San Diego Padres Look To Fill Holes in Pitching Staff

Although San Diego Padres’ 2023 campaign was anything but successful — with a lineup compiled of eight former all-stars failing to make the playoffs — strong pitching picked up some of the slack left by an underachieving offense for the second year in a row. 

However, the team’s pitching staff for 2024 is still somewhat of a question mark, with reigning National League Cy Young award winner Blake Snell (2.25 ERA in 180.0 IP) hitting the free agent market and starters Seth Lugo (3.57 ERA in 146.1 IP) and Micheal Wacha (3.22 ERA in 134.1 IP) electing to sign elsewhere. 

San Diego’s bullpen has also suffered multiple relief pitching losses due to free agency, with Nick Martinez (3.43 ERA in 110.1 IP) signing a two-year, $26M deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and Luis Garcia (4.07 ERA in 59.2 IP) signing a one-year, $4.25M deal with the Los Angeles Angels. All-Star closer Josh Hader (1.28 ERA in 56.1 IP, 33 Saves) also signed a five-year, $95M contract with the Houston Astros. 

Due to player departures on all fronts of the pitching staff, the Pads will be looking to replace over 680 IP before the upcoming season, and that’s just accounting for the players mentioned. The Padres will be without Brent Honeywell Jr., Nabil Crismatt, Rich Hill, Scott Barlow and Ray Kerr in addition to the more notable losses listed previously.  

To mitigate this — and to attempt to recoup some value before multi-time All-Star and Silver Slugger award-winning outfielder Juan Soto hit the free agent market after 2024 — general manager A.J. Preller traded Soto and two-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder Trent Grisham to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitchers Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, highly rated pitching prospect Drew Thorpe and catcher Kyle Higashioka. 

According to MLB Pipeline, Thorpe ranks as the No. 85 overall prospect, while Vasquez was pegged as the Yanks’ 13th overall prospect. A Cal Poly San Luis Obispo product, Thorpe was named the minor league’s pitching prospect of the year by last season. 

“One of those guys [against whom] you might be comfortable in the box,” Hudson Valley minor league manager Sergio Santos told the NY Post in early December, “but you walk away going 0-for-4 with a couple of groundouts, a punchout and a pop-up.”

Thorpe, whose low 90s fastball is complemented by a changeup that he told the NY Post is his “bread and butter,” posted a 14-2 record,  a 2.52 ERA and a minor league-leading 182 strikeouts through Single and Double-A ball last season.  

Point Loma Nazarene University head baseball coach Justin James said that the ability to command an offspeed pitch is key- so much so that it is the first thing his staff looks at when recruiting young arms. 

“First thing I look for is the ability to command an offspeed pitch and swing and miss characteristics within the strike zone,” James said. “Next is usually how many free bases they are giving up per inning pitched.” 

While the Padres still lack a starting pitcher or two, Preller added another former Yankee arm to the bullpen, this time by way of free agency. Reliever Wandy Peralta and the Padres inked a four-year, $16.5M deal with three opt-outs on Jan. 31. Peralta has been a model of consistency for relief pitchers in the majors, averaging 53.2 IP and a 2963 ERA over the past three seasons.

Regardless of the holes in the rotation, the starters the team already has in place are proven veterans. Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and newly acquired Michael King have all been pitching at the major league level for at least five seasons, with Musgrove and Darvish combining for 427 starts over the course of their careers. 

Veteran, fan favorite and two-time Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell is still on the market as of Feb. 1. Currently, the asking price is likely above what the Padres are rumored to be willing to shell out (9 years, $270M per Bob Nightengale of USA Today), but if Snell were willing to take a hometown discount or a shorter deal, the Pads’ rotation would become one of the most experienced in MLB.

James explained that while young arms are capable of being steady performers, the more experienced pitchers are typically able to weather the storm of the game a bit better. 

“Experience is everything. You can train all you want, but you need to be put into the fire to get used to the sensory overload,” James said. “The game is slower for the older guys typically, and they can execute pitches when the chips are down.” 

Since 2018, every World Series champion except one — the 2023 Texas Rangers, whose offense ranked in the top three in the majors — has had a team ERA that ranks in the top 10 in the league. The Padres ranked second last season in team ERA, and they will be looking to continue their pitching dominance in 2024, albeit with a plethora of new arms.