Was Kimbrel-Upton trade worth it for Padres?

Upton Kimbrel Braves

It wasn’t a secret that Padres GM A.J. Preller might not be done reshaping his roster. It’s just that no one expected he’d go out and get the game’s best closer and the game’s worst contract.

Craig Kimbrel is an absolute beast. He’s lights out. Love the addition.

But Melvin Upton? And the remaining $46.35 million left on his contract?

Hate it.

He now becomes the Padres highest paid player this year (not counting Kemp’s salary, which the Dodgers are paying $18 million of this year) and he’s going to ride the bench.

The bench!

This for a player who hit .184 and .208 the last two seasons, with a combined 21 homeruns and 61 RBIs in 910 at-bats. If the Padres wanted that kind of contribution from their reserve outfielders, they could have stuck with Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin—and Will Venable who, at the moment, remains a Padre.

This wasn’t a money saving deal. The Padres owed Quentin $8 million this year and $16 million to Maybin over the next two years. Do the math.

And both would have at least been off the books sooner than Upton, regardless of whether either Quentin or Maybin stayed.

So the reason, then, must be that Preller had to eat Upton’s contract in order to land Kimbrel (the Padres are eating horrendous contracts now? No way!). The 26-year-old closer is owed $33 million over the next three years with a $1 million buyout on a $13 million option for 2018.

That’s nearly $80 million dollars for two players who’ll be lucky to collectively top nine innings a week (Preller said Wil Myers will still be the team’s centerfielder and Will Venable will be the team’s primary outfield reserve).

Again, Kimbrel is a fantastic addition. He’s a four-time All-Star. The issue is at what cost.

Consider that, while Preller was able to make so many moves this year, his ability to do so next year will be much more difficult.

The acquisition of Upton probably won’t have much to do with his brother, Justin, staying in 2016. If anything, it’s going to hurt because of the money involved. The younger (and considerably better) Upton will likely command at the very least double what the Padres committed to James Shields this year (four years, $75 million – the team’s highest-ever free agent contract).

Moreover, the $18 million the Dodgers are pitching in for Matt Kemp this year won’t be in the equation in 2016. The Padres are paying a paltry $3.25 million of Kemp’s salary this year, but will only receive $3.5 million from the Dodgers annually through the rest of his deal, meaning San Diego will be paying roughly $18 million for Kemp the next four years after this season. Shields’ salary also jumps from a modest $10 million in 2015 to $21 million in 2016.

Look, that the Padres are all in is commendable. It’s awesome. But, while ownership has said this was the idea all along when they took over, this is the first year that the wallets have really opened up.

When it comes time to lock up one of the game’s best young power hitters in the younger Upton, two promising power arms in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner (who are bargains now but won’t be in 2016), or, say, upgrade at shortstop, will ownership continue to spend? Will they have the flexibility to do so?


But, if this doesn’t work, the Padres are on the hook for some serious cash and fans are all too familiar with fire sales.

Here’s to hoping Kimbrel was worth it. All of it.

– Andrew Burer (twitter: @andrewburer)



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