Admittedly, Emilio Pagan would prefer to be the San Diego Padres closer this season, but none of that matters as long as the team’s goals are accomplished.
Things didn’t go as planned for Emilio Pagan in the Padres abbreviated 2020 season. The 29-year-old was acquired in early February from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot. At the time, Pagan was a much-needed asset for the back end of the Padres bullpen, collecting 20 saves while posting a career-high 12.3 K/9.
Along with Drew Pomeranz, who was inked to a four-year deal earlier in the offseason, the duo had a much larger role than initially anticipated after Kirby Yates required season-ending surgery in mid-August. Pagan wasn’t particularly sharp in the first two months, posting a 5.40 ERA in 15 appearances.
The former 10th round pick of the Seattle Mariners pitched through bicep tightness before being placed on the injured list in early September. Pagan returned on September 10 and pitched like a much better version of himself. In the final month of the regular season, Pagan posted a 2.57 ERA in seven appearances with a 12.9 K/9.
That success carried over into the postseason, where Pagan didn’t yield any runs in five appearances split between the Wild Card and Divisional Round.
“I felt like I threw the ball pretty well down the stretch and into the playoffs,” the 29-year-old explained. “For me, it was a successful season. Obviously, I didn’t throw the way I wanted to throughout the entire season.”
With all the injuries the Padres sustained at the end of the season, it was an abrupt ending to a special season. San Diego was back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, and prior to the injuries in the starting rotation, the pieces were in places to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Padres upgraded or added depth at nearly every position this past offseason. It’s clear that general manager A.J. Preller wants to ensure that the team’s shortcomings last year don’t happen again. Although it’s difficult to judge how far the Padres would have gone because most of the players on the roster had never been in the postseason before. Pagan was one of the few players on the Padres roster last season with any playoff experience.
“I think we have a talent here to make a run like that,” Pagan said, comparing the Padres 2020 season to the Royals in 2014. “I think for us, getting into the playoffs for the first time in a while just builds confidence for guys that hadn’t been to the playoffs before and just help them understand that this goal is attainable.”
With Yates and Trevor Rosenthal exiting in free agency, the Padres added Keone Kela and Mark Melancon in the span of two days, creating a crowded back end of the bullpen. All four guys, including Pomeranz, can handle closer duties, as all have done so at previous stops.
Pagan collected just two saves in 2020, but, again, his inconsistency and injury played a major factor in Preller acquiring Rosenthal at the trade deadline. With how he concluded the 2020 season and postseason, Pagan would seem to make the most sense at having a loose grip on the closer role.
Through four spring training appearances, Pagan has a 6.75 ERA while allowing three earned runs, one home run, and two walks, but he’s struck out six batters. After a rough first outing in the spring exhibitions, the 29-year-old has calmed down, most recently pitching a scoreless inning in Monday’s 13-3 lopsided victory over Milwaukee on Monday.
And while he has his eyes on the Padres’ closer role, the ultimate goal of winning of World Series is most important to him.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care — I definitely want a shot at that role,” Pagan admitted. “My goal is to win a championship. Obviously, I would love to be the closer. I would love to have a 40-save season. But I could have a zero-save season. If we win a World Series, I’m happy. To me, the role doesn’t matter as much as the result at the end of the season.”