Although the Padres made third base their priority during the 2018 winter meetings, starting pitching must be addressed.
San Diego finished 2018 with the third highest ERA out of all National League teams (4.40).
This is embarrassing for a team playing in Petco Park, with one of the worst offenses in baseball. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finished 2018 with a 3.38 ERA. Even the Colorado Rockies, while playing in a launching pad, finished with a lower ERA than the Padres (4.33).
Much of the Padres’ pitching struggles came from the veteran left-hander, Clayton Richard. The Padres’ 2018 Opening Day starter finished the season with a whopping 5.33 ERA and a -1.2 WAR. Although Richard possesses certain clubhouse intangibles, he cannot be in the 2019 starting rotation. Richard is under contract through 2019, but should be either optioned to Triple-A or moved to the bullpen.
Another veteran, Tyson Ross, finish the 2018 season with a 4.15 ERA. Ross will not be returning to San Diego, as he recently signed with the Detroit Tigers. If the Padres want any success during the 2019 season, Bryan Mitchell should not be in the starting rotation. After being acquired from the New York Yankees with major potential, Mitchell finished the 2018 season with a 5.42 ERA.
The Padres’ bullpen produced some breakthrough candidates for the 2019 starting rotation. One of the frontrunners for a job in the rotation is LHP Matt Strahm. After 61.1 innings pitched, Strahm finished the 2018 season with an impressive 2.05 ERA. Strahm showed tremendous control throughout the season, walking only 21 of his 245 batters faced. He also finished 2018 with a very impressive WHIP of 0.98.
Another bullpen option with Major League experience is RHP Robert Stock. Stock exceeded the Padres’ expectations in 2018. He consistently hit 100 mph and held command of three different pitches. Stock finished his rookie season with 39.2 innings pitched and an impressive 2.50 ERA. Andy Green recently discussed this possibility in an interview with MLB Network.
Padres fans must also remember that former starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet will be returning to the club in 2019. After undergoing Tommy John surgery last April, Lamet won’t be healthy by Opening Day, but hopes to eventually work his way back into the starting rotation. Some other internal options are Jacob Nix and Brett Kennedy, who both struggled during their late-season call-ups in 2018.
The top free agent starting pitcher currently available on the market is Dallas Keuchel. Being a former Cy Young award winner and World Series Champion, Keuchel would instantly become the ace of the Padres’ rotation. He is also an innings eater, averaging 216 IP over his seven-year career. On the flip side, Keuchel is turning 31 this year, and his fastball averaged only 89.3 MPH in 2018.
Another option is for the Padres is to acquire a pitcher via trade. The most obvious trade candidate is New York Mets pitcher, Noah Syndergaard. At only 26 years old, Syndergaard is more dominant than any pitcher on the Padres’ current roster. He finished the 2018 season with a 13-4 record, 3.03 ERA, and a WAR of 4.0. “Thor” would be a major piece of the Padres’ future, but San Diego must give up some major talent in order to acquire Syndergaard in a trade.
The Padres have several options to upgrade their pitching staff this upcoming season. Whether internal or external, something must change if San Diego wants to compete in 2019.