Two low-cost moves for Padres to bolster pitching staff

The Padres could trade for Jack Flaherty and Derek Law to bolster the depth of their pitching staff.

Jun 4, 2024; Arlington, Texas, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Flaherty (9) throws during the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB trade deadline is roughly six weeks away. What can the Padres do to improve their pitching staff?

The Padres have already made two major trades for the 2024 season. Just before the season kicked off in Korea, A.J. Preller swung the deal with the White Sox for ace Dylan Cease. Then he shook the MLB world with a rare May blockbuster, acquiring batting champion Luis Arraez from the Marlins.

Now, the Padres are squarely in a Wild Card spot but still have several holes on the roster. With injury concerns on the pitching staff, particularly starters Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, the Padres need to bolster the starting rotation.

The bullpen has also shown signs of weakness in the middle parts. Robert Suarez and Jeremiah Estrada have been solid, but everyone else has had bad outings and poor stretches. The Padres would do well to deepen the bullpen.

Who could the Padres acquire without gutting the farm system? Let’s look at one starter and one reliever.

Jack Flaherty, SP, Detroit Tigers

Jim Bowden of The Athletic already touched on this. Flaherty will be a free agent at the end of the season, meaning he will cost significantly less than top starting pitchers with years of control. It’s not like the Padres need to acquire a starter with multiple years of control, since they have Musgrove, Darvish, and Cease all under contract through at least next season. It’s just a matter of covering for injury and increasing depth this season.

A deal for Flaherty would accomplish this. The former first-round pick isn’t a household name, but he is not some anonymous fringe player either. In 2019, he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.75 ERA in 196 innings for the Cardinals. He then battled through injuries and ineffectiveness,  even being sent to the bullpen briefly. Now, with his third franchise, Flaherty is having a resurgent season with the Detroit Tigers.

In just under 73 innings in 12 starts this season, he owns a solid 3.22 ERA and 127 ERA+. His FIP suggests he might even be getting unlucky, with a 2.71 mark.

He is missing bats and barrels at an elite rate, with a whiff rate in the 96th percentile and strikeout rate in the 95th. He also does not walk as many batters as he used to, with his 1.2 walks-per-nine-innings residing in the 95th percentile. He’s seen his spin rate and velocity tick up slightly from last season.

His fastball tops out near 98 mph.

There is slight concern with Flaherty having just left a start early with a tight back. He received injections for it and hopes to avoid the injured list. Also, he signed a $14 million, one-year deal with Detroit before the season. The money will be prorated if the Padres were to acquire him midseason. Still, that could put the Padres uncomfortably close to the tax threshold. This would be a calculated risk, given his injury history.

Given that he would be half-season rental without a stellar track record, the cost in prospects should be low. The Padres should easily be able to acquire Flaherty to bolster the rotation for the second half without parting with any of Ethan Salas, Robby Snelling, Dylan Lesko, or Leodalis De Vries.

This move would allow the Padres to not have to lean on Adam Mazur to get big outs in key spots down the stretch, who hasn’t even logged 150 innings total in the minors yet.

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Derek Law, RP, Washington Nationals

While the Padres bullpen has a set closer in Suarez, with a solid setup man in Estrada, they need a boost. Too many times this season it has seemed like manager Mike Shildt has run out of quality arms in the bullpen and was forced to put relievers in key spots who didn’t look ready for the moment or up to to the challenge.

Law is no stranger to getting key big-league outs. In 279 career MLB appearances, he owns a 3.89 ERA and an above-average 110 ERA+. This season, his first with the Nationals, his ERA is down to 2.70 in 40 innings. He doesn’t have elite strikeout numbers, but his ability to miss the barrel of the bat is well above average, with a barrel rate in the 88th percentile.

Here, he is striking out Shohei Ohtani with a slider.

His slider is his best weapon, with a .190 batting average and .241 slugging percentage allowed. The right-hander has reverse splits, with more success against lefties this season (.196 average, .565 OPS allowed).

Law is under control for two more seasons. However, acquiring him should not cost a ton, given he is not an All-Star or a closer. He is a solid middle-of-the-bullpen arm who could help lengthen the Padres bullpen and bridge the gap better between the starter and Suarez.

This move would help Shildt make tough bullpen decisions, especially when faced with struggling relievers.

Neither of these arms will break the bank or social media. These would not be blockbuster trades. Frankly, the Padres don’t need a blockbuster trade to put themselves in contention to make a run in the postseason. They just need to improve their depth to steady the ship in the middle of the roster.

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