smith would have been the best fit for the Yankees as a left-handed power-hitter for right field, but San Diego gave him a two-year contract extension two weeks ago. Jon Heyman says the Padres told Smith he will not be traded following the extension, so forget about that. He is hitting .283/.387/.508 (155 wRC+) with ten homers and would have been a wonderful fit as a rental right fielder. Too bad he’s off the table now.

Aside from the prospect of buying super low on Headley and hoping he rebounds in the second half, the Padres don’t have many quality position players to offer in a trade this summer. I’m guessing they would move Quentin today if some team was willing to take on his contract, and neither Denorfia or Venable are impact players even when they’re at their best. They’re just quality role players. If the Yankees can get Headley for a Youkilis or Victorino-esque package, they should be all over him. Other than that, there aren’t many reasons to call San Diego this trade season.

Scouting The Trade Market: Padres’ Pitchers

The Yankees lost ace Masahiro Tanaka for at least two weeks yesterday thanks to what is being called elbow inflammation. He still has to be looked at by team doctor Dr. Ahmad before a final diagnosis is made. Either way, the team was dealt a serious pitching blow that exposes just how little pitching depth they have at the moment, even after acquiring the adequate Brandon McCarthy.

Both the Diamondbacks and Cubs have already started selling off players in advance of the trade deadline. It’s only a matter of time before more non-contenders follow suit, including the truly awful Padres. They come into today with baseball’s eighth worst record (40-51) and are on pace to have the lowest team on-base percentage (.276!) since the 1910 White Sox (.275). You think the Yankees’ offense is frustrating? Imagine watching that night after night.

Anyway, the Padres are in a weird place right now because they don’t have a GM. Josh Byrnes was fired two weeks ago and they’ve been relying on front office staffer and  former Mets GM Omar Minaya to make personnel decisions (along with some others) for the time being. Will he be allowed to make trades in advance of the deadline, or do they want to wait for the new GM to make those moves? Either way, they have some players who could interest the somehow still in contention Yankees. Here are the pitchers. We’ll look at the position players in the coming days.

IPK. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
IPK. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

RHP Ian Kennedy
Kennedy, now 29, is having his best season since his surprise 21-win campaign for the Diamondbacks back in 2011. He has a 3.71 ERA (2.93 FIP) in 19 starts and 116.1 innings thanks to career-best strikeout (9.67 K/9 and 26.0 K%) and ground ball (41.9%) rates. Kennedy has never really walked anyone (2.32 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) and spacious Petco Park has helped him keep the ball in the park (0.77 HR/9 and 8.5 HR/FB%) more than ever before.

Between that 2011 season and this year, IPK had a 4.43 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 389.2 innings from 2012-13, so he’s sandwiched two very strong seasons around two very mediocre ones. Kennedy is what he is — a mid-rotation workhorse (180+ innings every year from 2010-13) who can be homer prone (career 1.06 HR/9 and 8.5 HR/FB%) because of his fly ball heavy style (38.1%). Fly balls aren’t a bad thing, mind you, they are high percentage outs, but they do go over the fence from time to time. Here is the PitchFX breakdown of Kennedy’s arsenal:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Curveball Changeup
Avg. Velocity 92.7 93.0 85.6 78.5 84.1
% Thrown 59.4% 1.1% 6.8% 17.9% 14.5%
Whiff+ 131 137 144 76 122
GB+ 87 40 95 136 90

Kennedy does not have a single pitch that rates as above-average at getting both swings and misses and ground balls. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, only for the individual pitch’s swing and miss and ground ball rates, respectively.) He’s basically a three-pitch pitcher who mixes in some show-me cutters and sinkers per start, which is fine because he has a breaking ball for same-side hitters and a changeup for opposite handers.

Kennedy is owed about $3M through the end of the season and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year as well, so he wouldn’t be just a rental. The Padres did an excellent job buying low on the right-hander last year — he cost them a big league lefty specialist (Joe Thatcher) and Double-A bullpen prospect (Mike Stites), that’s it — and I doubt he will come that cheap this summer. With Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel now in Oakland, Kennedy might be the second best realistically available pitcher at the deadline behind David Price.

Other pitchers who were dealt a year and a half prior to free agency in recent years include Edwin Jackson (D’Backs to White Sox) and Dan Haren (D’Backs to Angels). Jackson cost Chicago two good but not great pitching prospects (David Holmberg and Daniel Hudson) while Haren fetched a four-player package that included big leaguer Joe Saunders and two top pitching prospects (Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin). Kennedy is much more Jackson than Haren to me. Not even close. Remember, 2010 Haren was pretty awesome.

It’s worth noting that, obviously, the Yankees know Kennedy well from his time in the organization. He’s had a reputation for being a bit of a jerk and a hot head, most notably throwing at Zack Greinke’s head during a game last season. That sparked a benches clearing brawl. (Kennedy led the baseball with 14 hit batsmen in 2012.) The Yankees value makeup and high-character players and all that. I wonder if it’ll be a dealbreaker if and when Kennedy becomes available based on what they know.

That's Ross. I dig the blue jerseys. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
That’s Ross. I dig the blue jerseys. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

RHP Tyson Ross
The Athletics are the best team in baseball and GM Billy Beane built that team by trading all of his young players, including Ross. The 27-year-old righty cost the Padres nothing but two Quad-A guys (Andy Parrino and Andrew Warner) two winters ago, and last season he gave the club 125 innings of 3.17 ERA (3.20 FIP) ball.

Ross has pitched to a 2.93 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 122.2 innings so far this year to earn a well-deserved spot in the All-Star Game. His strikeout (8.58 K/9 and 23.1 K%), walk (3.08 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%), and ground ball (58.1%) rates are almost identical to last season. It’s kinda freaky (23.6 K%, 8.7 BB%, 54.9 GB%). The only significant difference is the long ball — Ross has allowed 0.73 HR/9 (12.8 HR/FB%) this year after managing a 0.58 HR/9 (8.2 HR/FB%) in 2013. Here is the pitch breakdown:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Changeup
Avg. Velocity 94.4 93.4 86.9 86.7
% Thrown 22.6% 34.7% 37.6% 5.0%
Whiff+ 89 104 157 89
GB+ 110 141 120 126

The changeup is basically a show-me pitch. Ross uses the sinker to get grounders and the slider to get swings and misses. As you might expect given the general lack of a changeup, lefties (.319 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.297 wOBA) over the years. Not many pure fastball/slider guys succeed as starters, but Ross is making it work. (Bud Norris, Garrett Richards, and Chris Archer are some others with a fastball/slider/no changeup repertoire.)

The Padres deserve a lot of credit for stealing Ross from Oakland. He will earn $1.98M total this season, his first of four arbitration years as a Super Two. That means he will remain under team control for another three years and not qualify for free agency until after the 2017 season. Ross would be furthest thing from a rental and that means the price will be rather high. Doug Fister was traded from the Mariners to the Tigers at a similar point in his career, and, as I detailed in our Scouting The Trade Market: D’Backs Pitchers post, Detroit gave up two top prospects and two pieces off their MLB roster to get him. Acquiring Ross would help both the 2014 Yankees as well as the 2015-17 Yankees.

Street. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Street. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

RHP Joaquin Benoit & RHP Huston Street
Very quietly, San Diego has one of the most dominant setup man/closer tandems in baseball. Benoit has a 1.91 ERA (2.42 FIP) with a 30.9% strikeout rate and a 5.0% walk rate in 37.2 innings this season while Street has a 1.13 ERA (2.93 FIP) in 32 innings. He has a 28.0% strikeout rate and a 5.9% walk rate. They aren’t quite Dellin Betances and David Robertson, but they’re not far off either.

Bob Nightengale says the Padres have let teams know Benoit is available, and I assume Street would be as well. The last thing a bad team needs is a high-priced closer with an injury history on the wrong side of 30. Benoit is under contract for next season ($8M) with a club option for 2016 ($8M) while Street has an 2015 club option worth $7M. The Yankees could certainly use another shutdown reliever (what team couldn’t?) and both guys would give them some protection for next season in case Robertson bolts as a free agent.

* * *

Righty Andrew Cashner would also make sense as a trade target because he is both really good (2.86 ERA and 3.19 FIP from 2013-14) and under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through next year, but he is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. It’s his second shoulder-related DL stint of the season and he has a lengthy injury history too. It seems like every pitcher to come out of TCU has arm problems. TCU is the new Rice.

Anyway, I’m not sure the Padres would be willing to deal Cashner right now for anything less than a knockout return, otherwise they’d be trading away their most valuable asset for less than full value. They’re better off holding onto him, letting him finish the year healthy, then shopping him either over the winter or at next year’s trade deadline. Kennedy figures to be very much available though, ditto Benoit and Street, but Ross is someone a team would have to pay a handsome price to acquire. The Padres have little reason to move him.