Not even two weeks after sending their own first-string second baseman to the All-Star Game, the Padres traded with the Pirates for the NL's All-Star starter at second, Adam Frazier. Padres president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller landed Frazier, who leads the major leagues in hits with 125 and was 11th in on-base percentage as of Monday night, because he's one of the more valuable players said to be available no matter their position before MLB's trade deadline comes Friday afternoon.
In a video call with reporters, Frazier sounded plenty happy to be leaving Pittsburgh, which has been a losing franchise in all but one of his six seasons in the majors. The Padres are contending for a playoff spot and would have one if the season ended right now.
"My whole life, all I've done is win — until I got to the big leagues," said Frazier, who played collegiately at Mississippi State. "So, to be able to do that again and be in a playoff push, I couldn't be more excited about it. That's what we live for."
It wasn't a surprise to Frazier that he got traded; he said he thought it might happen going back to 2020. He had been hearing about the White Sox and Mets being interested in him for days on end and, right before the Padres jumped, the Mariners were rumored.
"You cannot get a much better spot to land in than San Diego," Frazier said. "The Padres are the most exciting team to watch in baseball."
The excitement includes not only the bread that comes with winning but also a circus, led by ringmasters Fernando Tatís and Manny Machado. It's hard to imagine a team looking like it's having more fun than the Padres. Frazier said he noticed, and that he's ready to fit in. It also helps Frazier on a personal level, he said, that right-hander Joe Musgrove preceded him in moving from Pittsburgh to San Diego. Musgrove talked up Frazier to the Padres and talked up the Padres to Frazier, not that he had to. Even without a personal connection, Frazier liked what he saw of San Diego. Many do.
"Every night after we'd get done, I'd come home, sit on the couch and catch the Padres game, whether it's watching Joe pitch or just Tatís do something electric, the Swag Chain, and all that stuff," Frazier said. "I think it's very exciting for the game. I think the whole country has taken notice of that and it's been fun to watch.
"I'm happy to be a part of that now and hopefully I can join in on it. I'm not the flashiest of guys but I like to have a good time and winning is fun."
In addition to fitting into the clubhouse fabric, reporters wanted to know how Frazier might fit in among players like Cronenworth. Frazier's addition gives the Padres key two dimensions with one person: More lineup flexibility, which they can use at four defensive positions, and a batter who puts the ball in play more often than most. Frazier almost never strikes out.
"I'm still trying to drive the ball until I get to two strikes; then I take it personal," Frazier said. "It's kind of embarrassing to get struck out so I try not to do that very often. Just being a tough out is something I take pride in altogether."
Frazier's best position is second and putting him there would allow manager Jayce Tingler to slide Cronenworth to first base when Eric Hosmer isn't at the corner, which already has happened on occasion. That part of the equation is worth keeping an eye on, not only this week but into the offseason. Frazier, 29, isn't a free agent until 2023.
It's not like the Padres were unhappy with Cronenworth, who in his second season has batted third in the order 56 times and made 80 starts at second, producing the third-best slugging percentage on the club and fourth-best weighted on-base average. He's not having a better season than Frazier — Cronenworth is more like a top 50 overall producer, whereas Frazier is closer to top 30 — but he's an excellent complementary player to the anchors, Tatís and Machado. The Padres do a great job of filling out the lineup with those guys plus Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham and Wil Myers. Adding a player like Frazier, who also can play the outfield corners, gives the Padres depth and flexibility that few teams in the league have. It shouldn't be seen as excessive or an embarrassment of riches; the Padres are 5 1/2 games out in the NL West and have work to do. They're in good shape for an NL Wild Card berth, but they're aiming higher.
Preller assured Frazier he will have enough opportunities to play. He might not always play second base. He might not always start. He might not play every single game. But he'll play an important role.
"There will be at-bats," Preller said. "We're trying to do something that, as an organization, we've never done before: win a World Series."
Frazier realizes he might be trading a little bit of playing time for a chance at the big time.
"Our ultimate goal right now is to win a World Series and, from watching the outside in, it looks like everybody's going to be on board with that in the Padres clubhouse," Frazier said. "And that's where I'm going to be."
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Frazier, from making the All-Star team for the first to getting traded into a pennant race.
“I just take it in stride,” Frazier said. “Wherever I can help the team win, I’ll be ready.”
What might happen next for the Padres? They've already added Frazier to an offense that's seventh in runs scored. Preller might have been planting decoys, but he didn't sound like someone on the verge of making another big splash before the deadline. Still, the Padres came into the season with a lot of pitching depth and it's been tested. The Padres collectively have a 4.51 ERA in their past 50 games, though San Diego's 3.01 bullpen ERA is tops in the majors and the most innings. Preller thinks they have enough unused innings to get through October.
"The bullpen has been a force all year long," Preller said.
Going over the luxury tax for the first time in club history, as the Padres are on pace to do, wouldn't prevent them from making a deadline salary addition, Preller said. And if the Padres wanted to add a starting pitcher, the return almost certainly would cost more in prospects.
The starters haven't performed as well. Musgrove threw a no-hitter and has been otherwise strong. Blake Snell and Chris Paddack have been inconsistent at best, though both look to be turning it around recently. Even ace Yu Darvish has struggled his past four starts and Dinelson Lamet is on the injured list.
"I think it's more important to pitch better," Preller said.
"We'll keep listening to see if there's anyone who can get us over the hump, or is an insurance policy, or can help us in the postseason."