The San Diego Padres are a team built on youth. Left-handed pitcher Clayton Richard is signed for the 2019 season, but what is his future coming off a down year and surgery on both knees?
How quickly Clayton Richard fell during the season. After signing a two-year, $6 million contract and being named as the Opening Day starting pitcher, Richard slogged through a very rough season that eventually ended prematurely thanks to surgeries on both knees.
Pitching prospects like Chris Paddack and Cal Quantrill are coming up and owner Ron Fowler has hinted that San Diego will go after starting pitching on the free agent market. The question now is, what do the Padres do with Richard?
The answer that a majority of Padres fans will scream to the high heavens is that the Padres should just wash their hands of the lefty and cut him. A DFA of Richard does make sense, given his numbers. A 5.33 ERA paired with a 1.38 WHIP only tell part of the story, and those aren’t excused with his 4.68 FIP and 4.24 xFIP.
Richard has thrived as a ground ball specialist, but the rate at which he induced ground balls began to decline in 2018. His ground ball rate dropped to 56.8 %, his lowest since 2013 when he pitched in only 12 games as a Padre, while his fly ball rate jumped to 21.7%, his highest rate since 2013. Opposing batters also squared up on Richard as the tall left-hander gave up hard contact on 40.9% of batted balls, a five percent jump from 2017 and a career high.
Richard also lost some command of his pitches as he saw his BB/9 rate jump up to 3.40 in 2018 after posting a 2.69 BB/9 in 2017. This would be all right as long as the strikeout rates stayed the same, but those dropped too. Richard’s K/9 was good for a 6.13, a .70 drop from 2017. A drop in velocity could be the answer to Richard’s strikeout numbers as he threw many of his pitches in the low 90’s to upper 80’s. While many pitchers have thrived as soft-tossing artists, the hard contact rates and command issues didn’t mix well with Richard’s low-velocity pitches.
A DFA for Richard is quite likely. He will be coming off the 60-day disabled list, which means the Padres will have to add him back onto the 40-man roster. To say the Padres have space issues on the 40-man roster is quite an understatement and the spot that Richard takes could go to one of many Padres prospects that need protecting. If Richard does get designated for assignment, the Padres can protect a player like Paddack or Anderson Espinoza.
From this point on, the Padres have a couple of options. If he gets claimed by another team, the Padres can wave goodbye to Richard as the lefty calls a likely end to his tenure as a San Diego Padre. If no team claims him (a more likely case), the Padres can simply eat his contract and let him go as a free agent.
The last option is, if Richard clears waivers, the Padres can opt to keep him and slot him in not as a starter, but as a long relief option in the bullpen. Granted, many other players can fit the bill as a long man, but with a few tweaks to his approach, Richard could be a valuable asset as a veteran swingman, similar to his role with the Chicago Cubs.
His veteran presence and leadership will work wonders with younger players like Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, but that will only matter if he makes it past the cutting room floor. His poor performance in 2018, combined with the rehab he will have to complete on his knees, make it likely that the clock is soon to strike midnight on Richard’s career in San Diego.