The Padres are hoping to improve in 2020 towards contention and seem to be relying heavily on unknowns like Garrett Richards in the starting rotation.
San Diego Padres’ General Manager A.J. Preller mentioned to the media on Monday during Winter Meetings that they “feel good about pitchers we have in-house right now…we feel really confident with the group we have.” That seems to suggest the Friars may stand pat and keep the rotation they have heading into the 2020 season, with only minor tweaking here and there. This is a different tone than what was given out before the offseason got rolling.
So, where did that mentality come from?
The Friars traded for Brewers starter Zach Davies, who is an excellent addition to the rotation with a 2.5 WAR and 125 ERA+ last season in Milwaukee. If the season started today, he would likely join Chris Paddack atop the rotation as the one-two punch.
After those two hurlers, along with Joey Lucchesi and Dinelson Lamet, there are a lot of unknown and unproven players. Young guns like Cal Quantrill and Adrian Morejon will undoubtedly be in the mix despite a roller coaster 2019.
However, it seems like this cautious optimism is stemming from the Padres’ confidence in veteran Garrett Richards. The right-handed pitcher is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he had in July of 2018. However, his injury concerns do not stop there, and the Padres should be very wary of relying on Richards to be a significant piece of the 2020 rotation.
Richards has not started more than 16 games since 2015, which was also his last season pitching more than 77 innings. He started just six games in 2016 and 2017 due to multiple issues, including a torn ligament in his pitching elbow, which he tried to pitch through instead of getting Tommy John surgery right from the start.
Richards has been a major league pitcher for the better part of nine seasons and has only started more than 17 games twice. Relying on Richards to summon his 2014-2015 self (averaged 29 starts, a 3.18 ERA, 116 ERA+, and 6.3 total WAR), five years removed from those seasons, is unwise.
The problem is that the Friars seem committed to Richards financially as well as he is owed $8.5 million in 2020, which would be the most San Diego is paying for any pitcher on their roster. That’s a lot of chips to put into a basket that has not shown he can stay healthy.
With that salary, the Padres are almost obligated to give Richards as many chances as possible.
Padres fans know the cautionary tale of Josh Johnson. Johnson was signed before the 2014 season to a one-year, $8 million deal. Of course, he was enticing, as a two-time All-Star and former ERA champion. However, he never threw a pitch for the Padres. He underwent a second Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2014 season. He never could get healthy, even opting for a third Tommy John surgery, and never saw another MLB pitcher’s mound.
Can Richards rebound and pitch a full season? Of course, no one should say that is impossible. When fully healthy, Richards is a solid second or third option in a starting rotation. However, the trend and track record are not promising, and the Padres should make other preparations for the back end of the rotation.
The Friars should seek insurance for the rotation by way of a trade or a middle or lower-tier free agent signing. It is a significant risk to pay $8.5 million to Richards and expect him to be a crucial part of the 2020 rotation given his health history.