Candy or coal? Evaluating the fit of 5 free agents for Padres

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

TOKYO, JAPAN – MARCH 15: Yariel Rodriguez #29 of Team Cuba pitches In the top of the first inning during the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal between Australia and Cuba at Tokyo Dome on March 15, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

The Padres certainly have some major needs still. Which free agents would be a fit, and who should the Padres pass on?

We are smack in the middle of the holiday season. Christmas is in just a few days. Kids are trying extra hard to be extra good in order to receive gifts and candy instead of coal for the holidays. Let’s get into the spirit of it. When looking at five free agents, which should the Padres sign, and which should they steer clear of? We’ll put candy in the stockings of those who the Padres should sign and coal in the ones who they should pass on.

Harrison Bader

The Padres need a centerfielder after dealing away Trent Grisham in the Juan Soto deal. Even if they opt to move Fernando Tatis Jr. to center, they need multiple viable outfielders to fill the voids. Currently, the 40-man roster contains just two names in the outfield- Tatis and Jose Azocar. Others like Cal Mitchell and Tyler Wade are non-roster invites to Spring Training. Jakob Marsee might get an extended look in the spring as well, but he has not played more than 16 games above Single-A.

Needless to say, the Padres need big league-caliber outfielders. Bader certainly brings experience, with seven years in the majors under his belt. He won a Gold Glove in 2021 with the Cardinals. By all accounts, he’s still an excellent defensive outfielder, even as he approaches 30 years old.

However, at the plate, he is far below average. Over the last two seasons, in 184 games, he owns a .241 batting average, 12 homers, a .635 OPS, and 77 OPS+. His power is nonexistent. When he does get on, he is usually a threat to steal, as he did 20 times between the Yankees and Reds in 2023.

However, when you compare his offense to that of Jose Azocar, it’s surprisingly close.

Last 2 seasons (2022-2023)

Batting Avg.
Bader .241
Azocar .249

 

OPS
Bader .635
Azocar .633

 

OPS+
Bader 77
Azocar 81

All while Azocar has 3 Defensive Runs Saved over the last two seasons while playing all three outfield spots. At that point, it’s better just to keep Azocar and save money for a better addition.

Verdict: Coal

Rhys Hoskins

Padres fans are familiar with Hoskins as he was one of the heroes for the Phillies (and, thus, villains in San Diego) in the 2022 NLCS. He’s a very talented first baseman with plus-hitting skills. The only problem is that he has played very little since that fateful NLCS between the Padres and Phillies. Unfortunately, the Sacramento native tore his ACL in Spring Training and never saw the field in 2023.

Hoskins appears to be a beloved teammate in the clubhouse and a solid first baseman. If the Padres were to sign him, it would mean moving Jake Cronenworth off of first base by either a trade of him or Ha-Seong Kim. Unless they see Hoskins as more of a designated hitter at this point.

Between 2021 and 2022, he posted a solid .822 OPS, 126 OPS+ with 57 homers. He has power and good plate discipline. In 2022, he ranked in the 80th percentile or better in sweet spot percentage, chase rate, and walk rate. While he isn’t the most elite defensive first baseman, his power makes up for it. Excluding 2020, he has four straight seasons between 2018 and 2022 of at least 27 home runs. He hit 30 in 2022.

Of course, there’s the issue of price. Luckily for the Padres, his lost 2023 has dampened his market a bit. FanGraphs projects him to make $14 million per season in his next deal. That is likely right up against where the Padres feel comfortable. Perhaps they can get creative with incentives in the deal if he stays healthy.

In any case, putting him in a lineup with Tatis, Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts would ease some of the angst Padres fans felt after losing Juan Soto. The Friar Faithful could use a win here in a turbulent offseason.

Verdict: Candy 

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Cody Bellinger

The 2023 Comeback Player of the Year certainly had a resurgent season in Chicago. After languishing in his final two years with the Dodgers to the tune of a .193 average and 66 OPS+ in 239 games, the change of scenery did him wonders. In 130 games for the Cubs this season, he hit .307 with a stellar .887 OPS and 133 OPS+, 26 home runs, and 97 RBIs. He earned himself a 10th-place finish in NL MVP voting and a Silver Slugger Award.

Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Now, the 2019 NL MVP seeks to cash in on that bounce-back campaign for the ages. He is still a respectable defensive outfielder, but he also thrived at first base. If the Padres were to sign him, he likely would be an outfielder unless, again, Cronenworth is moved off of first.

The talent is not debatable. The season he had in 2023 in Chicago is hard to ignore. However, neither are the previous two seasons where he was one of, if not the, worst hitter in baseball. One big season and then yet another change in scenery leaves some skeptical. FanGraphs projects a big payday for the two-time All-Star at $24 million per season.

That, coupled with the incredible outlier season, should give the Padres cause for pause.

Verdict: Coal 

Hyun Jin Ryu

The Padres need pitching desperately. The starting rotation, even after the big return in the Soto deal, is top-heavy and lacks depth. Adding Ryu would add stability and experience to the middle of the rotation. He had the lowest ERA in the entire league in 2019 with the Dodgers, earning himself an All-Star bid and finishing second in NL Cy Young voting. He followed that up with a shortened 2020 campaign that saw him finish third in AL Cy Young voting as a member of the Blue Jays.

However, since 2021, he has dealt with injuries. Between 2022 and 2023, he pitched just 79 innings over 17 starts. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2022, and it took him until late this season to battle back.

On the bright side, when he finally made his return to Toronto, he pitched very well. In 11 starts, he posted a 3.46 ERA and 123 ERA+. If he can recreate that over a full season in 2024, he would be one of the more solid mid-rotation arms in baseball.

Not only do the Padres need more starting pitching, they badly need a lefty after the departure of NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. The Padres only have three southpaw pitchers on their entire 40-man roster.

Ryu adds experience, stability, and depth without totally breaking the bank (projected $10 million per season).

Verdict: Candy 

Yariel Rodriguez

If you are unfamiliar with Rodriguez’s name, you are forgiven. The Cuban-born righty has spent the last three seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League and has never pitched for a team in the United States. He started the first game of the 2023 World Baseball Classic for Cuba against the Netherlands. He allowed one run in four innings in the showcase.

Even with the Padres reportedly signing lefty reliever Yuki Matsui, there is still a need in the bullpen. Josh Hader, Nick Martinez, Luis García, and Tim Hill all need replacing. Rodriguez specializes from the right side with a near 100 mph fastball and nasty slider. That’s a perfect mix for a reliever.

Given his experience, the Padres could even try him as a back-end starter or fill Nick Martinez’s role as a swingman. He was last a starting pitcher for a professional team in Cuba in 2020 before heading to Japan.

Either way, he has an electric arm and strikes hitters out at a high rate. He would be a valuable addition to the pitching staff that desperately needs depth.

Verdict: Candy

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