With the Carlos Quentin trade, it was fairly clear what one of the teams wanted. The Chicago White Sox were looking to clear salary, even before they got power lefty John Danks nailed down with a multi-year extension. You can add in the motivating factor of wanting to create an opportunity for hefty former third baseman Dayan Viciedo in the outfield -- not unlike their replacing Albert Belle with hefty former third-base prospect Carlos Lee in 1999.
But for the Padres, things might not seem quite so clear-cut. Adding a player with Quentin’s track record as a power hitter might seem like exactly what they needed after finishing last in the major leagues in power with a .112 isolated power. However, the deal might seem a bit incongruous with some of their other actions this winter. They did just deal their nominal ace, Mat Latos, to the Reds for a package of goodies that, besides wild man Edinson Volquez, was prospect-heavy. That wasn’t a move made to win the NL West right away, but it did provide an already deep Padres organization with blue-chip prospects like Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
That same organizational depth provided Josh Byrnes with the excess talent to trade for Quentin, but why go get Quentin in particular? He’s only going to be under club control for a single season -- and he's due a raise via arbitration -- before he reaches free agency. So this is a one-year rental, even less control than they have over their other major trade pickup this winter, Rockies closer Huston Street, who at least came over from Colorado already inked to a club option for 2013.
So where's the pattern, or is there one? The Pads’ other big-ticket veterans, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Jason Bartlett, are similarly locked up for 2012 with club options for 2013. Put that collection of veterans together, and that might sound like a club more geared towards trying to win now. After the Diamondacks’ Lazarus act last season, four different teams have made the playoffs from the NL West in the last four years. With Quentin in the middle of the order, you might hope for another Padres run at relevance, like 2010. Using their Pythagorean projected record, they should have been much better last year; with a stronger lineup they might be better equipped to make up ground after they finished 71-91, eight wins below their expected 79 last year.
After Quentin slugged .505 over four seasons for the White Sox, he would certainly appear to have the power to contribute to a contender. However, Quentin is an extreme fly-ball hitter, having just tied for 10th in the majors in 2011 for batted balls hit into the air. And now he’s moving from the Cell and its inviting short porch in left, to the most punishing environment for fly-ball hitters in baseball.
The Padres have been here before with extreme right-handed fly-ball hitters. Can Quentin power a Padres bid any better than Ryan Ludwick did? Ludwick had slugged .507 for the Cardinals over four seasons when he was traded to San Diego at the end of 2010. Upon introduction to Petco Park, Ludwick promptly stopped slugging.
You might hope that Quentin’s poor season in the Cell in 2011 suggested he was overcompensating -- he hit 17 of his 24 homers on the road with a .616 SLG to his .381 clip in Chicago -- but skepticism of what Quentin will do in San Diego is warranted, even with his two-year advantage of relative youth over Ludwick.
Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider projects Quentin to hit .254/.344/.458 in Petco, good for a park-adjusted 123 OPS+. That would have led all Padres outfielders in 2011, but that’s setting the bar low; it would have also ranked third among Pads regulars behind journeyman Jesus Guzman and catcher Nick Hundley. That’s a fairly modest season to project for an All-Star outfielder in his age-29 season, or what’s supposed to be the tail end of a normal career peak.
Keeping that kind of projection in mind, if you can set aside any expectations of a 36-homer season, getting Quentin puts the Padres in a nice position for the time being. They’ve added better power than they had on hand -- or were likely to find on the market -- for prospects they might never really miss. That’s a nice deal for them in the near term, just as it’s nice for Quentin to get a shot to return to his SoCal roots in San Diego.
But if Quentin's a one-year rental, it's hard to see what this does for them in the big picture. If the Pads aren’t knocking around .500 three or four months into the season, Byrnes might just end up dealing Quentin at the deadline. After all, that was Ludwick’s ultimate fate last summer -- after Petco had sapped him of any real value. However, by virtue of the new CBA, free agents-to-be no longer generate picks for the teams acquiring them in-season, diminishing any value they’d get back in a trade. So the Padres might get 2013 draft-pick compensation, but that’s if they keep Quentin all year and then offer him arbitration -- which he might accept, after getting his arbitration-generated raise past $6 million this winter, and after a season in Petco that’s likely to hurt his prospects for better offers on the open market.
Not every trade turns into some spectacular feat of genius, or needs to be. In the end, credit Byrnes with making a worthwhile deal for the time being. Ultimately, it might just give them better power in just this one season, and make them a slightly better team -- for now.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.