Padres must prioritize pitching this winter

Oct 19, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Nick Martinez (21) reacts to an out in the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies during game two of the NLCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres certainly have several needs to address this offseason. The top priority should be to replenish the pitching staff, which suffered big losses.

It was clear that the front office learned from San Diego’s epic collapse of 2021. Most of that downfall was due to hilariously bad pitching depth, especially in the rotation. In 2021, 15 different players made a start for the Padres. In 2022, that went down to 12. The Padres had five pitchers make at least 22 starts this season. The bullpen stepped up, with some unsung heroes to give them a boost along the way. They enjoyed the fruits of some shrewd moves from unexpected locales.

However, due to the usual offseason attrition, a big chunk has been taken out of their depth at pitching.

Starters Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger, as well as relievers Robert Suarez, Craig Stammen, and Pierce Johnson, are all now free agents. Nick Martinez is still in the air with his pending decision regarding his player option. Given how valuable he was to the Padres, there is a good chance he will opt out of his $6.5 million to seek a bigger deal.

Assuming he leaves, that means over 481 total innings pitched from the 2022 Padres will depart. Suarez was one of the best relievers on the squad down the stretch, finishing with a 2.27 ERA over 45 appearances. Martinez was an enormous part of San Diego’s success, with over 100 innings pitched in a variety of roles, from starter to closer. Manaea and Clevinger make up two-fifths of their starting rotation, even with volatile results.

Clearly, the Padres need to address pitching in multiple ways this off-season. Yes, they still have Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell atop the rotation. However, the depth behind them is severely lacking. We saw how that worked out in 2021. Josh Hader is still an elite closer, but he can only do so much. The Padres need to find arms that can bridge the gap between their starters and him in the ninth inning with the lead.

Credit: AP Photo

Along with Hader, they still have Luis Garcia, Adrian Morejon, and Tim Hill in the bullpen. Drew Pomeranz was about as valuable as setting $10 million on fire last season. It remains to be seen if he will ever bounce back. The Padres still owe him $10 million in 2023. Austin Adams‘ future is clouded after he had flexor tendon surgery in August. Needless to say, the bullpen needs replenishing.

At the very least, they need to address two starting rotation slots and bring in a couple viable bullpen arms to boot.

Retaining a few arms from the 2022 squad would behoove the Padres. Bringing back Nick Martinez would be a huge boost. He has the stuff to be a back-end rotation guy or a reliable reliever. He showed a willingness to wear multiple hats within the pitching staff last year, which made him even more valuable. Suarez was a revelation with his firecracker of a sinking fastball, routinely exceeding 100 mph. Re-signing him would answer a few questions in the bullpen.

Be it via free agency or trade, the Padres need to acquire another starting pitcher. Do the Padres go after one of the big fish like Jacob deGrom or  Carlos Rodon? Or do they try for lower-tier arms like Corey Kluber  or Taijuan Walker?

The trade market is harder to decipher. Would the Marlins make Pablo López available? Minnesota’s Tyler Mahle could be an inning-eating No. 5 starter. What about All-Stars Shane Bieber or Corbin Burnes? They would be costly, but they make any rotation dangerous.

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Then in the bullpen, the Padres need to be aggressive. Philadelphia’s Zach Eflin became a valuable arm in the bullpen for their magical postseason run after making 13 starts earlier in the year. He could offer Nick Martinez-esque versatility. Rafael Montero earned himself a big payday after being one of the prized weapons out of Dusty Baker‘s bullpen in Houston, with a 2.37 ERA and 163 ERA+ in just over 68 innings.

However they do it, the Padres need to be aggressive in the pitching market. They lost 40 percent of their starting rotation and a few key relievers. If the Padres have dreams of building on their success that saw them make it to the NLCS and going farther, they will need to be relentless in acquiring more pitching.

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