In what was a truly miserable season for the Padres in 2015, one of the lone bright spots for San Diego was in their bullpen. The back-end of the Padres bullpen was as good as ever, and was a force to be reckoned with, even when the rest of the team was not.
Despite this success, A.J. Preller has already traded both Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit this offseason, leaving only Brandon Maurer remaining from the three-headed bullpen monster of last season. With the recent discussions coming out of San Diego, it appears the third head of that bullpen monster will be gone too. And no, Brandon Maurer is not being traded. However, according to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune, he is being seriously considered for a position in the Padres starting rotation in 2016.
It’s still very early, but sounds like the Padres may be leaning toward giving Brandon Maurer a shot at the rotation.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 12, 2015
While the Padres acquired Maurer to be a bullpen ace, a role that he filled quite nicely last season before his injury, Maurer does have some experience as a starting pitcher in years past. Prior to his time in San Diego, Maurer got a total of 21 starts for the Mariners over two years, including fourteen starts in 2013 and seven starts in 2014, as well as some significant bullpen work for Seattle in both of those years. Add that to his almost exclusive time as a starter in the Mariners minor league system in 2012 and parts of 2013, and Brandon Maurer has quite extensive experience as a starter.
While this idea does make some sense given Maurer’s history as a starting pitcher, this move seems to be out of desperation more than anything else. With the departure of Ian Kennedy, and the seemingly inevitable trade, or trades, of at least one of the trio of Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner, the Padres clearly need more long-term starting pitching depth. Starting pitching depth is clearly harder to come by than bullpen depth, as evidenced by the Padres recent successes with low profile bullpen pitchers, so the Padres may borrow from an area of strength to improve an area of weakness from last season.
Given the Padres need in the starting staff, and Maurer’s recent and extensive history as a starter, moving Brandon Maurer to the rotation makes quite a bit of sense. However, this type of move may come with some critical potential downsides. First of, Maurer was shut down at the end of last year largely because of overworking his arm. Immediately following that kind of concern, throwing Maurer into a full-time role in the pitching staff would seem inadvisable. Beyond that, Maurer also struggled mightily in his time as a starter in Seattle, with a career ERA over 6.00 in just over 100 innings as a starter, compared to an ERA of 3.40 as a reliever in a similar number of innings.
Maurer definitely has electric stuff, as well as the ability to get batters out, although that skill may be diminished in a starting capacity. Maurer is able to consistently hit upper 90s with his fastball out of the bullpen, but would certainly have to scale back his velocity in longer outings. Add that to the potential for arm fatigue, and moving Maurer to the rotation may come with more questions than answers. Maurer is certainly an electric young arm for the Padres, and was certainly great in his capacity as a reliever last season. Given that success, it may be a bad decision to mess with a good thing by moving him to the rotation next season.