The San Diego Padres’ 2019 outlook has become much clearer over the past two weeks.
Manny Machado is a Padre and the pipe dream of Bryce Harper joining him is finally over, and while Harper won’t be calling San Diego home, the front office’s flirtation with him does indicate something very significant – there is still money available and willing to be spent as soon as this year.
With that and some other pressing Padres storylines in mind, let’s take a look at the five most important questions that need to be answered before Opening Day.
Are reinforcements to the pitching staff coming?
The way I see it, there are four different ways the starting rotation situation can be handled before Opening Day.
The first would be to reallocate some of the $30 million that was ready to be committed to Harper to the remaining free agent market. And while the pickings may be slim, there are still two worthwhile names out there who would provide some much-needed stability to the Padres’ 2019 rotation: Dallas Keuchel and Gio González.
Keuchel is the cream of the crop here, and his price tag will certainly reflect that. It would be reasonable to expect a contract somewhere in the $20 million per year range over about five years, which is certainly doable but would also come with a sizable risk. He is coming off a good-not-great season at age 30, in which he posted a 3.74 ERA in 204.2 innings, but would also bring World Series experience and, presumably, a few years left in the tank. Another Keuchel statistic: he led the entire league in ground ball percentage in 2018. With a defensive infield of Hosmer, Urías, Tatís (eventually) and Machado, his aging process would hypothetically be softened with four plus defenders behind him. The Padres would be smart to at least look into Keuchel and see if he could be had for less than expected market value, but anything resembling five years, $100 million for a 31-year-old arm doesn’t seem to be a responsible investment.
González represents tier two of the market, but could still be a decent option for the Padres. He pitched 171 innings of 4.21 ERA ball in 2018 and will be entering his age 33 campaign. He has eclipsed at least 170 innings in eight of his last nine MLB seasons. As the second-best starting pitcher available in a league where there’s no such thing as too much starting pitching, I would expect González to fetch a three-year deal worth somewhere in the $30 million range. There’s still some risk here, but much less than with Keuchel, and statistically, the two have been somewhat comparable over the past three seasons.
The second avenue towards potential upgrades to the rotation would be via trade. The two names that would make the most sense are Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. I recently wrote about Stroman here and James Clark has a piece up about Bauer here, so I won’t go into too much depth in this article. To wrap up the case for both in just one sentence, the Padres have too many outfielders, the Indians have an inexplicably Triple-A-looking outfield and Toronto doesn’t appear to want Stroman long term. Now, if you haven’t already, I highly suggest reading those articles linked above.
The third possibility would be some combination of the two aforementioned options. It’s hard to see a scenario in which the Padres acquire Keuchel and Stroman/Bauer because, quite frankly, that might be jumping the gun a little. That would almost certainly signify a win-now mentality, and with still a very young, inexperienced team, that may not fit the timeline. Adding a lower-risk arm like González plus trading for Stroman or Bauer, however, makes some sense.
The fourth and final possibility for the 2019 rotation would be to roll with what is already on the roster. This would all but eliminate the possibility of contention this year, but would come with the lowest risk and perhaps the highest upside. Seven of the top 10 prospects in the Padres’ heralded farm system are pitchers, and you could make the case for at least five of them making their Major League debuts in 2019. In this scenario, an Opening Day rotation would most likely look something like this:
Four lefties is far from ideal, but righties Brett Kennedy, Cal Quantrill, Luis Perdomo and Chris Paddack (more on him later as well) would all realistically have a shot to grab one of those spots. This would also set up a run at a front-line starter in 2020 when guys like Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, and Justin Verlander all hit the open market. Oh, and by the way, Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet should both be back from Tommy John by then as well.
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