The biggest threat to pull off a massive blockbuster ahead of Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline Tuesday might not be in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston or Philadelphia.
It might be in San Diego.
Yes, the Padres are bad again. At 42-63, they reside not only at the bottom of the National League West but also at the bottom of the entire NL. Such teams typically aren't in buying moods when deadline day rolls around.
However, the Padres seem to have no interest in being typical before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline comes and goes.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Padres may also have interest in the best of all the aces on the trade market: Jacob deGrom. Per Rosenthal, they were also looking at Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer as recently as June 29.
As is usually the case with trade-season chatter, these tidbits must be taken with a grain of salt.
Just because the Padres have expressed interest in these players doesn't mean they're closing in on trades for any of them. Besides, Fulmer (oblique strain) and Syndergaard (hand, foot and mouth disease) are on the disabled list, and Archer is the only true starter the Rays have left.
And yet, there's more sense here than meets the eye.
Syndergaard, deGrom, Archer and Fulmer have six All-Star appearances between them. And to some degree or another, the talent that made those possible is still alive within each of them.
To boot, each boasts plenty of team control. The Mets control deGrom through 2020 and Syndergaard through 2021. Archer is signed to a team-friendly contract with options through 2021. Fulmer, meanwhile, isn't slated for free agency until after 2022.
Pitchers like these aren't going to be moved for anything less than a massive package of young talent. Think the Jose Quintana trade or the Chris Sale trade, each of which was headlined by two name-brand prospects.
Not many teams can do a deal like that. But of the few that can, the Padres would be nigh impossible to beat in a bidding war.
Once Francisco Mejia, a top catching prospect, came over in the trade that sent Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians, San Diego's list of prospects in MLB.com's top 100 suddenly included an MLB-high 10 names:
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
#Padres already had an @MLB-best 9 Top 💯 prospects. This gives them 10: https://t.co/TuTZgd5PTS 3. Fernando Tatis Jr 13. MacKenzie Gore 15. Francisco Mejia 29. Luis Urias 32. Cal Quantrill 33. Michel Baez 42. Adrian Morejon 75. Anderson Espinoza 95. Chris Paddack 97. Logan Allen
The normal protocol for a rebuilder is to hold on to prospect depth until it gradually becomes major league depth. Then, one thing will hopefully lead to another, and a World Series championship will materialize.
However, the Padres are in a unique position.
They already have Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers locked up for the long haul, as well as potential franchise cornerstones at catcher (Austin Hedges), second base (Jose Pirela), third base (Christian Villanueva), center field (Manuel Margot) and right field (Hunter Renfroe). In left-hander Joey Lucchesi, they also have at least one such player in their starting rotation.
The Padres thus have license to wonder if they have more prospects than they truly need. If nothing else, they almost certainly have more prospects than they can protect from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
"The question we have moving forward is, when do we cash in on our [prospect] depth and add to our major league team?" general manager A.J. Preller told Sherman. "We have multiple prospects in different spots. We have to figure the right guy to bite down on."
Since deGrom, Syndergaard, Archer or Fulmer would immediately shoot to the top of San Diego's rotation, everyone on the Padres' radar fits the bill of "the right guy."
The cautionary tale that can't be ignored is the Padres' 2014-15 offseason in which Preller tried to build a contender overnight by adding Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. It didn't work. The Padres crashed and burned in 2015 and steadily broke up their newly formed band.
But the idea this time around wouldn't seem to involve building a contender overnight. The Padres have to know that 2018 is long gone and that contending in 2019 is probably a long shot.
Instead, the real target is 2020.
If nothing else, the NL West could be vulnerable for the taking by then. The Colorado Rockies (Nolan Arenado), Arizona Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt) and San Francisco Giants (Madison Bumgarner) stand to lose key superstars to free agency after 2019. The Los Angeles Dodgers will still be there, but Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner could be past their primes by then.
Due to their sheer prospect depth, the Padres are all but assured to get better between now and then no matter what. But if they can bring aboard an ace next week, they'll have an easier time completing the ensemble with free agents after 2018 and 2019. Maybe they won't be able to offer the most money, but they'll be able to extend a chance to join a rising power built on a foundation of youthful and veteran talent.
It's either this or the Padres can wait on their prospects. But while that's hardly a bad Plan B, it means signing up for: (a) a longer timeline until contention and (b) the risk of having their best prospects lose value or flame out entirely.
In all, the question here isn't why the lowly Padres are considering a huge splash at the trade deadline.
It's why shouldn't they?