A team known for having great bullpens, and especially great closers, the San Diego Padres do not currently have a shutdown, established, closer on the roster.
There were at least three of those available on the free agent market, and some others available via trade, but as a rebuilding team, the Padres had no reason to waste money and/or assets to acquire any of them.
So, going into 2017, the presumptive closer appears to be Brandon Maurer, who finished 2016 as Andy Green’s 9th inning option.
Acquired in the 2014 off-season during A.J. Preller’s bid for contention, he was swapped from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Seth Smith, whose starting job had disappeared when Preller got three new outfielders in Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and the Padres current first baseman, Wil Myers.
Maurer started the 2015 season as a middle reliever, but wound up pitching in the seventh and eighth innings as a setup man for Bud Black’s squad. He ended up with a 3.00 ERA over 51 innings pitched, but he had arm fatigue issues down the stretch, slowing him down a little bit. He had 6.9 strikeouts per nine while only permitting 2.6 batters to reach via base on balls per nine, giving him a 2.6 K/BB ratio. This impressed the Padres’ brass enough that they considered putting Maurer back into a starting role, despite horrendous results in 2013 and a sub par effort in 2014 with the Mariners.
However, a 18.00 ERA in spring training over only eight innings was enough to move him back to the bullpen, although his slider seemed to have lost it’s bite after that experiment, as Maurer limped out of the gate and wouldn’t recover until July. While the strikeouts were there, his walk rate also increased, and overall he seemed to be off. Despite that, after Fernando Rodney was traded to the Miami Marlins, Maurer took over as the closer after showing new life in July, and would go on to rack up 12 saves down the stretch. Heading into 2017, he has the most closing experience by default, as Kevin Quackenbush has only eight in his major league career, with six coming in 2014.
And yet, there remains uncertainty over his status due to the presence of a flame-throwing hurler by the name of Carter Capps. One of the pieces headed back to San Diego in the deadline deal of Andrew Cashner, the reliever had one of the greatest (albeit short) seasons for a relief pitcher in history.
In 2015, he had an insanely low 1.16 ERA, which, even more amazingly, was higher than his FIP, which sat at 1.10. The was due to getting 16.8 K/9 while only walking 2.0 per nine. While only over 30.1 innings, that 8.29 K/BB is an incredible number, and with a fastball that can reach triple digits and a wipeout slider, not to mention one of the funkiest deliveries in baseball, we should expect to see some more insane strikeout totals from this young man.
The catch is that he is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which cut his amazing 2015 short, as well as forcing him to miss all of 2016. And while his delivery might give him extra velocity and more strikeouts, it’s also making him an injury risk, as demonstrated by the aforementioned Tommy John surgery. However, if Capps can get back to full health and show what he did in 2015 wasn’t a fluke, he will give Maurer a run for his money at the closer job.
We also can’t forget about Kevin Quackenbush, who despite sub par seasons in 2015 and ’16, could be a viable closing option. He had a great rookie season with a 2.48 ERA, and over 6 years in the minors has dominated to the tune of a 1.19 ERA, with his only campaigns with an ERA above 1 coming at the Triple-A level. So should he revert to his rookie form, he also could be a standout in a long line of fantastic Padres’ firemen and closers. As it stands going into the New Year, Maurer is still the favorite to win the job, with Capps potentially overtaking him in the spring, and Quackenbush as a dark horse candidate.