The Padres have made a few moves to bolster their bullpen in the past few days.
Craig Stammen, who made 60 appearances for the Padres last season, is back on a two-year, $4.5 million contract. This is a welcome move for a Padres’ bullpen that is littered with young, unproven arms. Stammen will be 34 years old when the season starts. The Friars parted ways with Kevin Quackenbush earlier in the offseason. Stammen will provide a steady, veteran arm late in the game.
San Diego also signed Japanese submariner Kazuhisa Makita to a two-year contract, reportedly worth $4 million. There was also a $500,000 posting fee. Makita pitched seven seasons in Japan. In 2017, he had a 2.30 ERA in 58 appearances. He is good at keeping the ball on the ground, given his unorthodox delivery. He only allowed four home runs in 62 2/3 innings.
With these two veteran bullpen arms locked up, what does that mean for the All-Star, Brad Hand?
It could mean two things.
One is that these pieces are meant to compliment Hand in what could turn into a pretty decent bullpen. The Padres are far from contending, but having a good bullpen keeps them in most games and could make the season at least tolerable. Nothing loses a game quicker than incompetent relievers. Phil Maton, Kirby Yates, and Makita will bridge the gap between the starter and the 8th inning. Then Stammen will set up for Brad Hand as the closer. That’s a bullpen that could win a few games. This bullpen looks to be deeper than last year’s that posted a 4.49 ERA, 24th in the majors. With a boosted bullpen and the Padres pursuing Eric Hosmer, the Padres may be looking to try to win more than we think in 2018.
The other is that this is clearing the way for Hand to be traded, thus not leaving the cupboard completely bare upon his departure. MLB Trade Rumors has Hand’s projected arbitration salary at $3.8 million for 2018. With that and the salaries of Stammen and Makita, the Padres will perhaps be committing to over $8 million in the back-end of their bullpen next season (not counting the salary of Yates, who is also eligible for arbitration). With a team likely to still be in rebuild mode, that doesn’t make much sense. This is the likeliest scenario of the two. There have been several teams interested in Hand.
With the injury to Orioles’ closer Zach Britton, Hand’s value goes up. The reliever market is really the only market that has flourished in a historically quiet offseason. Brandon Morrow got paid by the Cubs to the tune of a two-year, $21 million contract. Bryan Shaw and Jake McGree also cashed in. It may be only a matter of time before Hand is dealt. The market favors the Padres at this point.
However, we all should know better than to try to predict what the Padres GM, A.J. Preller, will do. He may very well hang on to Hand once again. He may be trying to exceed the 71 wins they had in 2017, get better in 2018 and push for contention in 2019. Hand may be in Preller’s future plans for the next great Padres team. There is just over a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The clock is ticking.