The Padres’ starting staff is full of question marks

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Credit: A.P. Photo

There are several questions surrounding the San Diego Padres as we head into the 2024 season.

One of the most significant issues revolves around the starting staff.

Technically, only Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish are under contract for 2024. Nick Martinez may be under contract as the team holds a $16 million option, but the Padres have not allowed the right-handed pitcher to solely pitch out of the rotation. His future is cloudy again, but he could theoretically start for the Padres next season if they pay him.

There are three key free agents, including arguably the team’s best pitcher, Blake Snell.

There are some young pitchers in the minors, but the better arms will not be ready for a season or two. There are issues heading into the winter for the Padres.

Let’s take a closer look at the rotation as it stands.


Returning from injury

Joe Musgrove

If Musgrove can return to form, then the Padres will have a solid top of the rotation. His 2023 season started with a toe injury and ended with arm issues. The Padres will need a healthy Joe Musgrove to contend in the N.L. West. He was 10-7 in 2022, with a 2.93 ERA. Last season, the native of San Diego went 10-3 with a 3.05 ERA, but he only started 17 games compared to the 30 starts he made in 2022. Musgrove declared that he would have been ready to pitch again if the Padres made the playoffs last season. But that never happened, and the Friars wisely allowed him to rest without further injuring his arm. Musgrove still has four more years on his contract and should put up some decent numbers in that time if his right arm is healthy. All those sliders seem to be really putting a strain on his arm.


Yu Darvish

At 37, Darvish’s best years are obviously behind him. The Padres still believe in the right-handed pitcher, and he should still be very formidable. As Darvish ages, he is losing some velocity on his fastball, but the Japanese pitcher is blessed with so many pitches from so many arm angles that he will still be productive in the future. The arm issues he went through last season are a bit concerning, though, as Darvish has had Tommy John surgery in the past. He went 8-10 last season with a 4.56 ERA. That was his highest ERA since the 2018 season when Darvish posted a 4.95 ERA for the Cubs. He went through similar arm issues and only made eight starts. During the 2022 season, Darvish was 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 30 starts and 194.2 innings pitched. The Padres hope he can rebound in 2024 and post similar numbers.


Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports


Blake Snell

Snell was the best pitcher for the Padres last season and should win his second Cy Young Award this winter after going 14-9 with a 2.25 ERA in 32 starts and 180 innings pitched. It was perfect timing for Snell, who is a free agent this winter and may sign anywhere. He will be paid handsomely this off-season. Can the Padres afford him? Sure. But will they pay him with so many question marks surrounding the team? The Padres are also heavily invested in seven or eight players, and that puts a damper on the possibility of bringing the southpaw back to the Padres. Snell will get paid. His agent, Scott Boras, holds all the cards, especially if he does indeed win another Cy Young Award. The Padres will be in it to the end, but sadly, Snell returning looks like a long shot at this point.


Michael Wacha

The Padres have a decision to make regarding Michael Wacha, who may be a free agent this winter. The Padres hold a $16 million option for the 2024 and 2025 season. They must exercise the options in both seasons if they intend to keep Wacha in the fold. The price is not steep for Wacha at $32 million for two years. The 32-year-old went 14-4 last season with a 3.22 ERA in 24 starts and 134.1 innings pitched and was the Padres’ best pitcher at times early on last season. Wacha suffered shoulder inflammation and discomfort in July but returned a month later and made it through the season with no further issues. What will the Padres do? The smart money says they exercise the options and ride with the veteran in the middle of the rotation.


Seth Lugo

Seth Lugo will indeed opt out this winter and explore free agency. The $7.5 million player option is below his value currently as Lugo proved he could be a viable starter in the Major Leagues. The veteran right-handed pitcher went 8-7 with a 3.57 ERA last season with 26 starts and 146.1 innings pitched. Lugo pitched great down the stretch for the Padres and provided a decent 1-2 punch with Blake Snell. Both are going to be free agents this winter, so the Padres have some big decisions to make. The 34-year-old Lugo will be looking for a big payday. If the Padres can secure him at a decent rate, they will surely explore the idea.


Credit: A.P. Photo

Youth on the rise?

Pedro Avila

This right-handed pitcher went 2-2 with a 3.22 ERA for the Padres in 2023. Avila was acquired by the Padres for Derek Norris in 2016 and debuted with the club at the major league level in 2019. The club released him in December 2019, but he quickly signed back with the Padres just days later. The curveball specialist has come into his own over the last few seasons at the major league level. Avila was knocked around in the PCL, recording an 8.57 ERA in 55.2 innings pitched for the Chihuahuas in 2023. The walk rate is a bit high for Avila, and there is promise, but the 27-year-old will need to continue to blossom in order to find time in the Padres’ rotation in 20024.


Matt Waldron

Waldron is a right-handed knuckleball pitcher, and the 27-year-old made his debut in the majors with the Padres in 2023. Waldron wasn’t particularly impressive in his eight games and six starts with the Friars. The former 18th-round pick of the Guardians put up a 4.35 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 41.1 innings pitched. Waldron throws a knuckle but uses it more as a secondary pitch. The Padres can expect him to possibly serve the team at the end of the rotation or possibly as a long-relief guy. There isn’t much upside with this pitcher, but he could be serviceable to some degree for the Friars.


Adrian Morejon

With Morejon, it feels like he has been with the Padres for 10 years, but he is still very young and could factor in the rotation in 2024. At the age of 24, Morejon has constantly battled injuries and is coming off Tommy John surgery. The Padres will take it easy with Morejon, but there is a lot of upside in his left arm. Before going down to injury, Morejon was constantly in the upper 90s with his velocity on the fastball. The secondary arsenal for Morejon is solid, but he lacks the composure to be effective at the major league level. The Padres will hope Morejon takes a step forward with the intangibles of the game. If he does, there is still a possibility of Morejon being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Padres.


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Jay Groome

The only thing the Padres have to show for the money they are paying Eric Hosmer is this left-handed pitcher. The Red Sox traded him to the Padres in 2022, but the 25-year-old has yet to make his major league debut. Last season, Groome took a beating in the PCL. The former first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2016 put up an 8.55 ERA in 30 starts and 134 innings pitched. Nobody throws well in the PCL, so the numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. Groome walked 112 batters in 2023, which is horrendous, and that is probably what kept him in the minors. There is still some seasoning required for this southpaw, but he should debut with the Padres at some point in 2024. What he will bring is anybody’s guess.


Jairo Iriarte

The first of the Padres’ young pitching phenoms in the minors to possibly reach the majors is Iriarte. The right-handed pitcher from Venezuela is blessed with a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and has excellent movement. The right-hander also has a plus slider and a changeup that is described as his best secondary offering. Iriarte recorded a 26.7 strikeout rate in 2023 as he K’d 128 batters in 90.1 innings pitched. At 21, a debut in 2024 is not a sure thing. He will need to continue to impress and also throw well at the upper minor league level. The 6-foot-2 pitcher is someone to monitor in the coming season.

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