The Padres still need pitching. But how much?

December 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

General manager A.J. Preller had just added five pitchers in the space of 12 hours -- four via the Juan Soto trade and another in the Rule 5 Draft -- when he was asked about the state of his pitching staff late Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn.

"Yeah,” Preller said. "I think we're going to keep looking to add."

And to be blunt: He has to. The Padres lost Blake Snell, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and Nick Martinez as starting options. They lost Josh Hader, Luis García, Scott Barlow and Martinez as high-leverage relief options. And oh, yeah, the team they're looking to keep pace with in the National League West now boasts Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Shohei Ohtani at the top of its order.

So the Padres still need pitching. But how much pitching do they still need, exactly? Let's break it all down.

What do they currently have in the rotation?

Asked last week, prior to the Soto trade, about the state of his rotation, new manager Mike Shildt framed it aptly:

"I like our anchors," he said.

Really, until Wednesday, that was all they had -- Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish anchoring a rotation otherwise full of prospects and question marks.

The Padres have since added Michael King to that rotation. But the other three pitchers in that trade -- Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and Drew Thorpe -- fall right into that "prospects and question marks" group.

It's obviously better to have depth than no depth. But as things stand, the Padres have Darvish and Musgrove at the front of their rotation, King somewhere in the middle of it and a handful of fringe big leaguers looking to stake a claim for a rotation spot.

What do they still need in the rotation?

If you're counting, that's three solidified spots in the Opening Day rotation. And within the past week, San Diego has significantly bolstered its options for the last two or three places.

The Padres will add at least one more starting pitcher this offseason. As I discussed Friday in my story on the ripple effects of the Soto deal, they've now freed up salary to pursue a starter in a trade similar to the deals they made in the 2020-21 offseason.

But do they need more than one? I'm not sure it's absolutely imperative. They could enter camp with only one additional rotation option, and they might be fine. But I wouldn’t advise it. Consider this: Musgrove's 2023 season ended due to a shoulder injury. Darvish's ended due to an elbow injury. King only threw 104 2/3 innings last season.

Let's err on the side of caution and say the Padres need two more starting pitchers.

What do they currently have in the bullpen?

Despite all the turnover, the setup innings seem OK. Robert Suarez, Steven Wilson and Tom Cosgrove have been solid in leverage roles, and they're back next season.

But at the back end, the loss of Hader stings. The Padres don't have an obvious closer. If they were to decide to use Suarez in that role, they'd need another setup man.

Elsewhere, the Padres have options in the wake of the Soto trade. Brito is a reasonable replacement for Martinez, given his versatility as both a starter and a reliever and his ability to pitch multiple innings. (And he, too, is a changeup-heavy, weak-contact guy.)

As things stand, the rest of that 'pen projects to feature Enyel De Los Santos, Ray Kerr and potentially Stephen Kolek, the team's Rule 5 pick.

What do they still need in the bullpen?

At least one back-end arm. Could be a closer. Could be an eighth-inning guy, if they feel Suarez can handle the closer spot.

But let's be realistic. Major League bullpens are volatile. As solid as Wilson and Cosgrove were last season, the Padres must fortify beyond that. They'd be well served to add at least two bullpen arms on big league deals and potentially another few with big league invites.

The verdict

The offseason is still young. Pitching is still plentiful on the free-agent market. The trade market hasn't truly begun moving on the pitching side. So yes, there's time.

But the Padres have work to do. They need two starters -- one toward the top of their rotation and one toward the bottom. They need two relievers -- a late-inning guy and a middle-inning guy.

Final verdict: The Padres still must add four pitchers this offseason. At least.