How will Padres replace Clevinger in '21?

November 17th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres entered the offseason in search of starting pitching. That much was true, general manager A.J. Preller said, whether was healthy or not.

Clevinger is not. That much is now painfully clear. The team announced Monday that the right-hander will miss the entire 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

So what now? How does Clevinger's absence affect the Padres’ offseason agenda?

"It doesn't change it a ton," Preller said. "… We've been looking at it like: You never have enough starting pitching because of injuries and because of situations like this."

Here's a look at the three ways Preller might fill the void left by a front-line starter like Clevinger:

Internal options
With Clevinger out, the Padres could really use a healthy . Preller gave a positive update in that regard on Monday.

"Whereas Mike, the last couple weeks, just could never really get over that hump, with Dinelson, he’s feeling great," Preller said. "Looks like he’ll be able to start his normal throwing program on Dec. 1, which is normal for him every year. He's in a good place right now."

and currently sit in the second and third spots in the rotation. That leaves two places available, and the Padres certainly have the young talent capable of filling them.

Prospects Ryan Weathers and Luis Patiño were surprise additions to the playoff roster, and both impressed, albeit in limited samples. MacKenzie Gore, MLB Pipeline's top overall pitching prospect, is expected to break through in 2021 as well.

"Those guys understand that they control their time frame," Preller said. "In this organization ... when guys show that they've checked the boxes that we ask them to do, they're going to get opportunity.

"There's more opportunity right now. A guy like Mike Clevinger goes down with an injury -- that you're banking on for 30 starts -- it gives more opportunity."

remains an in-house option. So is fellow left-hander , though he's spent most of his big league tenure in the bullpen.

Short-term rentals
The Padres wouldn't mind seeing high-upside rookies like Gore and Patiño rise to the challenge and win the two back-end rotation spots. But they'd at least like to make their youngsters earn it. If those rookies don't perform up to the team’s sudden playoff-caliber standards, the Padres want to have other options.

Perhaps that means a reunion with free-agent right-hander , who spent most of the 2020 season in the rotation before transitioning to the bullpen. That seems somewhat unlikely with Richards in search of a more solidified starting role.

Still, that's precisely the type of pitcher who falls into this category. Veteran free agents like , and might also fit that mold, and Preller noted that he'd be looking at "value plays."

The Padres will likely only be without Clevinger for one season, and they have an abundance of young arms expected to join him in what figures to be a fearsome 2022 rotation. Perhaps a '21 stopgap is all they’ll need.

A major splash
The biggest free-agent splash, of course, would be right-hander , the newly minted National League Cy Young Award winner. Do the Padres have the resources to be such a major player in free agency?

"With the COVID situation and really some of the uncertainty going into next year, we're going to check in on a lot of different situations," Preller said. "We've already checked in on a lot of trade possibilities and free agents -- from some of the top free agents in the game to guys we feel like could be good value plays and add to the depth we have. We're going to exhaust all of that."

Preller says ownership has given him a "general framework of what the payroll number is going to be." There's some flexibility if that number needs to be adjusted. (In a similar situation two offseasons ago, the Padres made a late adjustment and signed Manny Machado.)

But given the circumstances, plus a looming extension negotiation with star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., Preller might be priced out of the Bauer market.

That could force the Padres to shop in the next free-agent tier -- one that includes , , and , among others. As Preller noted, there are trade possibilities, too. Despite a busy Deadline, San Diego still boasts one of the sport's top farm systems.

Clearly, the Padres have options. But Clevinger leaves some big shoes to fill in 2021.