It is almost undoubtedly Adrian Gonzalez. He’s an offensive force, a solid defender, a cerebral player. He’s cheap and in the prime of his career.
He’s the face of the Padres, the franchise player.
That’s a little bit like being the face of the Bad News Bears (before they got good), though. It is tough to, as a Padres’ fan, make a case for trading Gonzalez. He’s one of the few guys that you’d pay a ticket to see. He’s one of the better hitters in the game, arguably. However, everybody wants to win. While Gonzalez is fun to watch, this team isn’t, even with him on it.
Dealing Gonzalez would almost certainly make the Padres even less fun to watch this season, and likely next season as well. But it would possibly improve their chances of winning down the line – think maybe 2011 and beyond. By dealing Gonzalez, the Padres could add some players that will be under team-control (and cheap) for six years. While Gonzalez is also signed cheaply, he’s only signed through 2011. By then, the Padres may field a competitive team again, but Gonzalez will be two years older and ready to command some big dollars (and most of his trade value will be evaporated).
The Padres could hold onto him for the next two years+ and treat fans to his excellent play, regardless of the overall performance of the team. Or they could trade him now, with his value sky high, and bring in a few potential franchise-changing players. If that seems like an easy decision, it isn’t.
Say Gonzalez is traded and turns in a Hall-of-Fame-like career in, say, Boston. And the prospects that come to San Diego flame out. Ouch. You’ve traded your best player and have nothing to show for it. There’s also of course a chance that Gonzalez comes back to earth, slowly begins to decline, and the Padres pick up a cost-controlled cornerstone player or two in the trade. There are also another hundred or so scenarios in between those two extremes that may play out.
Trading Gonzalez is likely still a long shot – he’s the face of the franchise – but there’s no reason not to consider it. If the Padres think they can compete next year or even put together a real contender by 2011, it makes some sense to hold onto Adrian. But if this is going to be a lengthy rebuilding process, there’s reason to consider trading the best player on the team (and other guys of value like Heath Bell and Kevin Kouzmanoff).
Gonzalez’s value, on a terrible team, is not being maximized. On a playoff contender, he’s much more valuable, as he adds considerably to the team’s chances of making the playoffs (and how well they perform once they get there). And the Padres, rather than essentially “wasting” some of Gonzalez’s best years, can take a few years to develop the prospects they receive for Adrian, and have them ready for a prolonged run when 2011 or 2012 come around.
Over the next few days, the Padres have some big decisions to make. I’m glad I just get to blog about them.