Should the San Diego Padres consider signing LHP Alex Wood?
It’s been no secret that the Padres are searching tirelessly for help in their starting rotation.
Over the past two years, they’ve been connected, at various times, to names like Noah Syndergaard, David Price, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger in trade discussions. As far as free agents go, they were rumored to be considering Dallas Keuchel, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, and Kwang Hyun Kim. So far, they’ve come up empty on all fronts.
There is, however, one free agent pitcher still on the market that there has been little chatter about from anyone so far.
Padres fans may remember Alex Wood as the pitcher on the mound for the Dodgers when Dave Roberts and Andy Green got in a scuffle at home plate over alleged sign-stealing on the part of the Padres in 2017. This led to one of the few notable highlights of Green’s tenure as manager when he delivered his “We’re coming” speech in his post-game press conference. That year the Dodgers finished 104-58, a comfortable 33 games ahead of the fourth-place Padres, thanks in part to a dominant season from Wood out of the rotation.
Alex Wood earned an All-Star selection that year and finished 9th in NL Cy Young voting after putting up a 2.72 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 152 ERA+ in 152.1 innings across 27 outings, with all but two being starts. This was the fourth time in his first five big-league seasons that he managed an ERA+ above the league average mark of 100.
In 2018, he was again used mostly as a starter, throwing just under an inning less at 151.2. His ERA rose nearly a point to 3.68, but he managed to keep a lower FIP at 3.53 and another season with an ERA+ above 100 with his mark of 105. That December, the Dodgers were looking to shed salary, so they packaged Wood to Cincinnati along with Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Kyle Farmer for cash, Homer Bailey, and a pair of prospects.
The start of Wood’s time with the Reds was delayed by a back injury he suffered in Spring Training that ultimately landed him on the 60-day injured list. He eventually made his debut for the Reds in July, allowing two runs over 4.2 innings on seven hits and a walk. His next start looked better as he pitched into the seventh, again just giving up the two runs but this time on only four hits and a walk with five strikeouts. His streak of good starts ended there, though, as he lasted just three innings in his next outing after surrendering five runs. His ERA jumped to 5.65, and it didn’t follow below 5.00 again this season as he finished with a 5.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and a .290 BAA in just 35.2 innings. His back problem flared up again in August, and he ended with what was easily the worst season of his career.
Wood elected for free agency in October, and unfortunately for him, his market has been slow to develop. He’s always been a soft-tossing lefty, but he’s lost two mph on his fastball since 2016, and it’s probably no coincidence that 2017, the best year of his career, was when he was throwing his sinker, change up, and slider the hardest at 92.1, 85.3, and 83.8 mph respectively. Those three pitches were also down on velocity in 2019, averaging 89.9, 83.6, and 81.4 mph. It’s possible and very likely that Wood’s back problems had some role to play in this velocity dip. However, this trend was already beginning in 2018. Coupled with a decrease in movement on his pitches that same year, this likely explains why an analytically inclined front office like the Dodgers would be so willing to move him.
Given a full offseason to recover, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Wood has a chance to return somewhat to form after throwing limited innings in 2019. It’d be unwise to expect that he’d be any innings-eater though, as he’s never thrown 190 innings in a season. Wood may be best served as a swingman or someone who can piggyback with a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher like Ronald Bolanos in an attempt to limit the workload for both. Any contract the Padres enter with Wood would have to be heavily incentive-based due to how much his injury problems limited the pitcher this past year. There is also the potential for long term effects of his loss in velocity being too severe in an age where bats are speeding up.
With that said, if the Padres were to sign Wood to a short term rather team-friendly deal, he’s not the worst option still out there in a free agency field rife with names like Rich Hill, Jason Vargas, and Ivan Nova. However, unless A.J. Preller can swing an unlikely trade for a top of the rotation arm, he has clearly missed the boat on the cream of the crop this winter.