The San Diego Padres are poised to make some trades before the 2017 MLB season starts.
A.J. Preller is surely exploring many options in order to improve the quality of his young squad. As far as young talent goes, the Padres are loaded at the minor league level, but they still lack major league talent to be relevant in 2017. That lack of talent is evident when you take a look at the pitching staff, and in particular, the starting rotation.
Tyson Ross is a huge question mark to return from thoracic outlet surgery (shoulder). He is supposedly on pace for a return in the Spring, but they have to take it slow with the big right-handed pitcher. He made only one start in the 2017 season (opening day) and that was it. Ross made some rehab starts in the minors, but his injured shoulder was just too much to overcome in the 2016 season.
Beyond Ross, the team has Luis Perdomo, Christian Friedrich, Jarred Cosart, and Paul Clemens penciled in to round out the rotation. The Dominican right handed pitcher, Perdomo, is virtually a lock, and Freidrich has a great shot to open in the rotation as well, but Clemens and Cosart are question marks. Cosart had arm surgery in the winter to clean up some loose debris in his elbow. He should be fine by February, but in reality you never really know until he gets back out on the mound. Having elbow surgery is nothing to take lightly. Clemens has an excellent curve ball, but is still struggling with consistency to be considered a lock for the rotation moving forward.
The Padres’ rotation needs help, and that cannot be debated. Thankfully though, there are options on the free agent market. Jake Peavy, Jorge De La Rosa, and Derek Holland all make sense for a Padres team looking for veteran leadership in the rotation. We will just have to wait and see how A.J. Preller attacks the teams rotation needs.
In assessing A.J. Preller and his tendencies when it comes to trading, he enjoys dealing players while their value is high, while at the same time picking up bargain basement priced talent that just needs a change of environment. The signing of Fernando Rodney, and trading him while his value was high for a great young pitching prospect in Chris Paddack, is a perfect example of that philosophy. Also, the Padres plucked an undervalued Drew Pomeranz from the A’s for Yonder Alonso, sprinkled some Darren Balsley magic dust on him, and transformed him into an All-Star. The improved Pomeranz was then flipped to the Red Sox for one of the best pitching prospects in the game of baseball (Anderson Espinoza). The young G.M. realizes that the brightest days of this franchise are in the future. You can never have enough young arms in your system.
With that being said, it is always good to deal from a position of strength within your organization. Right now, that depth for the Padres is at catcher, second base, and left-handed relief pitching. The Padres currently have four legit catchers who can play in the major leagues. Derek Norris, Austin Hedges, Christian Bethancourt, and Hector Sanchez are all on the 40-man roster and each have value behind the dish. At second base, the team has Ryan Schimpf, Cory Spangenberg, Carlos Asuaje, and even Yangervis Solarte who can play the position.
Now, as far as left-handed relief pitchers go, the Padres, after years of having slim pickings in the bullpen, are suddenly well-stocked in the south paw department. Brad Hand and Ryan Buchter both came out of nowhere last year to be vital members of the bullpen. Buchter even served as the team’s closer on occasion during the season. Besides these two solid lefties, the team has Buddy Baumann, Jose Torres, and Keith Hessler, who each saw time with the major league club in 2017. That alone would be adequate, but the Padres also have two solid left-handers in the minors that are very close to being major league ready in Brad Wieck and Kyle McGrath. Both produced in the 2016 season in the minors, and each should probably make their major league debut at some point during the 2017 season. Then, factor in all the minor league free agents, left-handed pitchers, and such that the Padres are scouring the league looking for. There is no shortage of potential lefties in this bullpen for the upcoming season.
Brad Hand was selected off waivers from the Marlins where they continued to try to use him in a starting role. He started 43 total games in his four years with the Marlins. Padres’ management made the wise decision to select Hand on April 8 and he made it through the entire year in San Diego. Doug Bochtler told me that Hand was the team’s MVP of the pitching staff. He also told me how Hand was receptive to learning, which is evident with how he really took off under the Padres’ tutelage. Buchter was a minor league free agent that had outstanding numbers in 2015 at the Triple-A level. He was 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 43 games and 50 innings pitched for the Dodgers and Cubs minor league affiliate. Bochtler and I have discussed Buchter a couple of times, and each time we discuss him, it is about his spin rate and his ability to pitch to both sides of the plate. He spins the ball very well (among the league leaders in spin rate) and is also unafraid to pitch inside on right-handed hitters. Because of that, he is equally effective against hitters from both sides of the plate.
Buchter and Hand were both strikeout pitchers last year for the Friars, as each struck out over 11 batters per nine innings. Hand struck out 111 in his 89 innings, while Buchter K’d 78 in his 63 innings pitched. Having a pitcher out of the pen that gets a big strike out in a meaningful moment is huge. Both came in on many occasions last year and put out fires for their team. The versatility of having left-handed pitchers in the bullpen makes a manager’s job easier. Late inning matchups dictate the outcome of games more often than not. You must be prepared with your bullpen, and the possession of multiple options is one of the things that separates good teams from great teams.
Having a surplus of a commodity that is presently in high value is a positive for a franchise. The St. Louis Cardinals recently signed left-handed pitcher Brett Cecil to a reported (Jeff Passan) four-year deal at over $30 million dollars. The 29-year-old left-hander is a decent bullpen pitcher, but his numbers are nothing when comparing them to what Hand and Buchter gave the Padres last season. Cecil went 1-7 last year with a 3.93 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 36 innings. Hand went 4-4 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.108 WHIP in 89 innings for the Padres in 2016. Buchter chipped in with a 3-0 record and a 2.87 ERA to go along with a 1.032 WHIP in 63 innings. Each Padres’ lefty has tremendous value right now. On the open market, each would cash in big after the year they just completed. Good thing for the Padres, Hand is not due for free agency until 2020, and Buchter until 2022. That also adds to their boosted value, and the Padres are surely fielding calls on each weekly. They will not be dealt cheaply either. Expect them to be packaged for a starting pitcher that is major league ready or a mix of older prospects. Then again, expect nothing. Preller has shown a propensity to do the exact opposite of what you expect. So, with that being said…. Anything can happen. Stay Tuned.