The San Diego Padres need a closer for the 2022 season. Who will that be?
Throughout the history of the Padres, the team has seemingly always possessed a great closer.
In 2021, Mark Melancon filled the role of the closer admirably as he led the major league in saves and proved to be of huge value to the Padres. The closer has a $5 million mutual option for the 2022 season. However, Melancon and his representatives will surely balk at that idea, so the veteran right-handed pitcher will be a free agent.
The Padres will surely explore bringing back Melancon as the internal options are not very appealing. However, with a tight budget, re-signing Melancon is not a slam dunk. Both sides will have interest, but the pitcher will want to be rewarded, and likely command a multiple-year deal. That is something that can be very risky for the Padres as Melancon will be 37-year-old next baseball season.
Let’s take a look at some options for the Padres as we head into the winter. An off-season that should be very active for the San Diego Padres.
At one time, Pagan was considered a serious candidate to close for the Padres. When the Friars acquired him from Tampa Bay, he was fresh off a season where he put up a 2.31 ERA and a 0.829 WHIP and saved 20 games for the Rays. For some reason, Pagan has not enjoyed success with San Diego. His fastball still sits in the upper 90’s, and he generally throws strikes.
The right-handed pitcher owns a career 4.75 ERA with the Padres, and that is not productive. Pagan earned a -0.4 WAR last year for the Padres, going 4-3 with a 4.83 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP in 67 games and 63.1 innings pitched. He is signed for the next two seasons and should be a member of the bullpen moving forward. As for closing games, the skill level is there, but he just has not shown the ability to dominate. Emilio Pagan is not a great option to close for the Padres.
Before the 2020 season, the Padres gave Drew Pomeranz $34-million for four years to return back to San Diego. The former Padres All-Star was traded to Boston for Anderson Espinoza in 2016. Pomeranz got a big deal from the Padres as the left-handed turned the corner with production pitching out of the bullpen for the Brewers. A few mechanical adjustments resulted in a few mph on his fastball. Pomeranz embraced his new role out of the pen and has shown a ton of value in recent years.
Despite an injury-riddled 2021 season, Pomeranz recorded a 0.7 WAR for the Padres. The southpaw only managed 25.2 innings for the Friars, putting up a 1.75 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. Pomeranz owns nine career saves and could have the stuff to accomplish the job. Currently, the Padres owe Drew Pomeranz $20-million for two years of service time. His salary is high, and it may be time for the Padres to see if he can do the job. At this point, if the relief core stays the way it currently is, Pomeranz is probably the favorite to close games.
I know. I know. Everyone wants this ace-like pitcher to remain on the starting staff. However, it may be time to realize his arm will never hold up to the rigors of an entire major league season in the rotation. Lamet has a balky elbow, and it feels like he is one pitch away from another injury. In 2021, he recorded a -0.2 WAR in 22 games and nine starts with the Padres. Lamet earned a 4.40 ERA and a 1.489 WHIP in 47 innings pitched. The talent is there. Health is just a major concern.
A closer with an arm injury is a scary thought, but perhaps Lamet will respond better by being coddled out of the pen. Teamed with a Drew Pomeranz, Lamet could earn 75-80% of the saves and be given time off if needed. The Padres could limit his innings and get a power arm out of the pen. There is no doubt he has the strikeout ability to close, but can Lamet handle the mental aspect of the job. Health and concern with composer could limit this idea. But he has to pitch somewhere in 2022. A rotation job seems far-fetched.
Another Padres’ arm coming off an injury is this right-handed change-up artist. He missed time at the end of the year with a slight strain to his throwing elbow. This is concerning because Paddack already went through Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer in the Padres system. Paddack flashes dominance in the rotation but ultimately has not been able to stay consistent. He went 7-7 last year with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.225 WHIP. Those numbers produced a -0.8 WAR which is putrid.
There has always been talk of the need for a third pitch for Paddack. The curveball is serviceable at times for the pitcher, but it’s not considered a plus pitch by any means. Paddack with a mid 90’s fastball and an above-average changeup could close in theory. In theory. Command and poise are often an issue for this pitcher, so to trust him out of the pen is a scary thought. Paddack owns one career relief appearance in 61 games, so this would be considered a massive move for him. Can he succeed as a closer? That really remains to be seen. There is still hope he can be a mid-rotation starter for the Padres.
At 31, there should be plenty left in the tank for the former Padres pitcher. Brad Hand is a three-time All-Star (2017-19) who the Padres traded in July of 2018 for Cleveland prospect Francisco Mejia. The switch-hitting catcher was supposed to be the catcher of the future for the Friars, but that never happened. Hand produced well for Cleveland the first few seasons but had a rough 2021 season which saw him suit up for three different teams. The lefty produced a -0.3 WAR in 2021 but still recorded 21 saves.
The Padres could obtain Hand at a decent rate as the off-year certainly hurt his value. With 126 career saves, the left-handed pitcher would give the team a pitcher with experience. In his time with the Padres, Brad Hand recorded a 2.66 ERA and a 1.038 WHIP. He saved 46 games in those three years, relying on a slider. The pitcher made $11.5 million on 2021, but the Padres could offer him an incentive-based deal. The Padres will need to do their homework as his production dip is a concerning thing moving forward.
The Padres will want to bring back Melancon, but it is difficult to see the two sides agree. You have to figure a team will give him the two or three-year deal he is going to seek. Despite his age, teams will look at the 2021 year and pay the price to potentially add a closer.
Melancon took a discount to come to the Padres before the 2021 season. He isn’t likely to do it again. The Padres may need to focus elsewhere and be content with the value they got out of the right-handed pitcher last year. The two sides will talk but likely part ways as this is Mark Melancon’s last chance at a big contract in the major leagues.
If the Padres and A.J. Preller want to make a huge splash this winter and turn heads, this is the choice. Hader is a dominant deliver at the top of his game. He is under contract for the next two years, and the price tag will be huge. The Padres have the roster to pay the asking price, but is it worth it? Hader went 4-2 last year with a 1.23 ERA and a 0.835 WHIP in 58.2 innings pitched. He struck out 102 in that time. Yes. He is definitely worth it.
The three-time All-Star owns 96 career saves. The Brewers are in the thick of things and would not be inclined to deal him at this point. But, Preller is aggressive, and the Padres could make an offer that is too good to walk away from. Josh Hader‘s value is at its pinnacle right now. Will the Brewers deal him, and can the Padres make an offer that is beneficial to both teams? This is a long shot, but never put anything past A.J. Preller.
I wrote about this topic last week. The White Sox own a $16 million option on the closer for the 2022 season but have Liam Hendriks on the roster. The word is that Chicago will pick up the option and explore deal the right-handed reliever. Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in the game and owns 372 career saves which is 9th all-time. His numbers declined with the Sox, but they did not use him to close games. Kimbrel thrives on save situations.
The Padres will likely need to move salary to obtain Kimbrel. Jurickson Profar, Ha-Seong Kim, and Adam Frazier all make sense to some degree. The Padres would love to move Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers, but neither fit on the White Sox roster. The two sides match up well in trade, but they will need to get creative adding prospects here and there to even out a potential deal. Kimbrel would give the Padres a solid closer for the 2022 season, and the Padres could not add payroll if Preller plays his cards right. Only time will tell. Kimbrel will be dealt. That is a given.
If the Padres want to think outside the box, then Fulmer is an interesting option. The former starter closed for the Tigers late last season and looked good doing it. The right-handed pitcher recorded a 1.9 WAR and saved 14 games, putting up a 2.97 ERA in 69.2 innings pitched. Fulmer never appeared out of the pen before the 2021 season and really embraced the role. The stuff is legit, and he has the correct frame of mind to succeed in this role moving forward.
The 2017 All-Star has one year of control left and should not be very expensive. The Padres have several prospects and young players who could be of interest to the Tigers as they look to get younger and revamp their team. Preller has already shown interest in Fulmer in the past, so this seems like an idea the Padres will explore at some point. Fulmer could step in right away, and the Padres would not need to get too creative with finances or players.